Yoga, a practice that began centuries ago in India, has become a very common way for the American public to deal with anxiety control and stress. Hatha yoga is the most common, and it is a slow, easy method that most people can participate in. With its physical stretches, sustained poses, and controlled breathing, hatha yoga increases the amount of oxygen taken in by the body and activates the relaxation response.
Physical and Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety
Someone experiencing anxiety feels troubled, worried, concerned, and perhaps afraid. Physical signs of anxiety include:
- Back pain
- High blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Stiff neck or jaw
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain or loss
Emotional symptoms include:
- Feeling out of control
Calming Effects of Yoga
As an alternative mind-body medicine practice, yoga combines both physical and mental disciplines -- those practicing it gain a peaceful mind and body. People of all athletic abilities can participate safely and enjoyably. If your yoga class feels like an endurance test or if it produces discomfort when following the instructor's request, find a less rigorous class. Ideally, each yoga session should leave the student in a calm, relaxed, yet invigorated state of mind and body. Students should anticipate returning to class with eagerness. Those who practice yoga enjoy improved and long-lasting fitness.
Yogic breathing affects the nervous system physiologically and affects some of the physical signs of anxiety, such as rapid breathing, heart rate, and intestinal activity. These physical changes produce profound positive changes in our emotional state of mind. This biochemical and psychological process reduces a person's stress levels and affects a person's whole being. Granted, stress can be a positive reaction to danger when it employs the fright and flight reaction; it is one of nature’s tools for survival. However, when it is a constant part of a person’s psyche, it can be detrimental and debilitating.
Using yoga to release the physical and mental tension and stress of daily life helps support a healthy balance, making the person feel more whole. Yoga self-soothes a person’s mood in the same way that exercise, socializing, meditation, and relaxation techniques do.
Who Can Benefit
Studies confirm that practicing yoga can reduce stress responses, depression, and anxiety. These studies included people with:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD)
- Depression and anxiety
- Bipolar disorder
- Pain conditions such as fibromyalgia
- Senior citizens
- Epileptic patients
Subjects experienced less stress and anxiety symptoms in as little as a single yoga class. Positive physiological changes, such as lower heart rate, eased respiration, and lower blood pressure rate were reported. Energy levels increased, as did an improved mood and a greater sense of well-being. In order to sustain these results, a consistent program of twice-weekly, one-hour sessions is recommended.