Yoga For Stress, Mood, and Anxiety

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We have all had those days that result in assaulting a tear-soaked pillow with high-pitched screams. It was a bad day at work, you blew it on a test worth half your grade, your significant other was being an ass. On days like this, it’s easy to turn to mood stabilizers, a bottle of wine, or other vices, but we end up doing our body more harm relying on these outside “pick-me-ups.”

The Problem

Alcohol may take the edge of initially when you take that first sip or finish your first glass. The buzz gives you a warm and cozy feeling as if a friend is encompassing you in a hug telling you “You’re going to be alright.” Alcohol is not your friend, though, and surely not the solution to your problems. A fleeting warm feeling could easily turn into a bad decision or a mood swing leaving you worse off than you started. Alcohol is a depressant so it’s no surprise that you’d feel depressed after drinking.

Mood stabilizers may not be quite as detrimental as alcohol. The problem with mood stabilizers is that they don’t allow you to feel; they take your personality away and there’s a catatonic shell of yourself left over. When you are this “flat-line” of emotion, you lose the drive to be solution-oriented and end up with your problem there the next day waiting to stress you out again.

Our Westernized society has told us through advertising and prescriptions that these are the remedies for dealing with stress, mood swings, and anxiety. While diagnosed individuals should consult with a doctor regarding their illness, individuals relying on stimulants, depressants, or stabilizers should move towards holistically coping. Through healing arts such as yoga, you can learn to reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and move towards a happier and healthier you.

Using Yoga To Heal

A 2005 descriptive, controlled study examined the effects of a single yoga class for 113 inpatients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. At the end of class, average levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly, as measured by the Profile of Mood States, a standard 65-item questionnaire that participants answered on their own before and after the class. With just one class making a difference to diagnosed individuals, imagine the benefits of increased attendance to those that struggle with being emotionally distressed.

As a mind-body practice, yoga binds together physical and mental disciplines that work to achieve peacefulness of body and mind. When you show up to your mat, you make a promise to yourself to be present in the moment and everything outside of those four corners slips away. It gives you the chance to let go of outside worry and opinions of yourself and simply be in the moment; challenging yourself with every breath and movement.

“Yoga helps us slow down for a moment and tune into the breath. Simply the focus on one thing — which is the very definition of meditation — allows us to decompress,” says Dr. Terri Kennedy, registered yoga teacher and president of Power Living Enterprises, Inc.

How To Harness The Power Of Yoga

Outside of the mind, the physical poses (asana), can also help to reduce stress and anxiety. Child’s pose, for instance, helps to calm the mind while easing stress and anxiety and gently stretching the back. It's also good for the nervous system and lymphatic system. Eagle pose is also a great stress-reducer as you are literally squeezing the stress out by compressing your entire body and increasing circulation from head-to-toe.

Through a combination of meditation and asana, yoga is one version of stress-reduction that can leave you feeling optimistic, balanced, and empowered. Rather than enlisting the help of superficial outside sources, you are harnessing the power of your mind and body to cope with a bad day, bad week or bad year. Yoga may not be for everyone, but with studies showing the possibility of long-term yoga practice positively benefiting individuals in stressful situations, why not give it a try? Your body will thank you.