Yoga and Stress

by Karli Taylor

In the past, each time that I sat down to write about yoga for you, my focus was on running. The mechanics of running. The physiology of running. The psychology of running. Because this may be what you are expecting when you see my name at the top, let me just warn you: This article has NOTHING TO DO WITH RUNNING.

Great. You are still reading. I thought maybe I would lose you there. Being a runner myself, I understand the way that the brain of a serious runner often works: “If this won’t help my running, what’s the point.” But we have something else in common right now. As humans living through this period of quarantine and social distancing, we have a great deal of unknowns to deal with. There has not been a situation like this during any of our lifetimes. Is anyone else stressed out?

Though any physical exercise helps to move stagnant energy through our body, creates feel good hormones known as endorphins and can provide temporary distractions from immediate stressors, yoga actually helps to teach our bodies to manage stress more efficiently.

Let’s start by looking at the immediate benefits of yoga. Much like any exercise, it helps provide a distraction from the business of our minds, but because yoga marries breath to movement, it may be a more effective distraction. For example, if you are doing push-ups, your mind can wander during that physical movement, right? Now try to focus on inhaling the whole time you are lowering down and exhaling the whole time you are pressing up. Did you think about anything else? It’s possible, but much less likely! In a yoga practice, each movement is paired with a breath, giving your mind 2 tasks to focus on at once. For this reason, just a single yoga practice can help ease your mind and calm your nerves.

Theoretically then, you could take that concept and apply it to any strength or cardio workout and forget about even trying yoga. Not so fast! The long-term stress busting benefits of a yoga practice are worth giving it a solid try. Yoga actually trains your counter-stress response system called the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

So what does that mean? When your mind interprets something as stressful or threatening, it triggers an immediate response by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS floods your body with hormones that heighten the senses, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and focus the brain's activity. Often when this happens, the PNS, which is responsible for physical relaxation and emotional calm, becomes overwhelmed and cannot keep up. This imbalance of SNS and PNS leads you to respond with energy and focus, but also with anger, anxiety, and aggression.

With regular yoga practice, your PNS becomes more efficient at stepping up in these situations by not becoming overwhelmed. This has been shown to improve even after a few sessions of yoga.

I know that it’s tempting to search for that one pose or breathing exercise that you can add to your daily routine and be done with it. But there isn't one magic pose or sequence. It’s the ever-changing practice of moving and breathing through a variety of poses that, in essence, changes our response to change. As the body learns new movement patterns, the mind learns new thought patterns and the nervous system learns new ways of responding to stress.

One more thing …in those stressful pre-race and mid-race moments where your mind starts to play with your performance, you will thank me.

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Karli Taylor: Yoga For Runners Archive

How to Combat Tight Upper Body to Run Better: Fish pose, or matsyasana

Warriors Against Achilles Injury: Warrior 1, Virabhadrasana I and Warrior 2,
Virabhadrasana II

Karli Receives “Extra Mile” Award at Banquet

Yoga to Strengthen Your Body When Running in Snow: Bound angle pose, or Baddha Konasana

How to Strengthen the Hip Complex: Reclined Pigeon or Supta Kapotasana

Miraculous Pose to Repair Your Body: Legs up the Wall pose or Viparita Karani

How to Give Yourself Better Running Strength: Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward: Thunderbolt Pose or Vajrasana

How to Stretch Wisely: Lizard pose, or Utthan Pristhasana

Balance For Runners: Tree Pose or Vrksasana

Strengthening Your Back: Ragdoll or Baddha Hasta Uttanasana, and Dead Bug or Matkut Shavasana

Combating Runner’s Butt – Half Fish Pose or Ardha Matsyendra

Exercises to Help in Stability – Happy Baby or Ananda Balasana

Stretching Hip Flexors – Crescent Moon Pose or Anjaneyasana , and Bridge Pose or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Yoga for Runners Intro

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