Holiday stress: It’s not how much stress, but how well you handle it

New research is showing that it is more important to improve the way we respond to stress than it is to try to eliminate stress in our lives. For this reason, yoga, meditation, and breath practices are key to training the nervous system how to respond to the realities of daily life with less stress-inducing reactivity.

Relaxation, meditation, and deep breathing are the most beneficial part of a yoga practice in terms of overall health and well-being. Stress is now believed to be the culprit of 75-90 percent of all doctor visits. Physical, emotional and environmental stress is wreaking havoc on our energetic systems. Dr. Ralph LaForge of Duke University in a workshop at ACSM’s Conference in Reno, Nev. in 2001, stated, after studying over 300 articles on the health benefits of hatha yoga, that the most important parts of a yoga class for overall health and well-being are breath and final relaxation. He taught that just 30-40 seconds of deep belly breathing can eliminate or reduce all physiological symptoms of stress. Given the number of doctor visits believed to be stress-related, this is a simple and highly beneficial technique we can do any time, anywhere.

“Whenever we are willing to be present to the moment, we can see that stress and struggle come from concerning ourselves with the past or future,” says Adi Vajra, meditation teacher at Flow Yoga. Meditation is an opportunity to come to presence and find peace. The more often we experience that peace, the easier it is to return to it.

Restorative Yoga is a style that supports the body in deep relaxation and passive stretching. This helps us to “rest and digest” by helping us to learn to relax, invoking a relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system). Insomnia and digestive dysfunction are common symptoms of stress. Extensive research shows the following benefits:

  • Lowers stress hormones
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Helps in relieving pain
  • Increases motivation and productivity
  • Improves decision making
  • Lowers anxiety and irritability
  • Promotes healthy digestion
  • Deeply relaxes the body, invokes Relaxation Response
  • Improves healthy sleep, relieving symptoms of insomnia
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Develops qualities of compassion and understanding
  • Relieves symptoms of mild-moderate depression
  • Can enhance fertility

Restorative, Yoga Nidra, and Yin Yoga classes focus on relaxing the body in restful postures. Note that “rest” is different than sleep. Rest provides the body an opportunity to renew and heal. Countless studies have proven the physical and emotional benefits of this. The restorative effects of yoga should never be over-looked, no matter what age, and sometimes slowing down the practice, going deeper in poses, and just feeling the restorative power of them does wonders for the body.

David Spiegel, M.D., author of Living Beyond Limits, reports, “In medicine, we are learning that physical problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, can be influenced by psychological interventions, such as relaxation training. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration issued a report recommending these non-drug approaches as the treatment of choice for milder forms of hypertension. Mind and body are connected and must work together, and this should be a powerful asset in treating medical illness.”

When we are experiencing stress, the following systems get shut down:

  • Digestion
  • Elimination
  • Growth
  • Repair
  • Reproduction

Restorative yoga, meditation, and other energetically-balanced forms of Yoga, activate the parasympathetic nervous system also known as the PNS. Stimulating the PNS helps to lower heart rate, blood pressure, to stimulate a healthy immune system and keep the endocrine system operating well. When this system gets out of whack, or when the sympathetic nervous system gets over-stimulated, the PNS helps to bring it back in balance. This is called your “autonomic response,” or AR. How well your body responds to stress is measured by your AR. It is believed that if the PNS is tapped out or under-active, illness pervades. Yoga and meditation help to stimulate the PNS and improve AR (autonomic response).

Stephanie Adams is an ERYT 500-trained Yoga Teacher and owner of Flow Yoga Community in downtown Hood River, offering over 50 classes each week, including Gentle, Yoga for 50+, Restorative, Meditation, Align Flow and other classes to balance your body and mind. Go to to see our entire schedule. Come as you are.

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