You have probably heard that yoga works to reduce stress. If you see a therapist, they might have recommended yoga classes as a way to lower your anxiety levels. It is true that yoga helps to decrease anxiety symptoms and the physical signs of anxiety.
Many people, however, believe that the calming effects come from the serene and meditative aspects of practicing yoga. This might be true but there are actual physical and mental benefits to regularly participating in yoga that contribute to reducing anxiety levels.
Some studies have shown that yoga helps decrease stress levels, can lead to brain growth, and reduces inflammation.
Yoga as a way to reduce stress
Stress and anxiety aren’t the same thing and you can feel anxious even when you aren’t feeling emotional pressures, however, stress is a common trigger for anxiety. For people with generalized anxiety disorder, it can lead to sleepless nights and ruminating about possible problems.
For those with panic disorder, stress is often a trigger for an anxiety attack. People with other types of anxiety disorders might find their symptoms are more prevalent during times of stress. Finding ways to lower your stress level, therefore, can help you to decrease symptoms of anxiety.
Yoga reduces stress levels in a few different ways. According to a study completed in 2013, regular yoga practice significantly reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is often called the stress hormone. When you are anxious, your body produces more of this hormone, which can result in a heightened awareness state and can activate the “fight or flight” response.
In addition to reducing the stress hormone, yoga increases other chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, which increase feelings of contentment and relaxation. A study completed in 2012 indicates that low levels of these chemicals can result in chronic stress. Raising the levels boosts mood and lowers anxiety.
Yoga increases brain activity
Regular practice of yoga actually increases the volume in several regions of your brain. In a study released in 2015, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to look at the brains of people who consistently practiced yoga.
They found that the brain regions that control attention, visualization, self-concept, and stress had a larger volume in those research subjects than in those who did not practice yoga. The more hours per week spent practicing yoga, the bigger the brain gains. According to the authors of the study, yoga trains the brain to reach a more positive state.
Yoga decreases inflammation
Yoga is considered a mind-body experience. As it is helping you relax and increasing your inner peace, it is also working to improve your physical health. According to a study completed by Paula R. Pullen, Ph.D., practicing yoga actually decreases inflammation levels in the body, which can contribute to physical illness.
Two studies, one published in 2012 and one in 2013 found an association between inflammation and anxiety. Researchers from the 2013 study found that people with late-onset anxiety were more likely to have inflammation issues than those who developed anxiety early in life.
“The purpose of yoga is to create strength, awareness, and harmony in both the mind and body,” says Natalie Nevins, D.O., a family physician and certified Yoga instructor. Yoga is a natural way to reduce anxiety and increase your emotional and physical wellbeing.