Constant sleepiness, over fatigue, extreme exhaustion, restless nights etc. have become a common phenomenon today. In most cases, too much stress is the main cause of these symptoms. Management of stress overload through medication has complications and side effects. Yoga enables stress relief without medication. Yoga offers natural stress relief through the practice of Pranayama.
In this article we will discuss,
- What is stress?
- What does stress do to the body?
- Symptoms of Stress
- Yoga Breathing Techniques- Pranayama
- How to reduce stress naturally?
- Pranayama breathing exercises for stress relief
What is Stress?
The word stress was first used in relation with human psychology by Hans Selye. One of the world’s leading authorities on endocrinology, steroid chemistry, experimental surgery and pathology, Selye defined stress as, “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand for change”. Simply put this means that, it is a state of mental tension or agitation resulting from external stimuli. Stress, like anxiety, is a fighting mechanism of the body, to a certain external situation. Hence, the presence of stress is not a bad thing. Stress becomes negative, only when it becomes a constant phenomenon.
Let us say you have to finish a task you had planned earlier, but there’s not enough time left. You start feeling stressed. But what goes on inside the body exactly?
What does stress do to the body?
The hypothalamus in the brain sends a nervous impulse to the adrenal glands situated on top of the kidney. The Adrenal gland releases Adrenaline and Cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, widely referred to as the stress hormone, helps the body adapt to stressful situations. Cortisol influences the blood pressure. Healthy secretions help to maintain the strength of the immune system. This leads to increase energy levels, helping one effectively deal with stress.Once the stressful situation is over, the brain brings the cortisol and adrenaline levels back to normal. The main problem of stress arises, when our body is not able to switch off this stress mechanism.
Situations or the stimuli that lead to stress are known as stressors. Thus stress in a situation where you have to complete work on a deadline is helpful, but stress in an everyday situation like going to sleep is very damaging.
Stress becomes a disease when our body remains constantly in this state due to financial stress, occupational stress etc. The effect of stress on our body can be damaging. Common reported symptoms are as follows:
- Headaches and tiredness
- Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
- Gritting, grinding teeth
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Stuttering or stammering.
- Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
- Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion
- Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
- Light headedness, faintness,
- Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
- Cold or sweaty hands
- Dizziness and Fatigue
- Dry mouth, problems swallowing
- Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
- Rashes, itching, hives.
- Overreaction to petty annoyances
- Unexplained or frequent “allergy” attacks
- Increased number of minor accidents
- Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
- Obsessive or compulsive behavior
- Excess belching, flatulence
- Reduced work efficiency or productivity
- Constipation, diarrhea, loss of control
- Difficulty breathing, frequent sighing
- Rapid or mumbled speech
- Sudden attacks of life threatening panic
- Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
- Chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse
- Problems in communication, sharing
- Frequent urination
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Weakness, fatigue,struggling to sleep
- Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness
- Increased anger, frustration, hostility
- Weight gain or loss without diet
- Depression, frequent or wild mood swings
- Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
- Increased or decreased appetite
The list is long. Stress affects the body in a negative way, thus sparking a chain of reactions which may lead to deterioration of one’s health in multiple ways. Thus to battle stress and eliminate it completely, one needs to focus more on holistic health and lifestyle changes through alternative medicine rather than trying to just cure the symptoms. Pranayama breathing techniques are thus one of the best practices for natural stress relief. But, first let us understand Pranayama.
Yoga Breathing Techniques- Pranayama
“Tasmin Sati SvasaprasvasayorgativicchedahPranayamah”
Regulation of breath or the control of Prana is the stoppage of inhalation and exhalation, which follows after securing that steadiness of posture or seat, Asana. Thus is Pranayama defined in Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Chapter II-49
“Prana” is the vital life force within the human body. It is not tangible or quantifiable. It is the energy which makes us live. “Ayama” is the act of controlling and directing. Pranayama thus put together means to control and direct one’s energy. But how does one actually do this?
The breath is the physical manifestation of this Prana. One can notice that the rhythm of breath when one feels happy, sad, depressed, excited, peaceful etc. is very different. This means that breath is closely connected to the way we feel. Pranayama (or yoga breathing) works on the breath and helps us induce a state of peace and calm. The act of pranayama deals with controlling the breath for a desired result. In the Yoga Sutra, the practices of pranayama and asana (yogic postures) are considered to be the highest form of purification and self-discipline for the mind and the body, respectively. The practices strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system and provide a way for natural stress relief.
How to reduce stress naturally?
Stress induces high levels of adrenaline and cortisol. This leads to various symptoms as mentioned above, all of which make one restless and breath irregular. Yogic asanas should be practiced first which will help one to stabilize and calm the body.This helps to calm symptoms like tremors and muscle spasms and is helpful for reducing muscular tension, which reduces stress. After this, yoga breathing techniques can be used. A research paper by J W Hoffman proves that Pranayama induces the relaxation response which leads to a decrease in cortisol levels and sympathetic nervous system activity.
Because of the concentration required, the mind gets a much-needed break from the stressors, as well as helps put things into perspective. The emphasis yoga places on being in the moment can also help relieve stress, as we learn not to dwell on past events or anticipate the future, thus providing natural stress relief.
Pranayama breathing exercises for stress
Thus after a proper sequence of asanas, the following pranayamas can be practiced to reduce stress levels, providing natural stress relief:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing or Deep breathing
One must note that, these are not overnight solutions to stress. Regular practice of yoga, along with a proper lifestyle will help destress, leading to natural stress relief.
To avoid any side effects or mistakes, it is highly recommended to learn and practice under the guidance of a qualified teacher.
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Read our article on Anxiety here.