Yoga Vs Stress

The movement of yoga to the West and its increased relevance in today’s eco-conscious, sedentary world. By Paula Ahlberg

Pick up any magazine or health publication and you are bombarded with an epidemic of stress-related illnesses. From insomnia, to depression, through to full-blown ‘burn out’.

Having worked in first the health and fitness industry, and then, in the last 20 years, as a yoga instructor, I have never seen so many stressed and anxious clients coming to the yoga room. It has prompted a rise in interest in not just yoga, but Eastern healing too.

Eastern medicine treats an individual as a whole, rather than purely addressing the symptoms. Ayurveda means ‘the science of life’ or ‘the wisdom of life’. As well as addressing the whole constitution of an individual, it examines their diet and lifestyle, often incorporating yoga as part of the treatment.

Western science is catching up with what Eastern philosophy has known for thousands of years. Yoga has the capacity to change our brain. And the more control we have in our mind, the more power we have in life.

Science research

There is ongoing research into this. Sat Bir Khalsa, a professor of medicine at Havard’s medical school, is conducting research into the effects of yoga on stress. He identifies four main subjects and their effects on the individual:

Firstly, the physical postures themselves, along with breath work, for our overall good functioning.

Self-regulation is the second: the ability to control the stress and emotional response, and ultimately, our resilience to stress. This is what psychologists know is the key to managing stress.

Thirdly is the cultivation of mind/body awareness. This is not only about observing what is going on in the body, but also the flow of thoughts. This is the practice of mindfulness meditation, which can change our behaviours in a positive way.

The fourth is about reaching deeper transcendental states, which help us to gravitate towards the positive, and enhance the meaning and purpose of life.

Yoga healing

Yoga has a great capacity to help people heal and overcome life’s challenges; this, in part, explains its huge growth in modern times. As Desikachar states: ‘’The goal of yoga is to encourage us to be a little better than we were before’’.

Pranayama can also help bring stress under control. Through taking fewer breaths, prolonging every breath, we can help to reduce blood pressure, which is governed by the sympathetic nervous system, the messenger to our stress response.

Breathing, together with regulating our thoughts through the challenges of asana practice, is the primary focus in traditional yoga classes. Other things, such as mindfulness, make it a highly potent therapeutic tool.

Living in harmony

There are other factors drawing people to yoga too. As well as coming to yoga to ease stress and anxiety, many of us today are concerned in some way about our planet.

Yoga, in part, began as a reaction against the growth of the urban environment, the enslavement and exploitation of animals, as well as the damming of our rivers thousands of years ago. This was when human beings shifted from living aligned and in harmony with nature, to wanting to control it.

These factors each play a role in the growth of yoga and other ancient practices today. The real juice of yoga is to get to know who you truly are and to live in harmony with nature. In 2019, it is also our friend in the ongoing fight against modern-day stress. 

Paula Ahlberg is the founder of Wellbeing Warehouse (

Om Magazine

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