Does yoga relieve stress?

Those who practice yoga love to talk about its supposed benefits, but what does the science say?

Is yoga a type of natural stress relief?

Read on for more information about yoga and stress.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a form of exercise which has been taught in Asia for thousands of years.1 It involves getting into and holding a wide variety of different poses, or asanas, which are designed to strengthen the body and improve flexibility.

Some of these positions are known by their Indian names, while others have been translated or are more descriptive, such as “downward dog” or “pigeon”.

Over the years, as more and more people have experienced the benefits of yoga, the activity has moved from being thought of as a niche hobby for hippies to being firmly embraced by the medical establishment.

The NHS even says there is evidence to recommend yoga for help with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains, depression and stress.2

What are the different types of yoga?

Once people decide they want to do yoga, it can be easy to be put off by all the different types out there!

Just a few of the types include:

  • Hatha
  • Bikram
  • Restorative
  • Ansura
  • Ashtanga
  • Kundalini
  • Iyengar

It can sometimes feel a little overwhelming when you start researching for your local yoga provider, especially if you live in a large city where there are various types of yoga on offer.

Below, we go into some of the best types of yoga for stress, but if you are interested in finding out more about the other types, check out our article Which type of yoga should I be doing?

Which type of yoga is best for me?

According to the NHS, irrespective of the type of yoga you choose, the key for newcomers is to find a class designed specifically for beginners.

This will ensure you can learn about some of the fundamentals. It is especially important to learn how to do the various poses without causing any sprains or aches.3

Restorative yoga

One of the very best types of yoga relaxation has got to be restorative yoga.

It is related to Iyengar yoga, a form developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most prominent teachers who helped to spread yoga throughout the world.4

During a restorative yoga class, you will only do a fraction of the number of positions that you would do in a normal class.

However, you will hold them for much longer.

Supported by “props” such as foam blocks, blankets and cushions, your body is meant to feel totally supported so it is able to relax completely.

Meditation might play a larger part in a restorative yoga class, too.

Several studies have shown restorative yoga might help reduce depression.5

Yoga for stress

Whatever type you choose, whether it is restorative yoga or something more active such as Bikram yoga (which is done in a hot room to actively encourage sweating), yoga for stress relief is great for most people throughout their lives.

It is also a powerful tool in the wider toolkit needed for stress management, especially when dealing with chronic stress.

Yoga also ticks several few boxes: exercise, meeting people and self-care, to name a few NHS recommendations.6

Why does yoga work so well for stress?

In short, yoga can help regulate your nervous system.7

The stress response causes all sort of tension in the body, from headaches to muscle aches and sleep problems.

A yoga class involves being active, which releases endorphins that should make you feel happier and relaxed.

The NHS also points out that any type of physical activity can help with clarity of mind and perspective on perceived problems, which can both become problematic if you are experiencing stress.8 Many people are stressed without even knowing it. You might want to explore if you have any of the secret stress symptoms in the article, Could you be stressed without realising? on the Health Hub.

Yoga for anxiety

Anxiety is a condition closely associated with stress.

One of the primary characteristics of anxiety is excessive worrying, so it is clear that yoga’s focus on the body, breathing, meditation, and physical activity could have a positive effect for anxiety sufferers.

Yoga for stress and anxiety is recommended by many healthcare professionals, from the NHS in the UK to some of the top medical facilities in the USA.9 Some research has even shown it might have as good an effect as antidepressants.10

Yoga for sleep

Many people who choose to practice yoga in the morning report that it can give them a huge energy boost.

However, the activity has been proven as beneficial for winding down, relaxation and therefore sleep.

In fact, it does not really matter what time of day you practice; one study found that over 55% of people who do yoga report that they sleep better for it.11

Last updated: 5 November 2020

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