How Stress Affects Your Body... and what Yoga can do about it

I have had some major health issues in my (not that long) lifetime. And over the past few months in a job environment that was growing increasingly tumultuous, I started to notice that I would have a pounding headache on Friday that would begin to lift the second that I walked out of the building. Then, over the weekend, I would get to the point that my body would feel almost perfect again. But come Monday morning, all of my symptoms would hit me like a lead balloon. Now I'm no doctor, but I can come to the conclusion that real symptoms don't come and go quite that regularly. (Now personally, I decided to solve that problem by quitting my job and going into freelance.) But since that may not be an option for everybody, I thought I would share one of the other great de-stressors in my life. Yoga. 

Disclaimer: I am not an old school Yogi. I don't chant OMs, I don't walk around quoting great philosophers, and I don't think that self reflection is the cure to all of the world's problems. However, what I have personally gotten from my yoga practice is the ability to completely turn off all outside stressors for at least an hour, and just be in the moment, focusing on things like whether or not my downword dog looks more like a topsy turvy camel.

I started taking yoga classes over my lunch breaks a couple of years ago, and while I was still in the office environment, it may have been one of the best choices that I ever made. The first few times I took classes, I'm pretty sure I tried to solve all of the problems on my desk in my head while half heartedly sweating it out in a somewhat sloppy Crescent Pose. But eventually, the focus needed to perform some of the harder yoga poses managed to pull my attention from my work, and to my surprise, when my brain was free to STOP focusing on all the problems in the world, it was actually much faster to think of solutions when I DID get back to my work. Thanks to yoga classes, I began to realize that life goes on without me telling it how, and that it is ok to simply take a break from trying to figure everything out once in awhile. Yoga helps you step back and see the problem from a distance, and realize that whether YOU have the answer or not, the sun will still rise in the morning.

Before I tried yoga, the idea of meditation weirded me out, because I was always told that it meant you were supposed to clear your mind. Do you know how freakin HARD that is? I don't think I have ever successfully had zero thoughts. But when I started doing yoga, i realized that all meditation really is (at least for me) is granting myself permission for an allotted period of time to simply NOT think about a single one of my problems or challenges. It doesn't work however, to just not think. So I simply use the time to think dream about something that I want to do some day, remind myself of my favorite promises from the Bible, to praise the Lord for all the amazing stuff that IS happening in my life, or to just be thankful. 

If you have a motherload of stress pounding you down, I recommend stepping it up a notch with Acro Yoga!!! Not only does it require your full concentration (thus eliminating your minds ability to continue to throw worrisome "what ifs" into your thoughts,) but it also requires your full body strength, thus equaling a killer workout followed by floods of happy de-stressing little endorphins! (See photo below... you can almost see the dancing endorphins :))

According to Mayo Clinic, the common effects of stress are: 

Common effects of stress ...
... On your body ... On your mood ... On your behavior
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal

And according to happy people everywhere, the common effects of yoga are:
• Boosted Mood
• Higher Metabolism
• Lower Blood Pressure
• Increased Strength and Flexibilty
• More Fun in Your Life (ok, that one is my loose interpretation. You can read the official article here)

Life will try and hand you stress, whether you want it or not. But you get to make the choice on whether you receive it. 

Photo Credits: Olivia Kohler Photography
Posted by Johanna Johnston on 10 September, 2015 Fitness Blog, Stress and Yoga, Yoga Blog | 0 comments
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