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You can come to your mat every day, practicing for hours on end, but if you don’t deal with the underlying stress in your life, the benefits of yoga can remain at arm’s length. Not to mention the host of health problems that chronic stress can lead to.
Our recommended coping mechanism? Yoga and meditation, of course! We know that yoga, relaxation, and mindfulness practices can work behind-the-scenes to help lower cortisol—a stress hormone.
Here are six surprising ways you can use yoga to de-stress your life. Come to your mat with defeating chronic stress as your primary goal. And once you’ve accomplished that, you can move on to reap yoga’s other rewards.
You can get by with just two classes a week
Just two 90-minute classes a week is enough to notice an improved stress response, according to research on yoga and meditation coming out of Germany. Study participants noted a decrease in stress, anxiety, and depression.
Can’t make it to class? Just breathe!
Breathing also has the same effect. Taking 20 to 30 minutes a day to focus on abdominal breathing can reduce anxiety and reduce stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. “Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness,” they write on their website.
Yoga heals a broken heart
Breaking up is hard to do. And relationships and the loss of loved ones can add a ton of stress to our lives. Whether you’re going through a tough breakup, just lost a relative or friend, or are grieving in general, a regular yoga practice can help heal your heart. Using yoga as a form of self-care can help you process grief and recharge your emotional batteries, says Seane Corn, a yoga teacher who leads Yoga for a Broken Heart workshops around the world. Moving with your breath releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin, and doing it regularly can decrease cortisol levels, helping to alleviate the stress, anxiety, and sadness that comes with heartbreak.
Yoga helps you sleep better
If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, despite regular physical activity and a healthy diet, stress and anxiety could be the culprit. According to nutritional biochemist Shawn M. Talbott, being in a state of physical overload can also leave you feeling restless. That’s where a relaxing, cooling ‘yin’ and yoga nidra practices helps restore balance. Yoga nidra, also known as the science of yoga sleep, is a powerful, effective practice that puts the body in a state of consciousness between being waking and sleeping. Similar to a guided meditation, yoga nidra calms the body’s fight-or-flight state and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Try this10-minute yoga nidra practice to beat stress and help you get a great night’s sleep.
A regular yoga practice lowers your blood pressure
If you struggle with high blood pressure, which affects over 1 billion people worldwide, yoga can help you get a handle on it. Studies have shown that yoga helps lower blood pressure in adults with mild cases of hypertension. And that can help us all relax a little more.
Yogis live longer and with more vitality
Worried about growing old? More research is showing that meditation can help lengthen telomeres, the productive structures at the ends of our chromosomes that can help slow the aging process. So make sure to prioritize a 10 minute daily meditation practice. You can actually rewire your brain and enhance your cognitive abilities that can atrophy with age.