From my guest post on Yoga with Julie B’s blog! Julie is a Registered Yoga Teacher, Crossfitter, rock climber, foodie, and lover of life. She very kindly posted the following on her great yoga blog.
There are so many wonderful reasons to practice yoga. I personally have practiced yoga for greater flexibility, to increase my strength, to complement my other physical activities like dancing or rock-climbing, and for an amazing workout in itself. In my previous post “Yoga for Stress Management,” I addressed some of the great research out there on the many benefits of yoga for managing our stress as well. So how exactly does yoga help with our stress? It is all about lowering those cortisol levels!
What is cortisol? It is our stress hormone, the one that kicks in when we face a perceived or real danger. It is what sets off a series of responses in the body that allow us to fight, escape, tend or cope with all the stressors in our lives. Although cortisol serves an important role in our bodies, chronic stress—the kind many of us experience on a daily basis—can lead to an imbalance of cortisol in our bodies. So is imbalanced cortisol a problem? According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, Harvard educated doctor and yoga teacher, chronically high cortisol can led to a multitude of health problems, including:
- Abnormal blood sugar, diabetes, and prediabetes
- Obesity, increased body fat, and metabolic syndrome in women
- Mood and brain problems, including depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Delayed wound healing
- Infertility and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Worsening sleep
- Bone loss in menopausal women
- Accelerated aging
- Imbalance of other hormones like thyroid, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone
We need to find healthy ways to lower our cortisol and yoga is truly one of the best things you can do for your body, mind, and spirit. How does yoga help? When you take those deep breaths, you are lowering your cortisol and adrenaline levels and increasing our oxygen flow to the brain. Inverting by putting your feet above your heart will also lower your stress responses by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. For example, the pose Viparita Karani with your feet up against the wall, is a great position to help with insomnia or calming anxiety. Practicing Yin Yoga in particular—with its focus on mindfulness, compassion, and longer held poses—can be very helpful for lower cortisol levels. In fact, Dr. Sara Gottfried specifically recommends Yin Yoga for lowering cortisol in her book The Hormone Cure (p. 113). Lastly, think of Savasana as the ultimate stress-releasing pose. The ability to truly let go at the end of your yoga routine is the culmination of the wonderful gift of yoga you have given yourself.
As I work with clients on their health and wellness goals, one pattern I see with almost everyone is the need to manage our stress more effectively. Stress management connects to our weight, our sleep, our digestion, our levels of inflammation, and our overall sense of well-being. Yoga can be one of the most effective ways to begin to bring balance back into our lives. So grab your mat and head out to one of Julie B’s amazing classes today! Your body will thank you for it.