Yoga and Mental Stress
Yoga, originated in ancient India combines a lot of physical, spiritual, and mental practices. It has demonstrated the potential to provide mental health benefits by stilling and calming the mind. In recent times, it gained popularity due to its practitioners’ claims of its efficacy in stress reduction. Data from various studies have shown that yoga can successfully alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Yoga’s benefits in terms of both mental and physical health can offer reduction in the sympathetic tone of the nervous system.  The benefits of yoga can lead to favorable immune and endocrine consequences. Heart failure patients have shown a significant reduction in IL-6 and CRP with the help of yoga.  IL-6 and CRP refers to the inflammatory markers in the body. On the other hand, minimal reductions were visible in heart failure patients who only received conventional medical treatment. Studies have also shown that yoga has the potential to lower heart rate, body mass index, and blood pressure.  This article discusses the positive effects of yoga on mental stress and physical inflammation. Further, case studies are mentioned with evidence regarding how yoga can provide positive results. This article also has a holistic approach towards pain relief with the help of yoga.
What Is Stress?
When your mind perceives a major challenge or threat, it leads to the surge of different hormones and chemicals in the body.  Stress can trigger a biological response in the body. The brain floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol as a normal biological reaction to the stressor.  The fight-or-flight response gets activated in the body as soon as it can detect stress. This response revolves around fighting the stressor or running away from it. After the occurrence of the response, the body begins to relax. When the body is exposed to excessive stress constantly, it can have long-term negative consequences on health.  Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing all the time as long as it’s temporary. After passing the fight-or-flight response, the heart rate should slow down.  Breathing should become normal, and muscles become relaxed. The body needs to return to its natural state without any long-lasting negative consequences. Severe, prolonged, or frequent stress can cause mental as well as physical damage. In 2020, around 190 million people experienced one or the other symptoms of stress. 
What Are The Different Symptoms Of Stress?
Some of the physical symptoms of stress are pains/aches, exhaustion, sleeping trouble, shaking, dizziness, high blood pressure, jaw clenching or muscle tension, weakened immune system, digestive issues.  The mental symptoms of stress are anxiety, irritability, sadness, panic attacks, depression.  People with chronic stress often resort to unhealthy behaviors like overeating, smoking, substance abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, gambling, or participating in internet browsing, shopping, or sex compulsively. 
What Are The Different Stress Hormones?
When the brain senses danger, the hypothalamus begins reacting. The hypothalamus sends hormone and nerve signals to the adrenal glands in the body. The adrenal glands begin producing several hormones to deal with the stress that the body is feeling.  The hormones command to face danger and elevate the probability of survival. Adrenaline or epinephrine is one such hormone that triggers the fight-or-flight response. An adrenaline rush in the body can lead to increased heartbeat, breathing rate. It helps the muscles to use glucose properly, contracts of the blood vessels, stimulation of perspiration and inhibits insulin production.  An adrenaline rush is beneficial for dealing with stressors, but if adrenaline surges frequently, it can damage blood vessels, can cause a high risk of stroke and heart attack or anxiety. Further, cortisol is the primary stress hormone that gets triggered in the body to deal with stressors.  The different functions of cortisol are increasing the amount of glucose in the blood, helping the brain to use glucose, tissue repair, restraining non-essential functions in a dangerous situation, maintaining the immune system, dampening the growth process and the reproductive system. The different functions performed by the cortisol hormone is normal for survival, but prolonged periods of cortisol levels in the body can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, sleeping issues, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, brain fog, and other memory issues, a weak immune system more vulnerable to infections, and negative impact on a person’s mood. 
Types Of Stress
The different types of stress are acute, episodic acute, and chronic stress.
- Acute stress: It happens to every person as it is the body’s natural reaction to deal with a challenging situation. This can be described as the stress that you feel after narrowly escaping an accident on the road. Acute stress can be something that is enjoyed by individuals.  It might be frightening, but at the same time, acute stress seems thrilling. Acute stress usually doesn’t cause any harm. It prepares the mind to develop more effective responses to difficult, stressful situations in the future. The body returns to its natural state when the stressful situation passes. But severe acute stress can be harmful. It can cause post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.
- Episodic acute stress: It occurs when you experience episodes of acute stress frequently. It occurs when you are worried or anxious while suspecting something might happen. It might make you feel that your life is chaotic and crisis keeps coming into your life one after the other. Working in law enforcement or as a firefighter often triggers episodic acute stress in people. Episodic acute stress can ruin your mental well-being as well as physical health. 
- Chronic stress: Having high levels of stress for prolonged periods can lead to chronic stress. It causes a severe negative impact on your mental as well as physical health. Chronic stress can cause cardiovascular diseases, weakened immune system, and high blood pressure. Chronic stress is also responsible for causing depression and anxiety in individuals. It can also lead to headaches, sleeping issues, and an upset stomach. 
Relationship Between Stress And Anxiety
People with high levels of stress often suffer from anxiety. Anxiety causes high levels of uneasiness, fear, and worries in individuals. When a person has both anxiety and stress, it can cause serious negative consequences on their health. They become more likely to develop different diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, panic disorder, diabetes, and depression. Yoga has a positive impact on curing stress as well as anxiety induced by it.
How Can Yoga Help In Relieving Stress?
Practicing yoga can help in stimulating physical and mental reactions, which reduces anxiety and stress. The different postures involved in yoga can help in promoting flexibility, relieving tension, and releasing physical blockages such as muscle knots. It aids in the healthy release of tension and emotions. It also helps in releasing hormones like endorphins for boosting the mood of individuals. The feel-good hormone positively impacts how stress can be handled by the mind and body. It helps in the cultivation of feelings like serenity, joy, and love.
Scientific studies are reported to support the stress-relieving capacity of yoga. In a 2018 study, women were made to practice Hatha yoga thrice a week for four weeks. The results of the study after 12 sessions have shown considerable reductions in the stress, depression, and anxiety of the women.  The findings show that yoga can be complementary support alongside conventional treatment. It can also reduce the need for prescription drugs to a certain extent with long-term benefits on the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression.  Another study was conducted in 2020 to find out the effect of yoga poses on stress hormones. The adult men involved in the study have shown that yoga stretches can reduce cortisol levels in the body.  The concentration of salivary cortisol decreased while the ratio of cortisol and testosterone increased. Yoga stretching for 90 minutes led to a significant improvement in the parasympathetic activities of the nervous system. The low-intensity exercises involved with yoga stretching can provide relaxation to the mind and body. It can be used for recovery after an athlete’s conditioning or high-intensity exercises. A recently reported study in 2020, yoga Nidra meditation helped in lowering stress levels. People selected for the study had busy schedules and could find out only a short duration for a yoga break. The meditation was offered in an audio file, and it was only played for 30 minutes for 30 days. After the end of 30 days, the men selected in the study showed reductions in stress levels. The men also showed signs of better sleep, mindfulness, and overall improved health.  Meditation involved with yoga can help in relaxing patients and helps them get rid of anxious thoughts. It leads to the expansion of alpha waves in the mind that can send the brain to a deep state of relaxation.
Breathing exercises or pranayama can also help in reducing stress levels in individuals. Pranayama calms the nervous system and improve the stress response of the body. In 2013, the study showed how pranayama could reduce stress and anxiety associated with taking a test. As part of the study, 107 MA students were made to practice pranayama for an entire semester. Only 33% of the students suffered from high test anxiety, while the others showed significant reductions in their stress levels.  Therefore, pranayama can be used as a technique to reduce stress and anxiety before a test and obtain better test results. The increased uptake of oxygen during pranayama is linked to lowering stress and anxiety levels. Some of the common types of pranayama are Nadi shodhana or alternate nostril breathing, kapalabhati or breath of fire, ujjayi breathing, simhasana, or lion’s breath, bhramari or humming bee breath, and sitali breath.
Yoga Poses To Relieve Stress
Some of the popular yoga poses that can help in relieving stress are as follows:
- Cat-Cow pose (Marjaryasana to Bitilasana): It allows you to connect your breathing to the movements. The pose helps in calming your mind and releasing stress. You should allow your breath to guide every movement of yours.
- Child’s pose (Balasana): This pose can help in creating an inward focus for restoring energy. It also aids physical as well as mental relaxation. You can place a cushion under the forehead, thighs, or torso to get more support.
- Legs-up-the-wall poses (Viparita Karani): It is a yoga pose that can provide deep relaxation. It also boosts lymph circulation and flows.
- Corpse pose (Savasana): This pose can help in calming your mind by letting go of tension. You need to focus on taking deep breaths while doing this pose.
What Is Inflammation?
The body activates the immune system when it encounters offending agents like toxic chemicals, bacteria, or viruses or suffers from an injury. The immune system sends out cytokines and inflammatory cells as its first responders. Cytokines are substances that can help in producing more inflammatory cells.  The inflammatory cells begin a response to trap the offending agents or to begin healing the injured tissues. It might result in pain, bruising, redness or swelling and also affects body systems that cannot be seen.
What Are The Various Types Of Inflammation?
The different types of inflammation are acute and chronic.
- Acute inflammation: It occurs as a response to sudden damages in your body, such as cutting your finger. The body sends inflammatory cells to the injury. The cells are responsible for beginning the process of healing.
- Chronic inflammation: The body keeps sending immune cells even when there’s no outside danger. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory cells attack the tissues in the joints. It leads to severe inflammation in the joints that can come and go and cause pain and deformities.
What Are The Symptoms Of Inflammation?
The different symptoms of acute inflammation are swelling, tenderness or pain, heat, flushed skin at the site of the injury, bruising, loss of movement, redness, and stiffness.
In some cases, acute inflammation remains localized to a few particular areas. But sometimes, acute inflammation might be systemic, like a viral infection. White blood cells in the body trigger inflammatory chemicals that can initiate an immune response.  The body starts putting all its energy towards fighting infection. Therefore, this type of acute inflammation leads to exhaustion and sickness. Some of the signs indicating this type of acute inflammation are fever, lethargy, nausea, irritability, sleepiness, sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose, and headache. The symptoms of this type of acute inflammation can stay for a week or longer. Sometimes acute inflammation becomes more localized and causes conditions like the following:
- Acute bronchitis: It refers to the inflammation of the airways in the lungs. 
- Tonsillitis: It occurs when any bacteria or virus enters the nose or mouth, and the tonsils trap it. As a result, the immune system attacks the invaders causing an inflammatory response.
- Acute appendicitis: It is a condition that causes inflammation of the appendix.
- Sinusitis: It occurs due to the blockage or inflammation of the sinuses or cavities in the skull lined with tissues.
The signs of chronic inflammation are more difficult to notice. Some of the common symptoms of chronic inflammation are chest pain, abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, stiffness or pain in the joints, skin rash, mouth sores, high blood pressure, kidney disease, high cholesterol, depression, different types of cancer, osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson, Alzheimer’s disease.  Chronic inflammation can worsen quietly with only a few independent symptoms. Chronic inflammation might be subtle, but it can be a major threat to the health of individuals. 
What Are Some Of The Common Causes Of Inflammation?
- Autoimmune disorders: In the case of autoimmune disorders like lupus, the body begins attacking healthy tissues.
- Toxins: Exposure to industrial chemicals, pollution, and other toxins can lead to inflammation.
- Acute inflammation: Untreated acute inflammation from an injury or infection can lead to chronic inflammation.
Several lifestyle factors can also increase the risk of inflammation in the body. The factors that can increase the risk of developing chronic inflammation are as follows:
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can often trigger chronic inflammation.
- Obesity: High body mass index that falls under the category of obesity can lead to chronic inflammation. Fat tissue is responsible for producing pro-inflammatory chemicals.
- Physical activity or inactivity: High-intensity exercises for a prolonged period as well as lack of physical activity can cause chronic inflammation.
- Chronic stress: Psychological stress is often linked to inflammation in individuals.
- Smoking: Smoking reduces the number of anti-inflammatory molecules in the body and triggers inflammation.
- Diet: Diets with high amounts of trans fat, saturated fat, and refined sugar can lead to inflammation, especially in overweight people.
- Low sex hormone: Sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen are responsible for suppressing inflammation. In advanced, lower levels of these sex hormones are often noticed. As a result, the risk of inflammatory disease can increase.
- Age: Chronic inflammation is often found to worsen with increasing age.
- Sleep disorders: People with improper sleeping schedules have more inflammatory markers in their bodies than people who sleep for eight hours at night daily.
Inflammation And Obesity
Obesity is a type of low-grade inflammation that can lead to a chronic disorder when left untreated. Several inflammatory mediators can be released by the adipose tissue. Obesity-related inflammation is associated with the release of adipocytokines from the adipose tissue. It can predispose to a chronic inflammatory state leading to the culmination of metabolic dysregulations. This can be treated with the help of yoga practice. 
How Can Yoga Reduce Inflammation?
Many chronic conditions such as heart diseases, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis can be linked to chronic inflammatory processes. Studies have been conducted to prove yoga’s relationship with inflammation.  Yoga has a significant impact on the levels of inflammatory biomarkers in patients with disorders related to chronic inflammation.  The different benefits of regular yoga in reducing inflammation are as follows:
- Reduces the level of stress hormones in the body that trigger inflammation
- Reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body
- Lowers the level of cytokines in the body that can trigger inflammatory pain
- It prevents inflammation that can kill cancerous cells in people with inflammation
Hatha yoga is the most popular type of yoga used for treating inflammation. The primary component of the yoga interventions was postures. But in some studies, postures were also combined with breathing and meditation. Some studies also included additional yoga practices like “om” chanting with postures, breathing, and meditation. On the other hand, yoga combined with nutritional counseling has also shown a positive impact on inflammation.
Yoga’s effects on patients with cancer are quite evident. A study has observed patients with breast cancer at varying stages.  Patients with colorectal cancer while undergoing chemotherapy treatment were also studied. The patients found favorable outcomes on inflammatory biomarkers after the yoga intervention.  The outcomes of the study were in no way linked to the varying stages of the disease. Yoga can show a reduction in the levels of IL-1B and IL-6 that primarily cause inflammation in cancer patients.  The amount of cortisol produced in the body is also reduced. Therefore, the cancer patients did not experience inflammation due to stress. Yoga can also increase the levels of anti-inflammatory factors and increase the levels of pro-inflammatory factors in cancer patients. The increased levels of glucocorticoid receptors, which is an anti-inflammatory factor, also signify positive results.
Studies have also reported inflammatory biomarkers associated with cardiovascular diseases. Yoga can reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines, high-sensitivity CRP, and IL-6. Increased levels of extracellular superoxide dismutase can be found in the body of individuals who practice yoga. It is an antioxidant enzyme that can protect the cardiovascular system and reduce inflammation associated with heart diseases.  Studies have also included people who have inflammation due to prolonged stress. In a study, industrial workers from a factory in India were included. The workers are exposed to various pollutants and occupational hazards at their workplace. A significant reduction in the inflammatory biomarkers like hs-CRP and IL-6 could be noticed after yoga interventions. Yoga also helped in the increase of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. Another study observed menopausal women with inflammation from psychological stress. The women have shown a reduction in serum cortisol levels of the yoga intervention group. One of the studies has concentrated on the inflammatory biomarkers in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The participants in the study attended six weekly yoga sessions of ninety minutes. The participants had shown a significant reduction in the CRP levels. Lymphocyte count is also reduced with pain in the inflamed joints. A mixed study of participants with various conditions like hypertension, diabetes, bronchial asthma was conducted. Yoga triggered the reduction of IL-6, plasma cortisol levels, and increased endomorphin to help in getting rid of inflammation.
Yoga Postures That Can Reduce Inflammation
- Balasana or Child’s Pose: It is a restorative and mild inversion pose that enables your head to drop down below the hips. It stretches the hips, ankles, and back for relieving stress. Therefore, inflammation caused due to stress can be alleviated with this yoga posture.
- Supine Twist: It is a posture to wring out pain and negativity from the body. The posture helps in massaging the organs gently and improves blood flow. The gentle twist helps in increasing flexibility of the spine and alleviates chronic inflammation. The pose is perfect for improving your digestive health. Pain and inflammation in the lower back can be significantly reduced by this posture. The yoga pose can also help in getting rid of shoulder tightness. People with inflammatory pain due to desk jobs can benefit a lot from this pose.
- Ardha Matsyaendrasana or Half Lord of the Fishes pose: This yoga pose involves a deeper twist that can rescue chronic inflammation. It helps in cleansing your organs and detoxifying your digestive system.
- Virabhadrasana or Warrior pose: This pose can help in relieving muscle pain and improving respiration and circulation. When your respiration and circulation are improved, the body becomes well-equipped for dealing with stress and inflammation related to it.
- Trikonasana or Triangle pose: The pose helps in developing flexibility in the body. It also ensures that your legs and core get toned. This yoga posture can reduce stress and inflammation.
- Setu Bandhasana or Bridge Pose: It involves a gentle stretch to the chest, spine, hips, and neck. The pose can help in relieving chronic inflammation and improving blood circulation. The pose is also beneficial in alleviating mild depression and anxiety. It is a yoga posture that can create positive energy within the body.
- Twisted figure pose: It is a restorative pose that helps in soothing the nervous system and enables healing of the entire body. It can be one of your go-to poses for preventing inflammation. The pose can promote relaxation and calmness in the mind and body.
Holistic Pain Relief From Yoga
Yoga can be used as a treatment option for different types of pains and aches. It helps improve the daily function of people who face daily chronic pain due to several physical conditions. The benefits of yoga in pain relief are often linked to the fact that it connects the mind and body. Some specific poses that can help in relieving joint pain of the following types chronic back, shoulder, knee, and hip pain.
How Can Yoga Help With Overall Pain Management?
Yoga can help with overall pain management with the help of the following methods:
- Reduced inflammation: Inflammation in the body often leads to pains and aches. People with chronic inflammation in a muscle will experience severe pain in the muscle. Inflammatory pain can also occur due to autoimmune diseases. Yoga can aid pain management by reducing or getting rid of inflammation. In 2015, the study has reported how yoga can help in reducing inflammation and pain associated with it.  Practicing yoga for an hour every day can significantly reduce the level of inflammation in the body.
- Changes in perception of pain: Chronic pain can impact the brain to some extent and even alter the brain structure. The alteration to the brain structure caused by pain is linked to anxiety and depression. It also hampers the normal cognitive functioning of the brain. But yoga can produce an opposite effect and enables the brain to perceive less pain.
- Increased flexibility: A lack of flexibility can often cause pain in various muscle groups. Improving range of motion and flexibility can help in reducing pain. Flexibility can alleviate back pain to a great extent. Basic stretching can also be used to treat soreness in the muscles. Yoga is not all about stretching, but it incorporates a lot of stretching movements. Practicing yoga for two to three hours a week can help in improving flexibility and reducing overall pain.
- Helps with the prevention of an injury: Sustaining injury has a direct impact on pain. Injury can trigger pain and cause discomfort and soreness. Injuries also trigger pre-existing problems in the body and cause pain. Therefore, avoiding injuries can help in minimizing pain. Since yoga can improve flexibility, it can restrict you from falling on many occasions. Yoga poses can help in improving balance which will prevent you from falling. When you integrate yoga into your daily routine, you reduce the risk of falls and accidents. As a result, you will be able to avoid future pain. Even after sustaining an injury, yoga can help you recover. You need to keep moving while being gentle with yourself.
Different Types Of Yoga For Relieving Pain
You can practice a few types of yoga to relieve or alleviate pain. You should stick to one of these types of yoga if you are practicing it while being injured or experiencing pain. These types of yoga will ensure that you don’t stress yourself too much and worsen the pain. The different types of yoga are discussed below:
- Hatha Yoga: It involves the mind and body by combining breathing, postures, and meditation. It has proved to be beneficial for people who suffer from back and neck pain. 
- Iyengar Yoga: It can be performed while a person is injured or in chronic pain. This type of yoga focuses on the alignment of the body in each pose.
- Yin Yoga: Faster yoga practices like power yoga or Ashtanga are the opposite of Yin yoga. It revolves around stretching the connective tissues present in the joints. Yin yoga helps in making the muscles longer and stronger. It is particularly beneficial for reducing joint pain as the stretching primarily takes place in the joint.
- Restorative Yoga: It is a meditative and passive form of yoga. Restorative yoga helps in focusing on breathing while releasing tension from the body. It is a type of yoga where you need to hold your positions for a longer period. You can hold your poses for five minutes to help your body sink in properly. This type of yoga often includes props such as blankets and blocks to adapt your movements.
- Meditative Yoga: Meditative yoga revolves around the least amount of movement. It is more about relaxing the mind rather than the body. Meditative yoga classes help to improve your mental health so that you can deal with the physical pain you are experiencing.
Yoga Poses That Can Help In Relieving Pain
Some yoga poses that can help in relieving pain are as follows:
- Extended triangle: It can help in relieving pain in the back, neck, and sciatica. It can also stretch the spine and groin, which helps in reducing additional pain.
- Sphinx pose: It is a posture that can help in alleviating pain in the buttocks and back.
- Twisted figure four: It can help in releasing discomfort in the thighs and lower back.
- Thread the needle: It is a great posture for relieving pain in the shoulders, neck, and back.
- Eagle pose: It can help in reducing pain in the shoulders and arms.
- Bridge Pose: It can help in relieving pain in the knees and back.
Yoga combines physical, spiritual, and mental practices to provide a lot of benefits, including reduction of stress and inflammation in the body. Stress occurs when the mind can perceive any sense of danger. As a result, the brain surges the body with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. A fight-or-flight response gets activated in the body to deal with the stressor but the body should return to its normal state after the stressor gets resolved. Severe or prolonged stress can bring several negative consequences to a person’s physical and mental health. Yoga helps in dealing with stress by relieving tension and triggering mood-boosting hormones. [35,36]
Inflammation, acute or chronic, can cause several serious implications in the body. Yoga has the potential to trigger anti-inflammatory molecules and reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory elements. It can help in the increase of glucocorticoid receptors and reduce inflammation in cancer patients. A significant reduction in the inflammatory biomarkers like hs-CRP and IL-6 can help in reducing inflammation associated with stress. Ninety minutes of yoga sessions weekly can help in reducing inflammation and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Yoga can also trigger the reduction of IL-6, plasma cortisol levels, and increase of endomorphin to help in getting rid of inflammation.
Yoga has the potential to provide holistic pain relief in patients. It can improve the daily activities of people who experience chronic pain due to various physical conditions. From back pain to hip pain, yoga can reduce various types of pain. It can help in reducing inflammation and pain associated with it. Yoga also changes the perception of pain by the mind.  It can also improve flexibility and help in relieving back pain in particular. Yoga can also provide you with a better balance that reduces the risk of falls and prevents injuries. Hatha yoga, Iyengar yoga, and other types of yoga are essential for pain relief in the body. Enroll yourself in a yoga class today and begin enjoying the different benefits.
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