Yoga poses a solution for stress and anxiety

Yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years and originated in Northern India by Vedic priests. Today, it is popular all over the world and a way for people to get exercise and calm their minds during these stressful times.

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

Harvard Health says that yoga has numerous benefits, both mentally and physically.

“By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly,” according to a Harvard Health article published in 2018.

Dr. Christiane Brems has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the director of YogaX, a practicing research center at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford’s School of Medicine that combines scientific research, such as neuroscience, with yoga. Brems spent 23 years at UAA, where she held a variety of leadership positions, including co-founding the Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services. She recommends yoga and other simple practices to help deal with stress.

“Ample evidence has accumulated to show that yoga is an effective way to increase the capacity to cope with challenges, stress, illness, traumatic events and burnout. Yoga increases your ability to cope by providing you with strategies that calm your nervous system, relax your body, soften and deepen your breath and ease your mind,” Brems said.

YogaX offers free online classes via Zoom, with a variety of one-two hour classes to choose from. Basic equipment is recommended, such as a mat and yoga blocks. If this equipment is not readily available, it can easily be substituted with a towel or a large book.

Berg also recommends other yoga resources on YogaX for specific issues. Some examples are the Exalted Warrior Foundation: yoga nidra and iRest videos to practice at home, which is yoga for veterans, or Yoga to the People, a donation-based yoga service to make yoga available to all people regardless of socioeconomic status.

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Margo Sorum is a certified yoga therapist and teaches yoga classes at UAA. She understands that this is a difficult time, but suggests that it can also be a time for people to better themselves, not just with yoga, but in other ways as well.

“This time of COVID-19 could be paralyzing. You may be feeling anxious, worried and depressed. You may be freaking out or numbing out. These emotions are normal and are all natural human responses. However, when this time of COVID-19 is over, do you want to look back and remember that you numbed out and watched a bunch of Netflix, or do you want to look back and have accomplished something?” Sorum said.

Sorum also said that yoga can be easy to do at home with minimal equipment.

“Everything can ultimately be yoga; the way you sit, the way you stand, the way you breathe, the way you move in your body throughout your day, the way your emotions, thoughts and words express themselves through you — this is all yoga. I can’t think of a better way of spending time than to invest in yourself — how you move, how you think, how you eat, how you prioritize your time,” Sorum said.

She also provided a few examples of yoga moves to practice at home. Foot conditioning can help to find balance when standing rather than slouching. The “Riding on the Elephant’s Back” pose will condition the lateral leg line to wake up the deep muscles necessary for good posture.

Down Dog Yoga is an app that offers classes through smartphones. They are currently offering free classes until May 1 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Downloads are available through the App Store and Google Play.

For more information about YogaX, visit its website at yogaxteam.com or  Instagram page at @yogaxteam. For more at-home yoga poses and information about yoga, subscribe to Margo Sorum’s YouTube channel.