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According to Maran (2005), “yoga is derived from the Sankrit word “yuj,” which means to unify or to yoke” (p. 6). Origin of the term “yoga” and its practice have a close relation. The aim of practicing yoga is to “unite” one’s body, mind and spirit. Attaining this union enables one to connect with the inner self, resulting in a sense of satisfaction and calmness. Yoga began more than 5,000 years ago in northern India. Archaeologists have discovered ancient wall paintings of people in yoga positions. These paintings are believed to be around 5,000 years old. For many years, the practice of yoga had not been documented. The art was however passed down from one generation to the other. The first documentation of the practice took place about 2, 000 years ago.
Individuals practicing yoga should do so with an open mind and heart. Doing so enable people achieve physical and emotional tranquility. There are various yoga types. These include Hatha yoga, Raja yoga and Pranayama. Hatha yoga emphasizes on physical movements (asanas/postures). This involves stretching and movement of the body. It is the activities that take place in a yoga class. Raja yoga is yoga of the mind. There is a lot of meditation and prayer involved in this kind of yoga. It is practiced with an aim of achieving inward freedom. Pranayama is the act of controlling one’s breathing. Scientists believe that individuals who can control their breathing can control their mind. Cuomo (2007) stated that, “any type of yoga practiced allows an individual to slow down, relax, and feel present and aware” (p. 9).
Yoga and stress reduction
A state of stress is the mixture of an individual’s take on situations and physiological responses of the body. Some of these situations that can increase stress levels are problems within the family, challenges, issues at work place and tragic events. Joyous occasions such as weddings and birth of a child can also make an individual have stress. Strauss (2004) stated the following:
The practice of Yoga is well-demonstrated to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body, and has even been found to lower cortisol levels. This effect is noticeable, and it is one of the primary reasons why people often take up Yoga. People find that they feel more relaxed after practicing Yoga. The asana, or physical postures of Yoga, are helpful for reducing muscular tension, which reduces stress. We have a tendency to store stress not only in our nervous system, but distributed throughout the musculature and other tissues of the body; our digestive system, for example, responds very quickly to stress. Yoga can be a valuable and effective tool for releasing this stored stress. This can be true even for post-traumatic stress and recovering from the after-effects of traumatic events. (p. 203)
Other than physical postures (asana), classes of yoga involve some poses whose aim is relaxation (savasana). The yoga teacher makes the students undergo relaxation procedures that enhance the body’s relaxation. An individual who is relaxed experience less stress (Yoga, 2008). The merits of practicing Hatha yoga may be felt immediately after the session. The body becomes more at ease and the mind is made clearer just after one yoga session. Other benefits occur with regular practice of hatha yoga. These are better strength and appropriate body posture.
Through the practice of yoga, an individual may develop a more optimistic outlook on life. Practicing yoga enhances personal reflection and meditation. It helps one to be less anxious, hostile and depressed. The peace and relaxation that yoga offers improves a person’s mood and overall well-being. Yoga also serves as an effective instrument for improving mental functionality. For example, one’s memory and ability to concentrate can be enhanced through the practice of yoga (Stahl & Goldstein, 2010). Many yoga poses can also improve the hand-eye coordination, reaction time, dexterility and fine motor skills. This reduction in disease implies reduced stress levels. Greater self confidence is achievable by the practice of yoga. This is mainly due to the fact that yoga is non-competitive. It allows an individual to focus on own capabilities without relating to other people. It allows one to sit, walk, stand and run with confidence. A boost in confidence makes the mind more relaxed and at ease (Claire, 2010).
Yoga practice improves breathing. This is achieved by an increase in the lung capacity. Release of tension in the body comes as a result of deep breathing that is included in yoga classes. This makes the body have less acid that is destructive to tissues of the body and bones. Harmed tissues and bones are a cause to discomfort which include headaches, fatigue and depression. Through yoga practice, the body’s metabolism can be regulated. Internal organs are massaged by some of the poses in yoga classes (Feuerstein & Payne, 2010). This facilitates improved body functions such as digestion and helps avoid discomfort of the bowels and constipation. A body that is not vulnerable to discomfort is also stress free.
Stress reduction is one of the most documented merits of yoga. The practice of yoga poses, reflection and breathing exercise are all clinically verified methods of mitigating stress. Practicing yoga can help reduce stress by clearing an individual’s mind. Stress relief can have a constructive effect on health, especially since doctors consider stress to be the root of a lot of illnesses.
Claire, T. (2010). Yoga for Men: Postures for Healthy, Stress-Free Living. London: Career Press.
Cuomo, N. (2007). Intergrated Yoga : Yoga with a Sensory Integrative Approach. New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Feuerstein, G & Payne, L. (2010). Yoga for Dummies. New York: For Dummies Publishers.
Maran, R. (2005). Maran illustrated yoga. New York: Course Technology publishers.
Stahl, B. & Goldstein E. (2010). A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. New York: New Harbinger Publications.
Strauss, S. (2004). Positioning Yoga : Balancing Acts Across Cultures. London: Berge Publishers.
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“Yoga.” U.S. News & World Report. 2008: 39.