How Does Yoga Reduce Stress & Anxiety? Backed By Science (New In 2020)

This is a complete guide to understanding how yoga reduces stress and anxiety.

Contents of what you’re going to learn include:

If you want to understand why yoga is a stress buster, then you’ll love this research-backed (easy to read) guide.

Let’s first look at the key points of this guide, shall we?

A crowd of people on the street practising yoga for stress relief and happiness

Key Points

  • Yoga has a variety of research-backed benefits for both your physical and mental well-being.
  • Yoga has stood the test of time: Originating thousands of years ago, yoga works with your physical body as well as your mental and emotional state.
  • Stress is an imbalance in your body that can lead to illness over time.
  • Yoga helps manage stress: yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation naturally bring your body back into balance and your mind to a calm, relaxed state.
  • Yoga strengthens your immune system by lowering the release of stress hormones in your body, thereby reducing stress and anxiety.
  • You can practice yoga at home for free online with experienced, certified yoga instructors: Using a video in the privacy of your home can have many advantages over attending a face-to-face class.
  • Consistency is the key: Studies show that people who practice yoga at least once a week for eight to 12 weeks, ideally for 30 minutes, get to enjoy the benefits that come with a regular yoga routine.

Our expert team of teachers and trainers are here to support you in your personal health and wellness goals.

Our goal is to provide you with the latest information about how you can stay healthy based on scientific evidence.

That’s why we created this definitive guide to how yoga can reduce stress and anxiety.

Yoga is one of the most popular forms of exercise today, and the good news is you can safely do it on your own with the right tools and resources.

Keep reading this definitive guide to find out how yoga can help you…

What Is Yoga Good For?

Parama K Williams performing a yoga pose with a mexican sunset in the background

Yoga reduces stress and may be a beneficial treatment for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression [1].

In a HuffPost article about why people do yoga, stress relief is one of the main reasons.

As a Certified Yoga Teacher and Licensed Massage Therapist for over twenty years, I teach my clients how to relieve stress with yoga.

In my wellness retreats in Mexico and Belize, people have travelled from all over the world to participate.

When my clients arrive, they typically complain of stress.

But after several days of daily yoga, meditation exercises and massage therapy, they always leave reporting that they feel refreshed and more relaxed than before.

Spa therapy treatments in Belize

Currently a professor at a renowned research university, I teach yoga to adult students on a weekly basis. One of my students said, “Yoga classes helped me pass my exams last semester.”

Studies show that yoga is an effective intervention to relieve stress and test anxiety in young adults within academic settings [2].

As a yoga teacher, I believe that it is my responsibility to maintain my own practice so that I can inspire and share my unique experiences with my students.

I practice yoga and meditation almost every day.

Personally speaking, yoga has helped me manage stress, overcome depression, and relieve anxiety after a series of major life transitions over the years.

This includes a traumatic divorce, moving from one home to another, changing jobs and my grandmother’s death.

For over two decades, yoga has helped me stay balanced and healthy.


Remaining chapters (with jump links)


How Does Yoga Work?

“Yoga is an ancient but perfect science.” –B.K.S. Iyengar

A man performing stress relieving yoga at the beach

Yoga is increasingly recognised to have health benefits in a variety of clinical and non-clinical settings.

Yoga is considered a “mind-body practice” because it works with your physical body as well as your mental and emotional state.

As an ancient discipline originating thousands of years ago in India, yoga is a philosophy of life that includes:

Yoga is a philosophy of life that originated thousands of years ago in India. Yoga includes several practices:

  • Physical exercise
  • Breathing techniques
  • Deep relaxation
  • Meditation

The practise of yoga has at its foundation a series of ethical goals that constitute an optimal, healthy lifestyle.

Eight limbs of yoga illustration

Yamas and Niyamas yoga meanings and definitions

Whether you are a beginning or advancing student of yoga, it is important to understand how yoga works.

The word yoga in Sanskrit (an Indian language) means “union”.

The quality of the relationship between the subtle energy of the body (prana), and the quality of your thoughts (negative or positive) determines whether your energy centres (chakras) are “blocked” or “open”.

Basically, your yoga works for you when you can marry your prana and your thoughts together.

So, in yoga, your body is directly connected to your mind, and your mind directly affects your body.

To maintain an effective and consistent yoga practice, I recommend starting with a teacher who has practised yoga regularly for at least a year.

Be sure you feel comfortable with your yoga teacher: Trust your intuition about whether or not this person can truly guide you.

Nowadays, you can gain access to many excellent teachers using online resources.

At the end of this guide, we will provide you with a list of recommended videos to help you get started today.


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What Are the Benefits of Yoga?

“Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life.” –B.K.S. Iyengar

A yoga class of three women sitting on their pink mats in an indoor hall made from brick

According to The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga, there are many health benefits to consistent yoga practice:

  • Improves spinal mobility: Many yoga postures require side bends, a shifting pelvis and a spiralling your thorax which keeps you mobile
  • Regulates circulation: The compression and decompression of veins throughout your body helps circulate blood and stave off problems experienced from sitting down for long periods of time
  • Enhances endocrine gland secretion: Controlling your breath through yoga will help control both your mind and your body thus keeping your endocrine system balanced
  • Increases body awareness: Yogas deep focus on the body helps improve proprioception which means you gain greater self-awareness
  • Enhances sexual performance: Yoga increases both your sex drive and your flexibility, allowing for more variety in sex positions
  • Improves quality of sleep: Yoga increases your time spent in deep sleep, (the most physically restorative sleep phase) which improves your health [4, 5].
  • Increases overall energy level: helping you to feel empowered, confident, and uplifted [6].
  • And many more you’ll find in our article here

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 What is Stress According to Yoga?

“It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

A woman performing a splits in her yoga pants

According to the most authoritative sources on yoga available today, stress is a physiological response that leads to an imbalance in the body.

Too much stress has a negative impact on your health and must be managed properly using effective stress management techniques like yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation [7].

Stress is caused by a chemical reaction within your body.

It is the result of the body’s release of stress hormones which activate a fight-or-flight (emergency reaction) response.

This nervous system response can be triggered by different stimuli, including negative thoughts, situations or other external influences.

Stress has many adverse effects on your body:

  • Release of stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle tightness
  • Nervous tension
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing rate
  • Increased beta brain waves

Research shows that constant adrenaline release results in fatigue and excessive cortisol.

This can weaken the immune system and lead to disease.

Over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system can result in serious illness.

When not managed properly, stress can lead to physical ailments and major damage of your body’s systems.


Remaining chapters (with jump links)


 What Is The Role Of Yoga In Stress Management?

“Breath is the power behind all things… I breathe in and know that good things will happen.” – Tao Porchon-Lynch

While stress throws you out of balance, yoga postures and breathing exercises naturally bring you back into a balanced, calm, and a relaxed state of mind.

The benefits of yoga for stress:

  • Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Increases neurotransmitters that reduce stress
  • Eliminates toxins
  • Revitalises the internal organs and glands

A review of clinical research published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice concludes that yoga is effective for stress relief as well as other psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression [8].

Recent research published in Health Psychology Review further explains how yoga relieves stress [9].

In this article, researchers explain how the nature of yoga is controlling the mind and central nervous system.

Unlike other sports, yoga has a moderating effect on the nervous system, the hormonal emissions, physiological factors, and regulation of nerve impulses; therefore, yoga can be effective in improving anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders.


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How Does Meditative Yoga Reduce Stress?

“The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.” – Sogyal Rinpoche

A man and woman cross legged performing yoga indoors.

A recent study concluded that meditation activates brain areas involved with empathy as well as with happy and pleasant feelings [10].

The study showed that meditation increases the production of the neurotransmitter known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the central nervous system, which improves cognitive performance and promotes emotional regulation.

When you think “yoga”, you probably think of the physical postures.

While asana (postures) form the foundational practice of your daily yoga routine, meditation is also an integral part of the overall yoga lifestyle.

A yoga class of eight performing the reverse table pose at a yoga retreat in Mexico

Yoga is a system that works the entirety of who you are—your whole person—not just your body.

Yoga is more than physical exercise; yoga is also about how to change your thinking through meditation.

Acclaimed yoga teacher Quentin Vennie says he used meditation to overcome severe anxiety and depression.

Author of the book Relieve Anxiety with a Simple 30-Second Practice, Vennie states:

“I’ve always been fascinated by the philosophy of yoga… I needed a way to change my thinking. I had to learn that my anxiety wasn’t my enemy, but it was my guide.”

Vennie highly recommends The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to gain a deeper understanding of yoga philosophy and the keys to how to change your thoughts.


For a more modern version of yoga philosophy, check out Do Your OM Thing by Rebecca Pacheco, who uses humour and real-life scenarios to make the ancient philosophy more easily understandable and accessible.

If you are new to meditation and would like to try it, I recommend this video led by Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned teacher who has practised for a long time and is therefore qualified to guide you in how to meditate:

As a yoga and meditation teacher, I meditate for at least twenty minutes every day.

Basically, I stop whatever else I am doing, sit down on a cushion in a comfortable, upright position, close my eyes, and concentrate on my breathing—in, out, in, out…

Meditation is actually that simple. But it may not be so easy.

When it comes to meditating in a modern world, there are many distractions.

I highly recommend a daily meditation routine: Pick the same time every day and the same spot to meditate.

For example, I practice first thing in the morning before I even get out of bed.

I set the alarm on my smartphone for 20 minutes and stay in my seated position until the alarm goes off.

I have repeated the above routine for over a decade and can personally claim to have benefited from daily meditation, including what I perceive to be increased concentration, more patience and a sense of inner peace.

In this tough year we’ve all had, I find that meditation is the most valuable tool I can use to keep my mind focused on positive, life-affirming thoughts.


Remaining chapters (with jump links)


Can Yoga Boost My Immune System?

Yoga works on everything.”

A man in a side plank yoga pose on a high open space building

New research published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine shows that yoga strengthens your immune system by reducing stress and anxiety [11].

Studies indicate that yoga boosts the immune system by lowering stress hormones which compromise the body [12].

In yoga, breathing exercises called pranayama condition the lungs and respiratory tract.
Kraftsow, in his book Yoga for Wellness, explains that cold and flu infections, allergies, asthma, and other chronic respiratory conditions are:

“Directly linked to a weakened immune response.”

When you practice yoga postures, you stimulate the lymphatic system to oust toxins from your body.

Yoga improves blood circulation and brings oxygenated blood to the various organs to restore their optimal functioning.


 Remaining chapter: How can you get started with yoga at home?


How Can I Get Started with Yoga at Home?

“Where focus goes, energy flows” – Tony Robbins

A black man with a red tank top in a complex twisting yoga pose

The great news is that every day there are thousands of experienced, certified yoga instructors currently offering free yoga classes via YouTube and Facebook live stream, and more so now that most people are required to stay at home.

While you may prefer to attend a group class where you can interact with the teacher, practising yoga at home with a video also has many advantages:

  • In the privacy and comfort of your own home, you may be less concerned about how you look and more willing to try new postures than you would be in a group class
  • You are in control of the pace of your class. You can click “stop” and review a segment of instruction that you missed the first time or repeat a posture sequence
  • You choose the instructor, the style of yoga, and how long you want to practice.
  • With a wide variety of videos available at any time, you can try different teachers and classes and find your favourite ones
  • You can invite family members and friends to join you in your home. Yesterday I visited my neighbours and we practised an hour-long class together (alongside the dog and cat, who enjoyed playing with us on the floor)
  • You have the convenience of choosing any day and time to practice. You are not limited to a set schedule or location, nor do you need to rush anywhere to arrive on time.

If you are a beginner and you would like to get started with yoga, I recommend the YouTube channel YOGATX. Here you can select from a variety of instructors and classes designed to address specific needs.

If you are advancing in your yoga practice, I recommend Yoga with Adriene, an excellent instructor who offers a wide selection of classes with a variety of posture sequences, including the video Yoga for Anxiety and Stress.

Click here for a series of short videos compiled by Healthy Principles about the best way to stretch specific muscles from the neck down.

Clinical studies show that yoga may be implemented as a complementary intervention for populations at risk or already suffering from diseases [13].

If you have medical conditions or chronic illness, check with your doctor before starting your own yoga practice.

The information provided in this article should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health condition or disease and is not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician or healthcare provider.

How often and how long do you need to practice yoga to get the benefits?

Most research studies implement yoga programs that last from eight to twelve weeks with a frequency between once a week to once a day, ideally for at least 30 minutes.

Based on results from these studies, at least one year of regular yoga practice is required to achieve consistent effects.

There’s never been a better reason to maintain a personal health routine that enhances your overall wellbeing.

Conclusion

This guide has provided you with the knowledge and resources you need to start practising yoga on your own at home, including how it can reduce your stress and anxiety.

Now we turn it over to you with three easy questions:

  1. Can yoga relieve your stress and anxiety?
  2. Do you think yoga can boost your immune system?
  3. Are you ready to get started with yoga from home?

Whether you answer yes or no, let me know by leaving a comment below.

I’ll respond to all of you as best as I possibly can.

Parama K. Williams
 

Parama K. Williams is a published author with a Master of Arts in Education and twenty years of international experience as a US-Licensed Massage Therapist and Certified Yoga Teacher. Originally from the US, she left behind her successful teaching career over a decade ago to move permanently to Central America, where she built an off-grid homestead in a rural area and created the life of her dreams. Parama currently offers yoga classes, therapeutic massage and wellness retreats in both Mexico and Belize. She writes about her unique experiences, particularly focusing on themes related to international travel, sustainable tourism, rural homesteading, health (yoga, meditation and massage therapy) and spirituality. You can read more about her personal story here.

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