Although yoga is much more than a stress-reduction method, it is arguably one of the most comprehensive approaches for stress management. Conventional anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications work on lowering the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Whilst these drugs can be very helpful, they often have some unpleasant side effects or can leave us feeling a bit zoned out and lifeless. At present there is no prescribed medication that can boost the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the ‘relaxation response’.
Certain yoga practices lower the activity of the ‘fight flight response’ in the same way as medication does, but in addition they increase the activity of the ‘relaxation response’, so that we can consciously lower our stress levels, heart rate and blood pressure. The body is then able to engage in the restorative functions necessary to improve our immunity, digestion and sleep which enhances our emotional well being.
Other yoga practices energise us. Yoga can therefore help us to bring equilibrium to the entire nervous system, creating greater psychological resilience as well as improved physical and emotional health.
Combining mindful meditation practices with yoga can be highly beneficial especially for anxiety and depression. Through the practice, clients can first learn to tolerate their difficult emotions and then begin to observe, identify and step back from any unhelpful thought patterns that maintain their depression and/or anxiety. Meditation techniques are simple to learn and can be practised anywhere at any time. And the big advantage with yoga and meditation is that once the basics are learnt, you can develop your own self practice to do at home, supported by attending classes with a qualified teacher.