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How Mind-Body Fitness Affects Stress

Stress is a common thing.  We all experience it from time to time but unfortunately some of us have stress as an every day, every minute occurrence.  Given how technology never allows us to truly shut down, the economy having most of us worried about our futures (or at least our kids’ futures), and having too many things on our to-do lists, what can we do about it?  There are common ways to combat the constant state of the fight or flight syndrome.  Eating a good diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising, and prioritizing are all very important ways to beat stress.  There are also times when medical intervention and talk therapy might be justified.  But is it possible that mind-body fitness can help a stress victim overcome negative side effects such as tension, insomnia, and excessive and persistent anxiety?  For many people, their experience is that, yes, it can!

When you take a mind-body movement class you are instructed to be present and aware of your mind-body connection.  As you purposefully breathe while moving or holding a posture, each part of your body should be awakened and thought about.  Form becomes key as you move…turning your hip out…pulling your abdominal muscles in…lengthening your leg…or rounding your back.  Breathing and mindful movement become the focus and your stressors take a back seat.  You simply cannot continue to dwell on negative things when you have to focus on form and breath. Instead, you become present as you think about and honor your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.  With gentle persistence the initial challenges of being “present” can be overcome and embraced and a release from negative stressors is highly possible.

One friend told me that if it had not been for her daily practice of yoga she might have gone over the edge when her husband lost his job.  Her practice helped her stay grounded and know that they would get through their trial. Clients tell me that at the end of class they often feel like crying because emotions have been allowed to surface.  Crying is a release.  I encourage them to let it out!  Others say class feels like they have received a massage. They might have come into class in a mad hurry only to leave relaxed and better able to conquer their tasks in a balanced way.

The studies are growing on how mind-body fitness affects stress.  One study from March 2008 documented in the Annuals of Behavioral Medicine found that Hatha Yoga, an type of mind-body fitness,  reduced perceived stress and also decreased cortisol levels.  Cortisol, a useful and necessary hormone released by the adrenal glands, aids in glucose metabolism and blood pressure control among other things.  But, in our high stress culture cortisol release can become constant thus shutting down the body’s ability to relax.  High levels of cortisol can cause hypertension, suppressed thyroid and immune functions, and increased abdominal fat among others.  We have to do something to counter this constant state of stress so that we can relax and allow the body to function properly.  When compared with African Dance (cardiovascular movement) Hatha Yoga was much more successful in reducing cortisol levels.

There are obvious fitness benefits to adding mind-body exercise to your regime.  Increased strength and flexibility, balance between muscle groups, and learning proper mind body techniques to apply to other parts of your fitness training are all acquired.  But, I think for most, the best part of choosing to engage in mind-body fitness is the new perspective on life that is likely gained after each and every session.

If you have tried a yoga class only to leave in haste because it was too boring or not your style, I highly encourage you to give it another try!  There are so many forms of functional mind-body fitness that there is bound to be one that will fit your needs and one that you might even grow to adore!  Further, you can engage in mind-body fitness in any number of ways:  From attending classes in a local private studio to trying your local group fitness yoga class to buying a DVD!  Mind-body fitness is available to fit all budgets.

Give it a try.  You owe it to yourself!

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