Stress. Whether real or perceived, we all experience stress. So stress is part of our lives—but does it matter?
Believe it or not, the CDC estimates that stress accounts for 75% of all physician visits, and 80% of all visits to primary care providers. Complaints range from headache, back pain, hypertension, and arrhythmias, to irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, depression, anxiety, skin problems, fatigue, obesity, migraines, hyperlipidemia and accidents. But really, it is all stress.
Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Immune System
Research shows that chronic stress results in an immunosuppressive effect that prevents the body from initiating appropriate immune reactions. Stress is also known to exacerbate asthma, and allergic, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Inflammation is a necessary short-term stress, but chronic stress suppresses immunity by decreasing the number and function of immune cells. This may exacerbate pro-inflammatory diseases and increase susceptibility to infections and cancer.
How Stress Affects Your Brain
Elevated cortisol levels following acute stress may play a role in accelerated aging, cognitive inhibition, impaired memory and the ability to learn, increased anxiety and fear, as well as depression and anhedonia. Stress plays a significant role in the development of depression by depleting the body’s “positive” neurotransmitters, such as GABA, serotonin and DHEA. This impairs the function of the limbic system, and changes emotions and behavior.
Cortisol activates the body’s “threat center,” and changes the structure and function of the brain. Studies on decreasing stress revealed that patients reported reduced perceived stress, and decreases in the size of the body’s threat center, the amygdala.
Yoga Nidra for Stress
Yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, is the state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep. The meditation of yoga nidra guides you through a relaxation process that triggers a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which helps to relieve stress as you wind down.
The deep physical, mental, and emotional relaxation produces a state of inner awareness and release of stress, muscle tension, and anxiety. It can also improve feelings of happiness, enthusiasm, quietude, control over anger, clarity of thought, and self-confidence. In fact, studies show the regular practice of yoga nidra is an effective tool in reducing both cognitive and physiological symptoms of anxiety.
Want to practice Yoga Nidra on your own? Check out these 9 Steps to Yoga Nidra.
Yoga nidra is also an effective method for pain management. Patients who engaged in a yoga nidra meditation during a medical procedure experienced less perceived pain and anxiety associated with the procedure.
A survey of healthcare workers showed that yoga nidra helped workers deal with the demands of their profession in a positive manner, thus leading to an improved workplace environment.
This ancient practice also leads to a better understanding and connection with yourself. During the meditation, you are able to become aware of emotions or inner struggles without actually bringing up the pain of the associated memories. In this way, yoga nidra can facilitate healthy release of negative emotions or harbored fears.
Improvement of Sleep
During the practice of yoga nidra, you move through the layers of your being, gradually releasing tensions that prevent you going into deep states of recuperative sleep. This type of deep sleep is where the brain and body undergo growth, repair, and healing.
How Yoga Nidra Works and Relieves Stress
As you begin a yoga nidra session, you experience a phase of relaxation and recuperation. Muscles become relaxed as you focus on the breath. Additionally, during this phase, the brain shifts from beta, a state of alertness with lots of brain activity, to alpha. It is in alpha state that the release of serotonin occurs. This mood-regulating hormone helps to calm you down.
From alpha, you are further guided to the next phase of yoga nidra: meditation. This occurs when your brain shifts into theta. During this state, you become almost completely unaware of your surroundings, yet you are not asleep. Many people peacefully drift to sleep during this phase.
However, if you continue the meditation and press into the exercise, it is possible to achieve delta. During this state, your brain is utterly without thought and you experience complete surrender. This is a very restorative and emotionally balancing type of meditation.
How do you deal with stress?
Whether you choose to practice yoga nidra, take a walk outside, time with friends or family, being intentional about stress relief is important to your health. Comment below with how you handle the daily stresses of life.
Hooked? Convinced? Come check out my 9 steps to yoga nidra.
Want to learn about essential oils to support your body during yoga? Check out this post about Essential Oils and Chakras.
For even more great natural wellness, essential oil, and supplement education, check out my book, Essentials: 75 Answers to Common Questions About Essential Oils and Supplements.