Breaking down the mechanisms behind yoga and easing chronic stress

When a cascade of puzzling and debilitating health issues started interfering with her life, Robyn Tiger, MD, RYT-500, C-IAYT, started looking outside the box. She decided to try yoga. 

“After that very first class, I had this unbelievable sense of calm. I had this clarity. . . . [I]t was just this shift that I hadn’t felt in forever,” she explains in a recent American Cancer Society HEALED Community Gathering.

In the interview Tiger, a radiologist and yoga therapist, shares in detail the symptoms she later learned had resulted from chronic stress. “I started to develop a lot of symptoms that I couldn’t put together, and none of my medical colleagues could put together . . . things like migraine headaches with really awful vomiting, terrible vertigo, tinnitus, really bad reflux.” The pain in her body made her wake up in the morning feeling like “the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.”

Inspired by the calm she accessed through yoga and the literature documenting yoga’s benefits for health, Tiger continued practicing and went on to train as a yoga therapist. During this time, she explains, “those symptoms that I described started to get better: all of them.” 

But how, exactly, does yoga relieve symptoms associated with chronic stress? In the interview, Tiger goes on to break down the physiological mechanisms behind chronic stress.

“We have a part of our nervous system called the autonomic nervous system, which I like to think of as the automatic nervous system. When we’re chronically stressed, that system is out of balance. We call it lack of homeostasis. When we are acutely stressed, we want our muscles to tense up and get us ready [for fight or flight], we want certain things in our body to shut down . . . so that other parts of our body can be more involved and ready. We want our brain to be very focused, we want to be very vigilant, to be able to see everything. The problem lies [in] when what I just described is happening all of the time. When that’s happening all the time our muscles are tight, we’re not digesting our food, our immune system which fights off disease and infections isn’t working properly . . . that’s a very unhealthy state.”

This state also coincides with inflammation, she explains, which is associated with a range of diseases—including diabetes and heart disease. Yoga supports us in bringing our system back into balance—into homeostasis.

You can watch the full interview here

Interested in easing stress for yourself or a loved one? Find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist here.

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