Stress, Yoga & Switching off Inflammation
Yoga is often billed as great for dealing with stress but what is stress and how can yoga help?
During my journey of learning about nutrition, I was struck by how many diseases have inflammation as their root cause and have often pondered on how we can stop the inflammation to prevent or halt the disease. Heart disease, arthritis, cancer, IBS, allergies and a host of other diseases are inflammatory. In learning about the stress response and how we physically respond to threats, it is clear to see that stress could play a big part in triggering disease. Some diseases have a genetic component making you more susceptible but the faulty gene still needs a trigger to turn it on and stress may play a large part in this. However, there are individuals with a genetic marker and family history of heart disease that don’t get sick and it may be their response to dealing with stress that makes some of the difference in keeping them healthier.
Stress can be physical or environmental such as the food we eat, pollution, the chemicals we are exposed to or it can be emotional such as a trauma, loss or work pressures. When we are exposed to stress the body starts to pump out the hormone cortisol which triggers the primitive fight or flight response. Our heart rate rises, our brain signals to our digestive system to shut down to divert blood to our skeletal muscle, our breathing pattern changes, our blood thickens and our immune response is triggered to prepare for an injury. Once the threat has subsided this inflammatory response is switched off . The issue is many of us are in an almost permanent state of fight or flight and due to this our body is almost permanently switched in the stress mode. It is easy to see that if our digestive system keeps having the blood diverted away proper digestion can not happen and the digestive tract can get inflamed leaving it vulnerable to disease. If our blood stays thickened arteries it can contribute to inflammation and increase your risk of stroke and heart disease. Women going through menopause naturally produce more cortisol so combined with stress at this time of life they can see start to see negative little changes in their health such as increased allergies, digestive issues and high blood pressure.
So what does this have to do with Yoga?
The right type of Yoga practice can help us deal with stress and the breathing techniques we learn can be used to switch off our fight or flight response. Combined with the physical practice of Yoga, regular meditation or mindfulness practice can also have the same effect. Our lymphatic system circulates our white blood cells around the body and removes waste and toxins from our blood but it relies on the muscles to pump it round - yoga aids this process and helps reduce the impact of toxins on our bodies by moving them out quicker thus reducing the chance for them to cause an inflammatory response.
Yoga won’t remove stress from your life but it can help us deal with it and give us some space and more energy to reflect on how to work through the stress that we have..