24 Dec Yoga May Slow the Physical Effects of Stress & Inflammation
Stress is an unavoidable part of life — and too much of it can harm your mental and physical health. But you can learn to manage it successfully and, in the process, you can improve your well-being. According to science, yoga may help!
Chronic stress has been linked to accelerated biological aging, and increased chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. These processes can cause cellular and genetic damage. Scientists refer to chronic, low-grade inflammation in the body as “inflammaging.”
Can stress reduction slow aging?
Telomeres are structures on the ends of chromosomes that protect a cell’s genetic information from damage. As cells replace themselves over the course of a person’s life, the telomeres in each generation of cells become shorter. Eventually these structures are too short to be protective, leaving the cells vulnerable to damage and death.
However, some people have shorter telomeres than their age alone would warrant, essentially meaning their bodies are aging faster. Stress appears to be one factor involved in this acceleration: several small studies have found that people with high stress levels (such as people with post-traumatic stress disorder or people caring for a chronically ill child or a family member with dementia) have shorter telomeres compared with matched controls.
Research suggests that learning to manage stress may help repair shortened telomeres. One pilot study found that after five years of following Dean Ornish’s program, which includes eating a healthy diet, exercise, stress reduction and social support, 10 participants showed an average 10% lengthening of their telomeres — versus a 3% shortening in 25 people not following the program. Furthermore, there was a “dose-response” effect, meaning that the greater the degree of healthful lifestyle changes participants made, the greater the increases in their telomere length. There are also hints that the activity of telomerase (an enzyme that maintains telomere length) increases with mindfulness training and declines with chronic stress and obesity.
Can yoga help with stress management?
Several recent studies suggest that yoga could slow the harmful physical effects of stress and inflammaging, as verified by various biomarkers in the blood including cortisol and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Yoga is an excellent way to develop body awareness and elicit the relaxation response. The many different types of yoga share certain basic elements: pranayamas (rhythmic breathing), meditation, and asanas (stretching postures).
There are many simple yoga breathing (pranayama) techniques that can lower your stress levels that you can do at home for as little as a few minutes a day. Yoga breathing types can be calming or activating, depending on the type. One example of a calming yoga breath is alternate nostril breathing. You can practice it for as little as one to two minutes at home.
Alternate nostril breath (Nadi shodhana)
- Sit in a comfortable seated position, perhaps with your back supported by a wall.
- Close your eyes, reminding yourself not to judge anything you’re doing.
- Take a few slow breaths in and out.
- Rest your left hand on your left knee.
- Fold your ring finger and little fingers toward the palm on your right hand.
- Place the index and middle fingers of your right hand in the middle of your forehead, between your eyebrows. You can also curl your index and middle finger toward your palm and rest them on your forehead if that feels more stable.
- Exhale slowly through your nose, allowing your lungs to empty completely.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb.
- Inhale gently and slowly through your left nostril for 5 counts.
- Press and close your left nostril with your ring and little fingers. Hold for 2 counts.
- Lift your thumb to release your right nostril, and exhale slowly through your right nostril for 5 counts. Stay empty for 2 counts.
- Inhale gently and slowly through your right nostril for 5 counts.
- Press and close your right nostril with your thumb. Hold for 2 counts.
- Release your left nostril, and exhale through your left nostril for 5 counts. Stay empty for 2 counts.
- Start another cycle by inhaling through your left nostril. Continue to this pattern for 10 cycles. After you exhale from one nostril, remember to breathe in from that same nostril before switching.
If you or someone you know needs support with stress management, feel free to drop me a line on the “contact us” page on this site. I treat patients locally at my Naturopathic practice in Vancouver, B.C. and worldwide via phone or Skype.
To honoring your health potential!
Licensed Naturopathic Physician, Menopause Clinician, Acupuncturist, Author, and Health Educator