tofino yoga - dealing with stress through yoga photo by adam buskard

Tofino Yoga: Dealing with stress through yoga

by Natalie Rousseau, Tofino

An Ancient Practice for a Modern Epidemic

We live longer than our forefathers; but we suffer more from a thousand artificial anxieties and cares. They fatigued only the muscles, we exhaust the finer strength of the nerves.

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

the letter 'R'

Research now shows that 60-90% of doctor visits are due to stress related symptoms. With all our technological advances, all our time saving inventions, we are working harder than ever and the strain is beginning to show. Stress and anxiety are on the rise and nobody is immune, not even our children. Studies show that anywhere from 1 in every 5 to 1 in every 10 children in North America suffers from anxiety disorders due to long term chronic stress. This is terrible news, but there is something we can do about it. Stress is a natural part of life and there is no one practice or magic pill that will remove stress from your life entirely but there are proven ways to change the way that you personally react to stress in your own life.

Let's look a little closer at what stress is.

Although individual stress symptoms can differ they all caused by the physiological changes that our bodies undergo in response to what our minds perceive as life threatening. We experience stress when we sense a threat to ourselves, our children, or our loved ones, whether great or small, real or imagined. A situation doesn't have to threaten imminent death to cause stress. Social threats such as job insecurity, financial worries, problems in our marriage, and hostility from others are as much of an issue in causing stress as are ill health and injury. It is important to note that a threat doesn't even have to be real to cause stress, we just have to believe it is real.

Short term or acute stress evokes physical and emotional responses that activate body and mind to deal with an immediate threat. When the threat passes the reactions will eventually subside. Long term or chronic stress evokes a similar response, at a somewhat lower intensity, but keeps repeating. When they repeat too often of for too long the life saving responses that are so helpful in the short term can actually become life threatening. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, "flight or fight" which increases heart rate, blood pressure, mental alertness, and muscular tension. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol also create metabolic changes that make energy stores available to each cell, cause the body to sweat, and suppress inflammation (you don't feel as much pain). The body also shuts down systems that are not priority in the moment which includes digestion, elimination, growth, repair, and reproduction. In a chronically stressed state the body's capacity to heal itself is compromised, inhibiting recovery from existing illness or injury, and over time creating new concerns such as high blood pressure, increased inflammation, ulcers, joint pain, immune dysfunction, reproductive problems, depression, and anxiety. These conditions obviously create stress of their own, and so the cycle continues.

The best remedy for chronic stress is relaxation. To relax is to rest deeply, consciously. This is different from sleeping or tuning out in front of the tv or internet. Relaxation is a state in which there is no unnecessary effort and the brain is quiet, but receptive. Conscious, deep relaxation occurs when we practice activities such as Tai Chi, meditation, and Yoga, among others. These practices help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which elicits the "relaxation response", a state characterized by a slower heart rate, slower rate of breathing, lower blood pressure, and slower brain wave patterns. As well as relaxation a well rounded yoga practice will increase circulation throughout the body while stretching out and toning muscles that may be tight and fatigued due to stress. Deep breathing exercises increase energy levels and lighten mood, while simple meditative techniques help to quiet an anxious mind and soothe the nervous system. Here are some further facts on yoga and stress published by the NIH (National Institute of Health).

Two decades of published research indicates that the majority of people who complete a 6 week course of simple yoga and mindfulness techniques report:

  • Lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms
  • Increased ability to relax
  • Reductions in pain levels and an enhanced ability to cope with pain that may not go away
  • Greater energy and enthusiasm for life
  • Improved self-esteem
  • An ability to cope more effectively with both short and long-term stressful situations.

I can personally attest to the power of these simple practices in helping me to deal with stress in my own life. A nourishing daily yoga practice has allowed me to weather periods of change and transition as well as heightened emotion with much less negative effect than in the past. So though I can't keep stressful situations from occurring, as there are simply some things in life that are outside of our control, I can change the way I react to the stress created by these situations which has resulted in fewer ups and downs both mentally and emotionally as well as increased physical immunity and well being. I don't always know what's around the corner but I have the confidence I can deal with it no matter what it is.

For a yoga practice to be effective in helping you to manage your response to stress it doesn't need to long and involved, nor do you need to be flexible or strong. Consistency is the key. A regular practice, 4-6 times per week, of just 20-25 minutes per day will go a long way in helping you to feel your best even when life throws you a curveball.

To learn more about yoga and begin to create a routine that works for your body and your schedule find a Registered Yoga Teacher near you and inquire about group classes or private sessions. You'll be glad you did.

Natalie Rousseau ERYN teaches drop in and private classes in Tofino. If you have any questions about this or other articles, or yoga in general, please email her at

Tofino Yoga

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Tofino yoga instructor Natalie Rousseau looks at the benefits of yoga in dealing with stress.

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