8 Ways To Reduce Pain, Cravings, and Anxiety without Drugs
The following is an awesome guest post from Jessica Blanchard
Let’s face it.
It’s hard to balance making a living with taking care of yourself.
You probably spend many hours a day at a desk.
You try to remember to take breaks to walk and stretch, but when you’re speeding along to finish a project, those intentions drift away. At the end of the day, your shoulders are tight as hell, and your lower back aches.
You know that you should exercise each day, but time slips away, and now your children are waiting to be picked up from soccer practice.
You desperately want to stop succumbing to the temptations of junk food, but the Snickers bar sweetly calls your name, and you can’t refuse. You know an apple would be a better choice, and you resolve to be stronger.
Your anxiety level builds from trying to juggle it all. But you’re not comfortable taking drugs because deep down you know you can find another way to feel better.
What if you could decrease your pain, cravings, and anxiety while getting a bit of exercise?
An Ancient Practice That Cures Modern Miseries
Yoga started five thousand years back, but it offers powerful remedies for our modern-day woes.
You may have written off yoga as hipster gymnastics for the young and super-fit.
If you have, I don’t blame you.
The media and corporate interests have hijacked this ancient science and turned it into a circus. You’ve seen those young, beautiful, pretzel-like women on the cover of magazines.
While most of yoga today focuses on external appearances, yoga is potent medicine for both our internal and external woes.
The goal of yoga is to create harmony between your mind and body, ultimately bringing you to a peaceful state of mind and a healthy body.
Yoga improves the functioning of your nervous, immune, and vascular systems. And you don’t need to become a pretzel to reap these benefits. With as little as 10-15 minutes per day, you’ll notice positive changes.
Eight Surprising Ways Yoga Harmonizes Your Body And Mind
I’ve witnessed the changes in hundreds of students, from young, flexible hipsters to worn-out Vietnam vets. The benefits of yoga don’t discriminate: yoga is available and ready to help you— if you are willing to put in a bit of time and effort.
If you are, yoga can harmonize your mind and your body in the following ways:
1. Yoga slashes your anxiety
Yoga combines deep breathing, and body and breath awareness with physical postures. Regardless of the style of yoga, you’ll heighten your connection between your mind and your body.
When you feel anxious, your breath becomes shallow and quick, and your nervous system is hyper-alert. You’ll learn to deepen your breath, and leave the fight-or-flight response to find the rest-and-digest response.
As a result, you’ll feel calm and relaxed. Try it and see for yourself.
2. Yoga helps you master your cravings
What if you could resist temptations that jump in your path? Heart rate variability (HRV) describes how our hearts respond to situations causing an increase in heart rate — how easily it returns to normal after an elevation. I
f you have higher HRV, your heart rate returns to normal more quickly when faced with a temptation that makes your heart race.
Studies have shown that people with higher HRV resisted temptation like cigarettes or cookies more than those with lower HRV.
So slowing down the breath increases heart rate variability and gives courage and control in difficult situations where you’re tempted to indulge. Slowing down your breath to 10-15 seconds per cycle has been shown to build your willpower reserve.
In yoga breathing exercises, you practice slowing down your breath and learning how to take deeper more full breaths.
3. Yoga diminishes pain
Does sitting give you a sore back and tight leg muscles? Simple yoga stretches lengthen and relax overworked muscles. Yoga teaches you to have better posture.
Deepening your breath increases tone in the parasympathetic nervous system. The rest and digest reflex relaxes deep muscular holding patterns and decreases tension.
Feeling your breath also encourages total body relaxation and less holding onto pain.
Using the breath, you can let pain float away. You learn how to become more of an observer without being attached to the feeling of pain. And you’ll decrease inflammation due to a strengthened immune system.
Recently a student shared, “Since coming to yoga, I’ve found that I don’t need as much pain medication.
I get into my breathing, and I feel better. I was looking at the bottle and I realized I’m not using as much as I used to. I thank you for that.”
4. Yoga decreases inflammation
While acute inflammation is your body’s way of fending off attackers, chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer.
In these cases, inflammation stiffens your blood vessels. To counteract the inflammation response, you need more of the vasodilator nitric oxide, which helps your blood vessels relax.
When we breathe deeply, we increase our circulating nitric oxide. Decreasing inflammation through deep breathing helps to decrease our pain and our susceptibility to chronic diseases.
I had a veteran refuse to take steroid shots to his spine because he believed that yoga was helping him. This is a quote from his case worker:
“He is a retired policeman who suffers with chronic back pain and walks with the assistance of a cane.
He gave the most glorious feedback about how Jessica’s class is helping him tremendously with his pain so much so that he actually refused the injections he usually gets in his hips and just wants to continue with yoga because it’s helping so much.
I seriously was blown away b/c he has been a constant challenge due to his pain. He’s one of those cases where you wonder what to do to help such a severe case of chronic pain…..and then there was yoga!”
Note that this man sat in a chair for the entire class, and mainly did the breathing exercises
5. Yoga puts you to sleep
Yoga improves sleep quality — even among people who experience extreme difficulty sleeping.
Often, insomnia is linked to heightened arousal symptoms and the sympathetic nervous system and past trauma. The relaxation effect from a yoga class has a longer effect on the body.
Many students with PTSD have remarked that their sleep improved dramatically when they started practicing yoga once per week.
I once noticed a veteran snoring in class. I asked him if I was boring him. He said, “No honey, I should give you a medal because nobody puts me to sleep. I can’t ever sleep on my own.”
After that, I never disturbed his sleep.
6. Yoga combats depression
Yoga restores balance to our emotional and physical systems. Many of the postures target the endocrine system, and the increased blood flow to the brain may boost our mood. (Source: http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression)
Check out this study from a group of German women who described themselves as “mentally distressed.”
At the end of the three-month study, women practicing yoga twice a week reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%.
I’m frequently told that yoga acts like a natural drug for depression and anxiety. And I believe it.
7. Yoga boosts immunity
Do you operate at a chronic level of stress? Some prolonged stressors are caring for a sick spouse, past trauma, or even unemployment.
This analysis of 300 studies of the immune system spanning over thirty years suggests that chronic stress can cause depressed immune function over time.
This study of people practicing yoga postures and breathing exercises found a reduction in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration.
You can use yoga to calm down your hyped-up nervous system and improve your immune function.
8. Yoga fine-tunes your digestion
When you breathe deeply, you engage your respiratory diaphragm. As you inhale, your diaphragm moves downward, like an expanding balloon.
Your digestive organs — your small intestines, pancreas, spleen and liver are massaged by your breathing. The compression and relaxation makes a pumping like action on these organs, encouraging a fresh supply of blood.
Twists, forward folds, backbends, all promote healthy movement in our digestive organs. Over time, this can lead to improved digestive functioning and diminished pain.
The Truth About Transforming Your Health
Reduced pain, cravings, and anxiety are some of the benefits of yoga that can be yours.
You don’t have to travel to India, adopt a new-age hippy name like Shanti, or even wear fancy yoga pants to reap its benefits.
But yoga is a “practice,” meaning that it takes repetition over time to truly reap the rewards.
Most people feel calmer after one or two sessions, but to make yoga a part of your life, you must practice.
It’s not always easy to set aside the time or money, but the rewards in your health, mood, and mindset far outweigh any costs.
Remember that the times when you dread practicing are the times you need it most.
You’ll be amazed at how much a few simple moves with deep breathing can help you feel less pain and anxiety and master your cravings.
So go on, get up from your desk right now, and stretch.
Inhale, raise your arms, and reach to the sky.
Exhale and relax.
It’s that simple.
Jessica Blanchard is a registered dietitian, dedicated Ayurvedic practitioner, and yoga teacher. She’s on a mission to help you use food, yoga and wellness to super-charge your health— without forcing you to stick to one set of rules or another.
Grab your free 7-Day Plan here and feel healthier, fitter and happier in just ten minutes per day.
Tim’s Note: Just do it already!