Stress is not necessarily something we need to avoid. In fact, many go out of their way to experience it. From roller coaster rides to scary movies, people love to be shocked and awed. Sometimes stress can be good. Perhaps the reason why some seek it is because the boring din of day-to-day life is just not enough to satisfy. But, according to Robert Sapolsky, a leading expert on stress, living in a constant state of stress is deadly.
We certainly wouldn’t want to maintain the rush we feel after free-falling on a speeding carnival ride, nor are we interested in living in a constant state of heart-thumping fear. Unfortunately for some, and for many different reasons, the stress response is slow to dissipate. Lingering stress is what leads to illness and disease.
To make matters worse, the fight or flight response, a function of the body that assists us when we are in danger, can kick in via our own imagination. We may not actually be in real danger, yet the response is still the same. Think back to when you watched a horror movie. Did your fight or flight response kick in as if you were the one being chased by the boogieman?
Our nervous system is a complex structure. While the sympathetic nervous system is on our side to give us a burst of energy in response to danger, a thrill, or some from of excitement, the parasympathetic nervous system comes to the rescue to bring us back to a state of normalcy. In people who suffer from stress-related diseases, there is a problem with the functioning and efficiency of the parasympathetic nervous system; it either doesn’t act properly or has been suppressed by a constant need for stimulation. In any case, the stress response continues to be elevated, and an elevated stress response over extended periods of time is very unhealthy.
Research suggests that yoga has a profound effect on the function and efficiency of the parasympathetic nervous system. People who practice yoga have a higher rate of calming down after experiencing stress than people who do not practice. This doesn’t mean that yogis don’t get excited, in fact, yogis experience the same rush of adrenaline as anyone else, but those who embark on a regular yoga practice are better at returning to a state of calm in a timely manner.
Even if you never face extreme dangers, the stress response can be triggered by a variety of different events, including your own irrational thoughts. The key is to let it go as soon as you can, and practicing yoga can help.