Calm Your Nerves with Yoga By Devinder Kaur

When we face a stressful situation (or a life-threatening one), a surge of hormones prepares us to fight or flee. Our heart rate goes up, our muscles tense, and we are on alert. This is a natural survival mechanism called “the stress response.” Depending on our circumstances, we might activate the fight or flight response many times during a day. Traffic, loud noises, work deadlines, frustrating thoughts, and other concerns bring on the stress response and activate the sympathetic nervous system. The repeated surge of hormones takes its toll on the body and, over time, this low-grade chronic stress leads to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and muscle tension. If your sympathetic nervous system repeatedly springs into action, there will be an imbalance.

The relaxation response is meant to counter the stress response and the effects of stress. Blood flow is redirected to the digestive and reproductive organs, and to the endocrine and lymphatic systems — those parts of your body that aren’t needed for survival. Through yoga, we rebalance the systems and reduce blood pressure, and slow the heart and breath rates. How do we bring on the relaxation response through yoga?

Breath practices (pranayama) stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and activate the “rest and digest” mechanisms of the body. Postures (asanas) with a focus for the mind and inverted postures where your heart is higher than your head help control blood pressure.

Corpse pose (savasana) with guided relaxation gives the body the opportunity to rest and acquire new energy. In yoga, we learn to pay attention to the
sensations in our body and to our reactions to those sensations. People who practise yoga become more aware and respond differently to stressful situations so that the baseline of the parasympathetic nervous system is more easily maintained.

However, not all yoga is relaxing. Kundalini, power, or hot yoga classes can activate the sympathetic nervous system. Research shows that vigorous practices followed by relaxation lead to deeper relaxations than practicing a relaxation technique alone. A well-rounded yoga practice is important because yoga includes both sympathetic and parasympathetic activation. With a regular and consistent yoga practice, your body and brain become even more relaxed into the parasympathetic baseline.

Devinder Kaur is a certified hatha and kundalini yoga teacher and lead teacher trainer in Ottawa. She is the director and owner of PranaShanti Yoga Centre.

For more information, visit

As featured in HealthWise Ottawa Magazine Winter 2015 edition

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *