The current pandemic has left people in unusual circumstances: Many are working or studying from home, unable to see friends or family, attend events or go to places like gyms, dance studios, movie theaters and other places of pleasure. It is not surprising that many students have felt more anxious and depressed than they may have ever previously felt and their mental health has been declining.
Exercise is a common method to relieve physical stress, but that has been more difficult to engage in when many people do not have the gym equipment and resources that they may need. There are many low impact exercises that can be done from home, but yoga in particular can strongly improve students’ mental and physical health.
Many of the exercises commonly done in a gym, like running and cycling, are aerobic exercises. Yoga, however, is not an aerobic exercise, which may make students hesitant to try it due to the common misconception that aerobic exercises are best for weight loss and other health benefits. However, yoga is just as beneficial to the body as other exercises.
Yoga can help strengthen and stretch the body while relaxing the mind by bringing awareness to one’s breathing. Coursera, an online education company that provides courses from many top universities, is currently offering a course by New York University, “Engineering Health: Introduction to Yoga and Physiology,” that focuses on how yoga can impact different physiological systems as well as reduce stress. According to Dr. Alexandra Seidenstein, one of the course instructors, chronic stress can cause structural changes to the hippocampus and a decrease in neurogenesis, which can impact an individual’s memory and learning, as well as cause mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Yoga has been associated with increased GABA levels. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter that has a calming and relaxing effect on the brain. Increasing GABA levels can help relieve anxiety, reduce stress and improve sleep. According to an article published by Boston University’s School of Medicine, MRIs found elevated GABA levels in individuals after three months of yoga sessions. Resonance breathing is a quick exercise that can be done during class breaks or other brief free periods for stress relief. It reduces the number of breaths an individual takes per minute. This allows heart rate and blood pressure to become synchronous, which produces a calming effect that can be effective in decreasing levels of stress and anxiety, as your nervous system becomes rebalanced.
For adolescents especially, yoga can help restore the damage that chronic stress has had on the body. Yoga can help mitigate physical pain that students feel when constantly sitting down doing work and building tension in the back, shoulders and stress from both posture and emotional stress. A pose that can be beneficial for releasing this tension is child’s pose (or balasana), which is a deep forward bend where the stomach rests on the thighs. This pose helps to lengthen and strengthen the body, releases tension in the upper portion of the body and alleviate stress and anxiety.
This exercise, as well as many other yoga poses, can easily be done from the comfort of a student’s home at any point of the day to bring a little comfort and release from daily stress.