A woman stretching and doing yoga at home

Stress relief: why yoga is such an effective tool for managing stress

Posted by for Mental Health

According to a new study, yoga helps to relieve stress because it boosts your ‘interoceptive awareness’.

When it comes to stress-relieving activities, you’ll often see yoga touted as one of the best.

There are numerous reasons why this is the case – not only is yoga known for its ability to relieve tension in the body (something that is often caused and exacerbated by mental stress), but it’s also a great form of exercise (any kind of which is proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol) and often contains meditative elements which help to relax the body and mind.

However, according to a new study, these aren’t the only reasons why doing yoga is so good for your stress levels. 

The new research, which was published in the journal Stress & Health, found that yoga helps to increase ‘interoceptive awareness’ – aka, awareness of the internal states and sensations within your body. In doing so, yoga helps you to understand and recognise when you’re feeling stressed and feel more in control of what’s going on.

To find this out, the study’s authors enlisted the help of 42 participants, who took part in Kripalu yoga classes (a form of yoga which “places an emphasis on meditation, physical healing and spiritual transformation”) over a period of 12 weeks.

As you probably expected, as the study progressed, the participants stress levels decreased. The study’s authors measured this by recording their levels of perceived stress (the extent to which you see life as unpredictable and overwhelming) and stress reactivity (the extent to which you feel agitated and struggle to relax).  

A woman doing a downward dog yoga pose
In boosting your 'interoceptive awareness', yoga helps you to become more aware of your stress levels and respond accordingly.

At the same time, the participant’s ‘psychosocial resources’ – aka, the skills that influence how we deal with stress such as mindfulness, interoceptive awareness and self-control – increased. However, it was their ‘interoceptive awareness’ in particular that saw the biggest rise, suggesting that this is the main way in which yoga helps to relieve stress. 

This makes a lot of sense. The creation of interoceptive awareness is one of the reasons why mindfulness meditation is such an effective way to manage stress, too. By turning your attention towards what’s going on in your body and helping you to recognise when you’re feeling stressed, interoceptive awareness makes you more likely to respond to challenging situations in a productive, positive way – something that you’re much less likely to do when you’re unaware of what’s fuelling your emotions.

And on the flip side, if you’re aware that you’re feeling stressed, you’re also able to develop coping mechanisms to help you ahead of time.

With all of this in mind, it’s interesting to consider how a midday yoga session could help you to stop your stress levels from building up throughout the day, by helping you to understand when you’re feeling overwhelmed and giving you the space to react. 

Yoga may not be for everyone, but if this study proves anything, it’s that it’s definitely worth a try if you’re yet to give it a go. Plus, with so many ‘yoga for beginners’ guides out there now (including this brilliant one from Stylist’s Strong Women), it’s really easy to get started.

To find out more about yoga, including the other ways in which it can benefit mental health, you can check out more of Stylist’s yoga content

If working from home during the pandemic is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Our Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of WFH wellbeing.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.