Meeting the Mood
In this week’s Vlog, Rose Kress reviews research on the efficacy of using restorative yoga to reduce anxiety. Yoga teachers are taught that restorative yoga is the best practice for anxiety. Yes, rest is what anxiety needs. However, the anxious mind does not easily relax, which can make a restorative yoga practice stress producing. Best practices for anxiety are those that move the body and burn the energy off.
Elevated stress levels for extended periods of time, can hardwire the brain for more stress. Cortisol, a hormone released when the fight or flight portion of the nervous system is activated. The authors of this large randomized controlled trial, recently published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, compared restorative yoga vs. gentle stretching and found that at 6 months, the stretching group had decreased cortisol at waking and bedtime compared to the restorative yoga group. The pattern of changes in stress mirrored this improvement, with the stretching group showing reductions in chronic stress severity and perseverative thoughts about their stress. The authors found significant decreases in salivary cortisol, chronic stress severity, and stress perception in the stretching group compared to the restorative yoga group.
The outcome of this study substantiates the approach of meeting the mood. In our work with people suffering from elevated stress and anxiety, we have found that gentle repetitive movement and mildly stimulating breathing at the beginning of the yoga session has a tension-releasing and mind-focusing effect. Anxious students and clients feel calmer after a mildly stimulating LifeForce Yoga practice, whereas they feel more agitated and uncomfortable if they adopt a restorative pose too soon in the session. This may seem counterintuitive, but in fact, people with anxious mood seem to do best with a practice that burns off a little steam (rajasic energy) before they slow down. This study indicates that beginning with a more active practice might better serve you and your students if anxiety is present. [Originally reviewed in Newsletter Issue 58]