Three, 50-minute flows per week might be the ultimate antidote to your work stress.
If you’re looking for ways to kick stress and anxiety and stay mentally sharp after (or during) busy workdays, might we suggest looking for your yoga mat? Yoga combines movement, breathwork, and mindfulness, which makes it one of the most therapeutic ways to exercise and one of the most effective ways to relieve stress.
Research old and new asserts yoga’s positive impact on stress relief and mental well-being. Now another 2023 study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine has found more proof of yoga’s stress-busting, brain-boosting benefits. Practicing moderate-intensity yoga a few times per week at home helped reduce stress symptoms and even improve short-term memory in stressed-out professionals.
For the small, but telling trial, researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology evaluated 86 full-time working adults—all experiencing stress symptoms—who participated in an eight-week, moderate-intensity, remote yoga program.
Ultimately, the participants who practiced medium-intensity yoga for 50 minutes, three times per week, for eight weeks (at home), “had significantly lower stress and anxiety, and higher accuracy on working memory tasks,” compared to a control group,” the study abstract reports, concluding that, “[r]emote moderate-intensity yoga practice proved safe, enjoyable, and may reduce stress and improve cognitive functioning.”
One of the study’s authors, Sean Mullen, PhD, associate professor in the department of kinesiology and community health at U of I Urbana-Champaign, posited in an article for the study’s release that their findings align with the long-established understanding that aerobic exercise in general benefits brain health and mental health, acting as a powerful complementary salve for stress, anxiety, and depression. But what’s more, moderate- to higher-intensity yoga, like the sequences included in the program, not only provide excellent aerobic exercise (check!), but also an added layer of mental exercise (double-check!), since it requires dynamic, conscious, multi-planar movement, spacial and internal awareness, and other cognitively demanding elements.
“There’s some literature that has directly compared yoga to aerobic exercise, and we’ve known for quite a long time that aerobic exercise has benefits for the brain,” he said. “Our research investigates complex movements—not just riding a bicycle or walking in a straight line, but multi-planar movements that require navigating one’s space a little differently and being conscious of movement, technique, and breathing."
Yoga may seem intimidating for the uninitiated, but you don't need to have mastered a perfect headstand to practice yoga and reap its healthy rewards. It’s something you can do from the comfort of your own home, and often for free—the most you’ll need is a yoga mat (or similarly supportive, grippy surface) and internet access for virtual sessions. Yoga beginners can start by finding free yoga classes online to learn the basics; trying a few easy, soothing yoga stretches every day; and breaking for a quick, energizing flow throughout the day (even between Zoom calls!).
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