The response of the sympathetic nervous system can trigger stress in our metabolism. The reaction to various outside stimuli is also known as the “fight or flight” response – the mind and body, faced with an endangering or disturbing element, prepare for one of the two options. Physically, this is manifested through an instantaneous heart rate increase, together with a high ascent of blood pressure. Breathing gets shallow and the muscles tense in anticipation to the following action. Internally, this response reduces the blood flow to internal organs and processes that are not essential in that particular moment (such as digestion and elimination) are shut down. This state of increased awareness and readiness is beneficial on a short term, preparing our body to react to the outside interventions and stimuli. Both in a “fight” and in a “flight” situation, the body is physically and mentally prepared to act. The problem arises when long-term exposure to similar stress takes place. This “fight or flight” response is only meant to help on short periods of time – the longer it is activated the less resources will the body have to function normally.
There is a natural countermeasure for the “fight or flight” response. It is called the parasympathetic nervous system or the “relaxation response.” It is automatically activated when the elements that caused the stress are gone but it is also possible to increase its effects by breathing deeply and relaxing your muscles. By increasing the length of this process we allow our body to recover faster, enabling it to eliminate the harmful effects of stress in a prompt and efficient manner.
Yoga highlights the idea that by using breathing and relaxation techniques you can reduce the harmful effects of stress factors on your body. A lessened “fight or flight” response can also be achieved by looking at adverse factors as challenges rather than threats. This approach allows your mind to focus on finding a solution, rather than creating an abrupt response. Another concept employed by this technique is that of acting versus reacting, of taking initiative versus responding to outside factors.
The positive effects of yoga during a healing process are undeniable. However, these techniques should only be used as a form of support and the healing shouldn’t rely solely on them. The best results are achieved by combining yoga with traditional and modern medicine and by addressing a problem both from a mental and physical point of view.