Yoga and Your Nervous System’s Stress Response


Hello, and welcome to Suvatacast. I’m Ysmay, I’m the founder of, and this show is here to help guide you on your journey through yoga and wellness so you can become your best self ever. In today’s episode, I’m going to share with you some tips about how to reduce your stress levels naturally.

Today I’m going to talk to you about the stress relaxation response and how it’s affected by yoga.


You may not know this about me, especially if you didn’t listen to the trailer episode of the show. But I have some pretty complicated health problems. And the biggest complication that I have is an autonomic nervous system disorder.

My autonomic nervous system is basically always out of whack. It’s acting up when it shouldn’t. It has the fear-based stress response when it shouldn’t. And this is something that has been troubling to me over the years. The physical symptoms of this condition are heart palpitations.

The feeling like there’s a fish out of water flopping around inside my chest. There’s the digestive issues and the migraines and the fatigue.

Needless to say, this has been a little bit of a problem for me. And I first started showing symptoms when I was only seven years old. So I’ve been dealing with this my entire life. And this is actually what brought me to yoga.

Basically, I got sick and tired being sick and tired, I was looking for answers. I wanted to change my daily life, I wanted to change the quality of my life. And I ended up on yoga.

Yoga has helped me immensely. And the reason for that is because of the way yoga impacts the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. And this is a fascinating topic for me.

And I think it’s going to be really interesting to you as well, because during this time of pandemic, and this mayhem and all of the stress we are feeling right now, it is so important to make sure we are not making it harder on ourselves by allowing our fight or flight response to be constantly activated. So that’s what I want to talk to you about now.

When we experience stress, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. When stress is perceived to be either excessive or threatening a physiological reaction called the fight or flight response, also sometimes called hyperarousal or the acute stress response occurs.

And I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been feeling a lot of stress lately, between being locked in our homes not being able to see our friends and family, not being allowed to do basic errands.

Not being able to see elderly loved ones for fear we might get them sick. from losing our jobs. Maybe the bank is calling about our mortgage. There are all of these stressors right now. And it is a very frightening time for us.

And when we get stressed as human beings, our bodies activate the sympathetic nervous system. And this sympathetic nervous system is useful when we were cavemen and we were trying to run away from threats. It is useful, even now in our daily lives, because it allows us to know that Oh, there’s a threat right around the corner. Maybe we shouldn’t go down that dark alley.

It prepares us to run away or to fight the threat. When we experienced stress, or perceived threats, the sympathetic nervous system moves us from a state of balance and to calm to a state of preparation for actions so we can literally fight or flee.

The stress response includes an increase in heart rate, and an increase in breathing rate, muscle tension, and the elevation of cortisol and other stress hormones. Positive challenges such as creating art, or participating in a competitive athletic event.

If you’re a marathon runner, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Or even doing yoga may invoke the stress response without causing the fight or flight response. And this has to do with the types of stressors we are faced with.

My parents were EMS instructors when I was a kid, and they used to tell their students and also me and my brother who used to go to a lot of their training classes, that good stress is still stress.

Whether or not the stress you’re feeling is happy, positive stress, or sad, negative stress, it still impacts your body There are stressors that are external, internal, negative, or positive. stressors that are external or internal, will stimulate your nervous system.

Now this means whether there are stressors that are coming at you, from outside events from people outside of your own being from a global pandemic, for example.

And then there are internal stressors that we create inside our own mind through worry, through fear, through paranoia through feeling as though life is never going to get any better.

Whether we are combating the external stressors or the internal stressors, our nervous system is still being stimulated.

Furthermore, any significant change in your life is a stressor that could impact your nervous system. We tend to think of stress only as negative. Luckily, my parents helped me understand early on that positive stress is still stress.

There are many positive changes in our lives that create stress, such as getting married, having a baby, starting a new job or moving to a new city, buying a house, performing on stage delivering a webinar, having a sales call. recording a podcast could even be a positive stressor, the more significant it is in your mind.

And this is key because not everyone experiences the same types of stimulation the same way you do. The more significant In your mind specifically, the more your sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, and the more stress you will experience.

So about that fight or flight response. In the case of a perceived threat, our body activates the fight or flight response whether we want it to or not. Threats can be minor or major, and we will still have that response activation.

A minor threat could be walking down the street, and you run into a woman that you once got into a screaming match with at a bar.

A major perceived threat would be being alone at night in a parking garage and you start to hear footsteps behind you.

Our body could very likely have the same fight or flight response in both situations based entirely on how much importance we put on the first incident, the minor one with the woman that we ran into on the sidewalk, we may have the same fear the same adrenaline, the same physiological response that we do to the footsteps in the parking garage.

We normally cannot control this, we only have the power to work on our own internal perceptions of threats. And that’s something that we do through meditation. By allowing our bodies to calm by allowing our minds to release negative emotions, about people about incidents in our past. through meditation, you could very well release the fear of confrontation with that woman from the bar.

But you have to practice you have to work up to this. It’s not something that we can usually turn off in the moment. Without practice. I have met people who are able to turn off their fight or flight response, as soon as they realize that the threat that they perceived is not a major threat.

It’s just a moment of conflict or nasty words, or an unpleasant relative, for example.

I have met people who are able to instantly calm themselves down. But every one of those people has been training and practicing on calming their mind through meditation. It has not been something that they could just do from birth.

Whether the threat is minor or major, there are some physiological changes that we are going to experience:

  • Our pupils will dilate.
  • We will start breathing a little faster.
  • Our digestion slows down.
  • Our blood pressure increases.
  • Our muscles become tense.
  • In extreme cases trembling may occur.
  • The heart beats faster.
  • Blood vessels constrict and saliva production decreases.

The parasympathetic system is shut off so as to maximize the body’s response to stress. This means we’re stored of healing functions are shut down, so our body can focus entirely on getting out of that dangerous situation.

Fight or Flight is useful as a short term reaction because it evokes strong physical and emotional actions to deal with an immediate threat.

But if fight or flight is chronically triggered, the responses that are helpful in the short term become harmful over time. And right now during this pandemic, fight or flight could very possibly be chronically triggered in your body.

Chronic stress is known to both cause and exacerbate disease and can lead to emotional problems such as anxiety and depression.

In 2014, the Society for Neuroscience reported that 60% of Americans feel they’re under a great deal of stress at least once per week. I imagine that number is vastly different now. Because we are currently dealing with a Coronavirus pandemic stress is really effecting us.

Daily minor stressors like deciding what to eat for dinner can feel simple to handle all on their own. But stress in general, whether it is positive or negative stress has a cumulative effect.

And even the little things and the stress they cause all adds up. Stress like getting into an argument with your spouse because you can’t decide on what toilet paper to get in the middle of a pandemic, should you get what you just need for the foreseeable future or should you stock up?

That would be an example of stress that adds up over time even though it doesn’t necessarily feel too stressful in the moment and you may not even realize that it is a stressor on demand and stress can be like death by 1000 cuts. It puts people at risk for numerous health issues like anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep problems, heart disease and weight gain.

There are four basic sources of stress in our world. environmental, social, physiological, and psychological. environmental stressors include the weather, traffic, pollution, pollens, pandemics.

Social stressors include competing demands for your time, interpersonal relationships, financial concerns, having too much to do not enough time to do it.

Physiological stressors include nutrition, sleep, and any other health concerns that are unique to you specifically in psychological stress, Include the brain’s interpretation of complex changes that are either real or imagined.

And then there’s the relaxation response.

Dr. Herbert Benson, MD published research back in 1975, documenting what he termed the relaxation response, a physical state of deep arrest, that changes the physical and emotional response to stress, the opposite of the fight or flight response. initiating the relaxation response corresponds with the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

This switches off the stress response and the associated increase in heart rate, blood pressure, mental alertness and muscle tension.

When the relaxation response is activated, so too are the bodily systems that were shut down. From fight or flight, including digestion, growth, repair, meditation and relaxation activities have been shown to initiate the relaxation response, including yoga. When we practice yoga, we are encouraging our body to relax.

We slow the breath and to focus on the present moment. We shift the balance from the sympathetic nervous system and the flight or fight response to the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation response.

We work on achieving tranquility of mind and creating a sense of well being. We focus on increasing feelings of relaxation. on improving self-confidence and increase in our attentiveness. We work to lower our irritability and increase our optimistic outlook on life.

Consistent yoga practice improves depression and can lead to significant increases in serotonin levels. Coupled with decreases in the levels of monoamine oxidase, which is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters and cortisol. A range of therapeutic approaches is available for the management of depressive disorders.

But Yoga is one of the most effective and number of Studies demonstrate the benefits of yoga on depression, stress and anxiety.

Because of the way yoga flips the switch between the sympathetic nervous system and the fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system and the relaxation response if you’re ready to feel calmer, if you are ready to get a handle on your anxiety and Depression.

If you are ready to stop feeling so freakin’ scared by this pandemic, if you are ready to feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I strongly encourage you to give yoga a try for that reason.

Don’t come to your yoga mat because you’re trying to look good in a bathing suit. Come to yoga because you want to reclaim your Saturday come to yoga, because you know, that you deserve to feel happy. You deserve to feel loved, even if it’s only by yourself.

You deserve to feel empowered. That’s why you should come to yoga.

And in so doing, yoga will help you activate your parasympathetic nervous system and your relaxation response. Your cortisol levels, your general feeling of stress and anxiety and depression will start to go down you will be more empowered than ever to take on whatever life has to offer.

Thank you very much for tuning into this episode. We are going to end our time together with a meditation but before we do, I would like to ask you to subscribe to this show in your favorite podcast player so you’re notified every time there’s a new episode. You can find links, show notes and more over at

Allow the eyes to softly close. If it’s comfortable, breathe in and out through the nose. Otherwise, breathe with your mouth when needed. Begin to bring your awareness to your breath. Notice how your breath feels and where it is in your body.

Relax your jaw and allow your tongue to rest on the roof of your mouth. Relax the space between your eyebrows. slowly start to deepen the breath. Bring your breath deeper into your belly.

As you inhale, feel your belly expand like a balloon. And as you exhale, draw your navel towards your spine.

As your breath draws deeper into your belly, there’s very little movement, if any, from the chest. We’re now doing what’s called yogic breath or a belly breath. This allows for the deepest kind of breathing, to replenish the body in mind. And prepare it for the day ahead.

Begin to inhale for a count of five and then exhale to account to five. Going as slow or as fast you need to.

Slowly begin to deepen the breath.

As you exhale, soften your shoulders and as you inhale, breathe in positivity.

Bring your awareness to the back of your neck. Check-in see how your neck is feeling in this moment.

As you exhale, allow your body to soften.

Bring your awareness down your spine. Make note of any sensations you’re feeling.

As you exhale, feel any tension in your back begin to soften.

Bring your awareness back to your breath.

allow your body to breathe naturally.

As your body begins to soften and relax. I want you to think about all the negativity going on in the world right now.

And I want you to release negativity from your body. Inhale positivity in warmth and exhale all the negativity and cold they are feeling

Slowly start to return to normal comfortable pace of breathing.

Take one last deep inhale. And as you exhale, open your eyes and bring your awareness back into the room. Namaste.

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1 Comment

  1. jessamar340

    I didn’t really understand before how this all goes together. do you have more links?


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