A Tool to Relieve Stress and Improve Your Health

Medically reviewed in August 2019

Practicing gentle yoga along with regular aerobic activity could not only help you ease stress but also provide real health benefits.

A 2017 study published by the American College of Cardiology found that the combination of yoga and exercise was an effective strategy for patients coping simultaneously with three of the most common diseases of modern life: obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart trouble.

Researchers in India recruited 750 obese heart patients with type 2 diabetes and divided them into three groups. One group participated in an aerobic exercise program, another practiced yoga and the third did both. All of the volunteers enjoyed improvements in blood pressure, BMI and cholesterol, as well as other key measures. But the group that combined yoga and aerobics improved twice as much as the other two. The volunteers in the combination group also came out with healthier scores on left ventricular ejection fraction, diastolic function and exercise capacity.

Calm your mind, relieve your stress
When I encountered yoga as part of my training to teach Ornish Lifestyle Medicine in 2003, I thought of it as “foreign” and “spiritual,” and was a tad uncomfortable. I have my own religion and beliefs, so how were these new practices going to fit in?

You don’t have to adopt the cultural package to practice yoga. Once I realized this, I became much more open to the practice. The purpose was to calm my mind and body—and it worked in spades for me.

I especially love the “fish” pose, which relaxes my back and neck and opens my chest area. You can see what it looks like here in Yoga Journal. They say that if you practice it in the water, you’ll float like a fish. (I haven’t tried it, though!)

As with all yoga poses, you can modify “fish” for your comfort, usually by putting a block under your shoulder blades for support. I now practice “fish” in every yoga session and in my cool-down from aerobic workouts.

Sometimes you need to find calm before you understand just how stressed out you are day-to-day. My clients tell me that yoga is one of the most valuable tools they have ever learned, portable and helpful in every situation.

I see the change in myself: I am clearer on my priorities. When conflicts arise, it’s also easier to respond with understanding.

I’m lucky that my job required me to learn a stress-management tool. For some people, a health challenge is the teacher. Every day I see people enter the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program closed, hard and unhealthy, unsmiling and stressed to the max. I see them practice yoga and other stress-management techniques and I see them soften and heal.

Go ahead and laugh—pretending to be a floating fish is one of the best moments in my day.

This content originally appeared on Ornish Lifestyle Medicine.

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