There is a lot of talk on the Internet (and in research!) these days about cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, why it’s bad for your health, and what you can do to lower your cortisol levels. According to Psychology Today, cortisol is a hormone released “in response to fear or stress by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism.” When the hormone is released, the body is ready and mobilized for action — fight (utilizing the physiological resources necessary to face a threat head on) or flight (utilizing the physiological resources necessary to get away from said threat).
The problem is that nowadays it is relatively rare for [first world] humans to encounter true threats to survival that would necessitate cortisol release, and instead we often release cortisol in the face of relatively minor stressors (i.e., being stuck in traffic, getting in a fight with a significant other, approaching final exams). And when cortisol is released in the absence of an event that truly necessitated it, the rise in cortisol can be detrimental to the body and the mind.
How much harm can access levels of this hormone do? Science says a lot. Elevated cortisol levels can eventually lead to blunted immune responses, diminished bone density, increased blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even heart disease…and the list goes on.
What can we do about it? There are lots of things scientists and doctors recommend to help lower cortisol levels. Two primary recommendations are physical exercise and meditation. Thankfully, we know yoga combines both physical movement (asana) with mindfulness (dharana) to create a holistic approach to overall wellness. Practicing yoga consistently, at least twice a week, will help decrease cortisol levels.
Here are four yoga poses that are especially relaxing to incorporate into your daily yoga practice in an effort to reduce cortisol levels:
- Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
- Forward fold (Uttanasana)
- Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Adding these poses to your practice will help you feel more relaxed and more centered. Over time, if you practice yoga consistently (at least twice a week), incorporate some mindfulness meditations into your day, and eat right, your cortisol levels will start to decrease, and you might notice some positive changes in your body and mind. Try it out and let us know how it goes!
* Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.