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The COVID-19 pandemic has majorly affected almost every aspect of our lives. With the ever growing uncertainty about the disease and cases continuing to rise around the world, stress is almost inevitable. And amidst all this, the lockdowns and social (physical) distancing may also make some people feel bored or frustrated. It is natural to feel a bit of cut off from the world too.

If you too have been feeling stressed due to the pandemic, there are various ways you can help yourself including switching off the news for a while and connecting with your loved ones. 

With physical movement restricted to such an extent, it becomes even more vital to engage in some sort of physical activity. One can choose to work out at home; you can also do yoga to relieve stress. To deal with the stress in COVID-19 situation, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has released some simple yoga asanas to help deal with stress. 

Experts say that yoga relaxes and connects your mind and body. Not only does it help you cope with stress better, but also it improves your overall health.

  1. Benefits of yoga in stress management
  2. Yoga asanas suggested by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for stress management
  3. More yoga asanas for stress relief during COVID-19 pandemic
Doctors for Yoga for stress management during the COVID-19 pandemic

Yoga has several effects on the body that helps manage stress. However, most importantly, it affects the autonomous nervous system - a type of nervous system that supplies our internal organs and regulates our breathing rate and blood pressure. This system has two branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic system.

The sympathetic nervous system is activated in times of stess. This system leads to increase in blood pressure and breathing rate and decreased blood flow to stomach, while the parasympathetic nervous system is activated when you are relaxed. It relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure, improves blood flow to the digestive system and brain.

Both these systems should ideally work in balance. However, in case of stress, the sympathetic system remains activated and is not countered by the parasympathetic system. This leads to all the typical symptoms of stress and the production of certain inflammatory molecules that contribute to depression

It has been scientifically proven that yoga improves the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system bringing the autonomic nervous system in balance and hence reduces stress. Those who regularly practise yoga feel an overall sense of well being and have comparatively lesser anxiety.

The sympathetic overdrive also stimulates the production of the fight and flight hormone in the body - cortisol. Also called the stress hormone, cortisol increases the glucose breakdown in the body which leads to high blood sugar levels. In the long run, high cortisol levels suppress immune function and increase sodium retention in kidneys. The latter leads to higher blood pressure.

Normally, high cortisol would send a signal to the body to stop overproduction of cortisol through a feedback system however, excessive stress may prevent this. Eventually, the person would no longer even recognise that they are in a stressed condition. Regular yoga practice also reduces the circulating levels of cortisol in your body, eventually leading to reduction in stress. So, you may not have to be visibly stressed to begin yoga.

A clinical study showed that regular yoga, when done along with using traditional medication is more effective against depression than anti-depressant pills alone.

More studies show that yoga can help reduce stress in college students and women and is a good way to reduce mental stress around menstruation - both pre and post.

Yoga may also help relieve stress and improve the quality of life of those with chronic diseases (long-standing diseases). However, in such cases, it is best to refer an expert to know what asanas are safe for you.

Regular yoga practice also increases lung capacity and health.

You don’t really have to be over flexible or an expert to do these asanas, these are really simple and can be done anywhere. 

Here is how you can do them:

1: Hands in and out breathing asana

This is a simple stretch that can be done as follows: 

  • Stretch your arms out at shoulder height in front of you, with the palms facing each other but not touching.
  • While inhaling, open your arms outwards on either side without bending the elbows and take them behind the shoulders. Pause for a second or two with the arms outstretched.
  • Bring your arms back to the original position while breathing out.
  • Try to match the movement of the arms with your breathing, and perform at least 10 repetitions.

2. Hand stretch breathing

Here is how you can do this asana

  • Interlace your fingers and put your palms over your chest. Your palm should be facing your chest, with your elbows bent on either side.
  • While breathing in, stretch your hands and bring them at an angle of 90 degrees to your body. Your elbows should not be bent and your arms should not be above the level of your shoulders. 
  • While stretching, make sure to twist your palms so that they are facing out.
  • Do not overdo the stretching.
  • Stay in the position for a second or two and return to the starting position as you exhale.
  • Drop your shoulders before you start again. Perform at least 10 repetitions of this asana and move on to the next variation of the hand stretch breathing.
  • To perform these variations, stretch your palms to an angle of 135 degrees and 180 degrees to your body as you inhale. As you exhale, bring back your hands in front of your chest and drop your shoulders. Do 10 repetitions of both these variations too.

3.  Kapalbhati Pranayam

This is a breathing exercise that you can do sitting in a chair or on your yoga mat. 

  • Breathing in deeply through your nose, expanding your chest cavity.
  • Exhale out gusts of air while forcefully contracting the muscles of your abdomen.
  • Continue the inhalation and exhalation cycles for at least 2 minutes.

Read more: Benefits of Kapalbhati Pranayam

4. Bhramari Pranayama

Also called bee breath yoga, Bhramari can be done in the following way:

  • Breathe in through your nose.
  • Now close your eyes and focus on a point between your eyes. 
  • While exhaling, make an M sound (like that of a buzzing bee) with your lips sealed tight.

Apart from the asanas mentioned above, here are some more asanas that you can do for stress-relief:

1. Trikonasana (Triangle pose)

  • Stand straight with your legs wide apart.
  • Raise your arms on your sides, bringing them parallel to the floor and in line with your shoulders.
  • Now turn your right foot out.
  • Slowly bend your waist sideways towards your right foot. Do not to bend your knees. 
  • With your right hand, try to touch the floor right in front of your right foot. Do not push it if you can’t do it.
  • Stretch your left arm straight up and look straight at your left palm. 
  • Hold the position for a few seconds. 
  • Do 2-3 repetitions on both sides.

2. Prasarita padottanasana (Wide legged forward bend)

  • Stand with your legs wide apart. Your knees should not be bent. Make sure that all your weight is evenly spread on your feet and your position is balanced. 
  • Keeping your hands on your hips, start to bend forward from your waist.  
  • As you bend more, bring forward your hands and put them on the floor in front of you. This would help balance the pose. 
  • You will feel the stretch in your thighs, chest and shoulders. Bend only till you can. Do not overstretch yourself.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds. Then, slowly come back in the first position. 

Read more: Prasarita padottanasana benefits 

3. Uttanasana (standing forward bend pose)

  • Stand straight on your yoga mat. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your weight should be equally distributed between your feet.
  • Now, inhale and raise your arms above your head.
  • As your exhale, bend forward from your hips.
  • Try to touch the floor in front of your feet and bring your chest close to your thighs. If you can’t, just bend as much as you can. 
  • Hold the pose for a few seconds then gradually come back to the first position.
  • Repeat 2 times.

 At the end of the yoga practice, do the savasana - lie down straight on a mat with your arms on your sides at an angle of about 45 to 50 degrees to your body and your legs slightly apart. Close your eyes and try to relax for a few minutes.

Dr. Arun R

Dr. Arun R

Infectious Disease
5 Years of Experience

Dr. Neha Gupta

Dr. Neha Gupta

Infectious Disease
16 Years of Experience

Dr. Lalit Shishara

Dr. Lalit Shishara

Infectious Disease
8 Years of Experience

Dr. Alok Mishra

Dr. Alok Mishra

Infectious Disease
5 Years of Experience

References

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [Internet]. Bethesda (MD). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tips For Social Distancing, Quarantine, And Isolation During An Infectious Disease Outbreak
  2. University of Maryland Medical System [Internet]. University of Maryland School of Medicine. Baltimore. Maryland. US; Stress Management During a Pandemic
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [internet]. Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Stress and Coping
  4. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2018. Overview of the Autonomic Nervous System
  5. Won E, Kim YK. Stress, the Autonomic Nervous System, and the Immune-kynurenine Pathway in the Etiology of Depression. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2016;14(7):665–673. PMID: 27640517.
  6. Kanojia Sarita, et al. Effect of Yoga on Autonomic Functions and Psychological Status During Both Phases of Menstrual Cycle in Young Healthy Females. J Clin Diagn Res. 2013 Oct; 7(10): 2133–2139. PMID: 24298457.
  7. Stephens Ina. Medical Yoga Therapy. Children (Basel). 2017 Feb; 4(2): 12. PMID: 28208599.
  8. Tripathi Mahesh Narain, Kumari Sony, Ganpat Tikhe Sham. Psychophysiological effects of yoga on stress in college students. J Educ Health Promot. 2018; 7: 43. PMID: 29619394.
  9. Shohani Masoumeh, et al. The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women. Int J Prev Med. 2018; 9: 21. PMID: 29541436.
  10. Kizhakkeveettil A, Whedon J, Schmalzl L, Hurwitz EL. Yoga for Quality of Life in Individuals With Chronic Disease: A Systematic Review. Altern Ther Health Med. 2019;25(1):36–43. PMID: 30982785.
  11. American Lung Association [internet]. Chicago. Illinois. US; Yoga, Tai Chi and Your Lungs: The Benefits of Breathing through Exercise
  12. Ministry of Health & Family Welfare Directorate General of Health Services: Government of India [Internet]. Delhi. India; Yoga for Stress management Hindi

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