Is it possible to build immunity to stress? One of the key factors in practicing yoga is stress reduction. Due to the shift in hormones and brain chemicals that are emitted in your body during a yoga session, you will feel measurably more relaxed, balanced, and focused during the 24 hours after doing yoga. Various reactions to stress manifest across the spectrum of different people. Stress reactions basically fall out into 3 categories: FIGHT, FLIGHT, or FREEZE. These reactions stem from the emission of large quantities of cortisol (a natural hormone in your brain) that occurs when you are “under stress.” Your body doesn’t know the difference between the perceived threat and actual threat – it just has the same exact reaction. Whether you have an upcoming deadline at work, a large investment of your money tank, or undergo a divorce…your body will react by emitting larger than usual quantities of cortisol. You can even see these reactions around you in your everyday life. Road rage and a child’s tantrum are just 2 examples of how stress gets processed by our brains and bodies.
Stress in our lives is unavoidable. Just like viruses and germs – our bodies need to develop immunity to stress. Long commutes, busy schedules, plus rogue interruptions like illness or losing a job all contribute to stress level. The good news is that stress can also be helpful. We emit cortisol for a reason – it can be exhilarating and help us to achieve goals that we otherwise never would have pushed ourselves to reach. How can we utilize fitness to develop a healthy reaction to stress? Instead of fighting with a spouse or supervisor, how about fighting through just 1 more vinyasa? Instead of running away from responsibility (“flight” response) could we hold ourselves responsible for showing up to a yoga class? Instead of freezing and going back to bed when faced with a car that won’t start, how about calling a friend for a ride or a taxi (or Lyft, of course) to get where you intended to go! Most of the situations in life that create stress are not under your control. But your fitness is under your control. You know that with practice you get better. My opinion is that by practicing putting yourself in stressful situations where you feel like you are developing a sense of agency and mastery, you get better at handling stressful situations across the board. My military friends have told me that this is how they trained, by practicing to handle likely challenging situations. On a tour when the actual situation arose in the field they had learned skills to apply.
CrossFit and yoga have both been a tremendous gift in my life. These fitness options have made me stronger in body and mind. My experience with these exercises have taught me how to feel stress and push past it, or how to feel stress and have a healthier reaction to it. This picture shows me teaching a complicated yoga pose for the Strongman program at CrossFit Burke. We turned ourselves upside down and then right side up again and we recalibrated our bodies and our minds.