Deadlines, meetings, bills—no matter how big or small, life is replete with stressors. Countless studies reveal a correlation between high stress levels and poor health, particularly strain on the heart. Many people turn to yoga to decompress and achieve mental clarity, but are all the awkward motions and painful poses really making a difference? Yoga expert, instructor and author Tara Stiles of Strala Yoga Studio spoke to us about how and why yoga relieves stress, and shared with us tips to achieving a healthy body and mind through yoga. DISSECTING YOUR BRAIN Yoga used to have a reputation as an alternative, new age way of getting healthy, but it’s grown into a legit, doctor-approved method for treating emotional disorders. “I get a lot of people who come in with doctor’s notes for anxiety because they don’t want to go on mood-enhancing drugs,” says Stiles. “It isn’t mysterious anymore—it will help your body.” Confirming this is a new study conducted by the researchers at Boston University School of Medicine. who found that yoga practitioners increased GABA levels in the brain by 27% after a session. GABA, or Gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a main neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for regulating other neurotransmitters that reduces stress and anxiety. “[Yoga] is resetting everything that keeps you happy and healthy. It’s calming,” Stiles explains. Another study by Australian researchers at Deakin University in Melbourne put subjects through a six-week program of yoga and breathing exercises to monitor its effects on the mind. Their goal was to observe whether people developed more of a resistance or acceptance to emotional stressors. At the conclusion of the study, the group practicing yoga experienced lower levels of depression, anxiety and overall stress versus the control group. Stiles theorizes, “Yoga makes more room in your body and mind. You don’t get wrapped up in the roller coaster of thought patterns or stuff that is disruptive to yourself.” START BUSTING STRESS Jumping into anything new, regardless of the benefits, can be overwhelming. Stiles recommends that beginners either try out a DVD at home, or attend a beginner class once a week to feel it out. “Once people start doing a little bit of yoga, they feel so good so they want to keep doing more.” Regarding strategies to use when in immediate need, she finds alternate nostril breathing to be effective. “You close off one nostril and breathe in from the other side, hold for a four-second count, exhale and repeat the other side,” she explains. “Do that for three-to-five minutes.“ According to Stiles, “The more regular the practice, the more benefits happen, but studies show that even five minutes of meditation—the deep breathing you are practicing—stimulates the vagus nerve,” which acts as a sensory highway between the physical body and the central nervous system. So, before you run into your office with an AK-47, at least try a quick breathing exercise to get the good GABA flowing and decompress. If that doesn’t work, happy shooting!