Yoga and Meditation for Stress Management: Physiology of Pranayama

Mindfulness-based relaxation techniques to reduce stress including yoga and meditation and have long been practiced for their health benefits, however studying their effects on our neurobiology is a relatively recent field. Current research is aiming to improve our understanding of the physiological mechanisms involved in these practices and how they influence the nervous system, our mood states and reactivity to stress.

Stress is all too common in modern society, and it is well known to contribute to the onset of a range of chronic and debilitating illnesses. Research suggests that high levels of stress can negatively affect both physical and mental health. Stress has been shown to be associated with autoimmune diseases, migraines, obesity, muscle tension and backache, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke (Khoury, Sharma, Rush, & Fournier, 2015). As well as having high prevalence in the onset of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety (Pascoe & Bauer 2015).

It is becoming vitally important that people equip themselves with stress management techniques, not only with the notion of preventative care to combat a range of diseases and illness, but also as a complementary and holistic lifestyle choice to navigate today’s fast paced society in abundance of wellness and vitality.

Mindfulness-based practices including yoga and meditation have previously been shown to reduce stress. A comprehensive meta-analysis of numerous studies examining these techniques found that certain techniques did indeed effect overall stress-related physiological measures. Such as reducing resting heart-rate, heart rate variability, systolic blood pressure, blood glucose levels, cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, as well as blood cortisol levels (Pascoe & Bauer, 2015; Pascoe et al., 2017). There is even evidence to suggest that different techniques influence different physiological markers of stress (Pascoe et al., 2017).

Pranayama is an essential component of yoga which is in essence the practice of various techniques for regulating one’s breath.

The positive effects of pranayama or conscious breathing techniques, have been shown through various published scientific literature which include beneficial influences on neurocognitive abilities, psychophysiological, autonomic and pulmonary functions, biochemical, and metabolic functions in the body (Saoji, Raghavendra & Manjunath, 2017). Pranayama techniques have also been found to be useful in the management of various clinical conditions.

One study looked at the immediate effect of pranayama on cardiovascular variables in patients with hypertension. They found that slow, deep breathing for 5 minutes significantly reduced heart rate and systolic blood pressure, pulse pressure, mean arterial pressure, rate-pressure product, and double product (Balayogi Bhavanani, Sanjay, & Madanmohan, 2011). Furthermore, significant findings from clinical trails showed that after practicing Ujjayi pranayama, autonomic functions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems came into balance (Mahour & Verma, 2017).

Another study found that the processes underling stress-related disorders in the body can be corrected by yoga practices which resulted in improvement of disease symptoms (Streeter, Gerbarg, Saper, Ciraulo & Brown 2012).

This is significant in highlighting that integration of yoga and meditation into treatment for stress related disorders and diseases is vitally important, as well as for prevention of illnesses caused by stress.

Not only this, but for certain populations that have a higher susceptibility to stress such as in pregnant women, where blood cortisol levels are endogenously elevated, yoga may be of particular benefit (Pascoe & Bauer, 2015).

Furthermore, systematic reviews indicate that yoga and meditation therapies are equally effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of depressive and anxious disorders.

From this we can see the outlook for yoga and meditation and its various forms of practice, including pranayama, are positive.

Highlighting the impact yoga and meditation can have on improving one’s moods, physiological markers of stress, immune responses in the body and general sense of wellbeing and vitality.

There is a clear framework with which to base further research in stress management and therefore disease prevention and management, including, addressing the efficacy of yoga and meditation in relation to other methods of care such as conventional medication and other forms psychotherapy for mental health related issues.

Research like this has become highly important in understanding how people can assert their own personal power towards understanding their health and wellbeing needs, maintenance and care. Notably becoming recognised by scientists and all kinds of healthcare practitioners including doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists for its gentle and accessible healing qualities, yoga is helping to remedy countless issues for people all over the globe.

Article Written By Elanor Shewring - Yoga Teacher, Psychology Student & Artist

About Ella:

Ella currently teaches power and yin yoga classes at Flex Hot Yoga in Coorparoo/Norman Park, Brisbane. She has over 10 years of experience as a practitioner of yoga and completed her teacher training in 2012. After some time of self-enquiry into the discipline of yoga, Ella has come to realise that for her, yoga is an antidote to life’s troubles, and a complement to any challenges of modern living! Her teaching style is holistic, integrating knowledge of the mind from her degree in psychology with her  understanding of the body, gained through years of playing field hockey and, of course, her yoga practice. Ella aims to inspire creative self-expression, building resonance with yoga practitioners to explore the myriad perspectives on yoga and life.

Instagram @zestforyourlife_girl



If you are Interested in Yoga or Meditation to enhance and improve your wellbeing Contact Us for more information or to book a session.

Article References

Balayogi Bhavanani, A., Sanjay, Z., & Madanmohan (2011) Immediate Effect of Sukha Pranayama on Cardiovascular Variables in Patients of Hypertension, International Journal of Yoga Therapy 21:1, 73-76

Khoury, B., Sharma, M., Rush, S. E., & Fournier, C., (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis, Journal of Psychosomatic Research

Mahour, J., & Verma, P. (2017). Effect of Ujjayi Pranayama on cardiovascular autonomic function tests. National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 7(4), 391 – 395. DOI: 10.5455/njppp.2017.7.1029809122016

Pascoe, M.C., & Bauer, I.E., (2015). A systematic review of randomised control trials on the effects of yoga on stress measures and moods. Journal of Psychiatric Research 68, 270-282

Pascoe, M.C. et al., (2017). Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, Vol. 86, 152 – 168. DOI:

Saoji, A. A., Raghavendra, B. R., & Manjunath, N. K., (2017). Effects of yogic breath regulation: A narrative review of scientific evidence, Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine,

Streeter, C. C., Gerbarb, P. L., Saper R. B., Ciraulo, D.A., Brown, R.P., (2012). Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses, Vol. 78, Issue 5, Pages 571-579.

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