Yoga, a group of spiritual and physical disciplines based on millennia-old Indian religious beliefs, is increasingly popular in the West. The number of Americans practicing yoga increased by 50 percent between 2012 and 2016, and a whopping one-third of all Americans have tried yoga at least once.
Yoga in the West is practiced mainly as a form of physical exercise. Any kind of physical activity can contribute to mental well-being when practiced correctly, but studies show yoga might be an especially potent tool in the fight against stress. One trial found that yoga was even more effective than a simple “relaxation” regimen in a sample group of more than 100 individuals who were experiencing stress.
Yoga’s stress-fighting properties are strong enough to support individuals undergoing intense and difficult experiences–it’s been shown to improve quality of life for patients undergoing cancer treatments, inflammatory bowel disease, and grief.
Yoga is one wellness trend that’s actually based in millennia of practice and is increasingly becoming a permanent part of new practitioners’ lifestyles. Cannabis is another such trend. This plant’s mainstream public image and legal status have undergone a total transformation in the U.S. over the past decade. Reassessment of cannabis’s safety profile and potential health benefits (as well as the social and racial dynamics that led to U.S. criminalization in the first place) means that cannabis is increasingly recognized as a possible element of a wellness-oriented lifestyle.
Cannabis, like yoga, has been used to boost spiritual and physical well-being for millennia. But that doesn’t mean consuming marijuana is necessarily a yoga-compatible experience for everyone. Many cannabis strains and products contain high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the naturally occurring cannabinoid responsible for marijuana’s signature psychoactive “high.” While a THC high can be enjoyable for many people (and may offer unique health benefits), it also triggers a distorted sense of reality and pronounced anxiety in many users.
But THC is just one of the 100-plus cannabinoids present in cannabis plants. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is another prominent cannabis component that’s rapidly gaining a devoted user base. CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors and other parts of the human body differently than THC, without creating a sensation of being “stoned” or causing excessive anxiety.
A growing number of yoga practitioners are incorporating CBD into their yoga routine. While our scientific understanding of CBD has a long way to go thanks to cannabis’s complicated legal history, a growing body of evidence suggests that it can complement the stress-fighting powers of yoga. Here’s how:
Regulating Blood Pressure
Stress and blood pressure are closely connected. The Mayo Clinic recommends lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and adequate sleep to reduce stress and improve blood pressure. And both yoga and CBD have been tied to blood-pressure reduction, suggesting a strong connection to lower overall stress levels.
Yoga’s impacts on blood pressure are so significant that studies have recommended it as a “viable antihypertensive lifestyle therapy.” Plenty of anecdotal evidence has encouraged CBD users turn to the cannabinoid for plant-based stress relief, and studies indicate that CBD’s stress-fighting properties may relate to blood pressure. At least one trial found that cannabidiol reduces both resting and stressed blood pressure in healthy human subjects.
Any physical exercise can improve sleep quality and quantity, and yoga is no exception. One study found that nurses slept better when they practiced yoga regularly, and other studies have tied yoga to better sleep (and overall quality of life) in kidney-disease patients and even Antarctic explorers. Yoga’s impact on sleep suggests that its stress-reduction properties are linked to its effect on healthy sleep patterns. Many of us have had the frustrating experience of feeling too stressed to sleep properly (and subsequently getting more stressed as our bodies struggle with sleep deprivation).
Yoga can help break this cycle, and there’s evidence that CBD can help too. While different dosages of the various cannabinoids can create a wide range of sleep effects, some studies suggest that high doses of CBD are therapeutic for sufferers of insomnia. Furthermore, CBD may help tackle the anxiety or PTSD that is sometimes at the root of insomnia.
The complex connection between emotional well-being and chronic pain probably comes as no surprise. The more we understand about the psychosomatic relationship between mental health and physical health, the more this connection makes sense. Studies suggest that stressful life events and mental health obstacles can contribute to chronic pain diagnoses, while pain itself can cause emotional distress. Pain, whether it’s a stress contributor or a result of stress, is another locus where both CBD and yoga can provide significant benefits.
While overtraining or improper form can cause injuries in yoga (just like in any other exercise), studies suggest appropriate yoga regimens can address chronic pain. Trials have tied yoga to pain reduction in patients experiencing chronic lower back pain, fibromyalgia, and migraines. Though CBD’s impact on pain, like many other CBD health impacts, needs further studies in human subjects, an array of rodent-based studies have suggested it has analgesic properties. Savitex, a government-approved drug in dozens of countries, uses a mix of THC and CBD to mitigate pain.
When the human body experiences stress, it releases cortisol–a key hormone in activating our “fight or flight” response. Cortisol plays an important role in helping us survive and manage stressful situations, but runaway cortisol levels are tied to an array of health and psychological problems, creating problems with weight, sleep, memory, heart disease, and mood regulation.
Both yoga and CBD have been tied to cortisol levels in the human body, suggesting that both practices help us manage stress by regulating this double-edged hormone. Multiple studies have found lower cortisol levels present in yoga practitioners compared to control groups. At least one study has also suggested that CBD inhibits cortisol secretion in human subjects.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate stress from day-to-day life, but it is possible to keep it to manageable, healthy levels. Both yoga and CBD are increasingly popular tools for managing stress. Studies show that they can engage complementary mechanisms to ultimately help us all lead calmer, healthier lives.