Yoga and CBD: A Potent Combination Against Stress, Anxiety and Pain
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual practices meant to improve your overall well-being. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit work “Yuji” which literally means union, as in the union of mind, body and spirit.
There are many different styles of yoga, but they all incorporate breathing exercises, meditation practices, and physical poses which are designed to improve physical health, encourage relaxation, and reduce stress.
Within Western societies, when people talk about yoga, they are oftentimes referring to Hatha yoga as a form of exercise. This style of yoga focuses heavily on poses called asanas and is generally less meditative than other practices used more commonly, in other parts of the world.
Benefits of Practicing Yoga
Researchers have found many physical and mental benefits of practicing yoga. (1)
In addition to studies repeatedly finding that participants report reduced feelings of stress after practicing yoga, researchers have found that yoga also reduces the physical markers of stress in the brain. Multiple studies have found that yoga reduces the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone secreted by the brain.
One such study examined female participants who self-reported as experiencing chronic emotional distress. The participants practiced Iyengar yoga for three months during which time the researchers measured their cortisol levels and the participants self-reported their feelings of stress. The researchers concluded that yoga provided “rapid” stress reduction and anti-anxiety effects, or anxiolysis. Their findings included significant improvements in perceived stress, anxiety, overall emotional well-being, vigour, fatigue levels, depression, physical well-being, reduced headaches, reduced back pain and reduced salivary cortisol levels. (2)
A study completed by the University of South Australia followed 131 participants as they completed a weekly hatha yoga session for ten weeks and compared them to a control group which completed a relaxation program over the same time period. The researchers found that yoga was as effective as the relaxation program in reducing stress and anxiety, and more effective than relaxation in improving overall mental health. (3)
One of the common tenants of yoga across many differing practices is a sense of mindfulness, finding inner peace, and being present in the moment. Researchers hypothesize that this may be linked to the anti-anxiety benefits of practicing yoga. There is a significant amount of research showing that yoga helps to reduce and relieve the symptoms of anxiety.
A 2009 study followed 34 women as they attended yoga class twice a week for two months. Compared to the control group, they had significantly reduced levels of anxiety. (4)
In a study by the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute in 2014, women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who were experiencing severe anxiety followed a yoga program for ten weeks. The women in this study experienced reduced levels of anxiety and these improvements were maintained during follow-up measures after the ten weeks of yoga had ended. In fact, an astonishing 52 percent of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD diagnosis following the study. (5)
One of the ways that yoga relieves stress is by reducing the amount of cortisol secreted by the brain. Cortisol affects serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood, memory, social behaviours and other functions. Low levels of serotonin are directly related to depression. It is therefore no surprise that yoga has also been found to reduce symptoms of depression.
In a 2006 study of participants diagnosed with depression and alcohol dependence, participants completed two weeks of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, a type of yoga focused on breathing exercises. Researchers found that after just two weeks of yoga, the participants had improved scores on the Beck Depression Inventory standardized testing as well as reduced levels of cortisol and prolactin in the brain. They concluded that yoga had produced beneficial effects through measurable biological mechanisms. (6)
A 2005 review of five studies which examined yoga-based interventions for people with depression concluded that yoga was found to produce beneficial effects for people with depressive disorders. They noted that these findings were not as dramatic in people who had reduced or impaired mobility, but that modified therapeutic yoga can still be used in combination with other treatments for people who do not have full mobility. (7)
Reduces Chronic Pain
Chronic pain affects millions of people around the world and can be caused by injuries, physical disease and mental conditions. Much research has been conducted to examine the relationship between yoga and reduced levels of chronic pain, particularly in people with chronic back pain. However, researchers have found that yoga can improve pain levels caused by a variety of other conditions as well.
In one study, people with carpal tunnel syndrome were either placed in wrist splints or participated in a yoga practice for eight weeks. Researchers reported significant improvements in grip strength, pain reduction, sleep improvements, and motor and sensory nerve response in the group that completed the yoga practice. They concluded that yoga was more beneficial in reducing pain and regaining use of the wrist than using wrist splints. (8)
Another study looked at participants with osteoarthritis of the knees. None of the participants in the study had practiced yoga before and more than half of the participants in the study were obese. The study found that yoga led to reduced levels of pain and stiffness across multiple forms of measurement and created no adverse effects in any of the participants. They concluded that yoga was a viable treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee, even in patients who are yoga-naïve, obese, or over the age of 50. (9)
A 2007 study of individuals with chronic migraines entered into either a yoga program or a guided self-care program for three months. Researchers found that the yoga group experienced reductions in headache intensity, frequency and pain when compared to the self-care group. (10)
Inflammation and pain often go together, however inflammation is also linked to inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
A 2015 study followed more than 200 participants as they completed strenuous exercises to induce physical stress in the body. Although all the participants completed the same exercises during the study, individuals who reported regularly practicing yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers during the study when compared to individuals of similar physical condition who use other forms of exercise and do not regularly practice yoga. (11)
A small 2014 study of breast cancers survivors with persistent fatigue had participants complete either 12 weeks of Iyengar yoga or a 12-week health education program. Researchers measured several markers of stress through blood, plasma and salivary samples. They examined cortisol levels, pro-inflammatory proteins and receptor expression and tumour necrosis receptor activity. They found that the group which completed the yoga practice had reduced markers of stress in all measured markers, including inflammation protein, receptors and anti-inflammatory activity. The study included a follow-up three months after the study had concluded and researchers found that the reduced stress and inflammation levels stayed consistent at that time. (12)
Choosing the Right Style of Yoga for You
There are many different styles of yoga and choosing the right style can depend on many factors including your level of experience, flexibility and fitness. Additionally, some styles have specific benefits for your goals or even for mental or physical conditions. Here we will examine at some of the most common styles of yoga and the benefits of each. (13)
The most popular form of yoga in North America, Hatha yoga focuses on structure and postures. Hatha is a gentle form of exercise which aims to create long muscles and increase flexibility. Hatha yoga utilizes simple movements and a slow pace which focuses on breathing, meditation, and postures. It is an excellent choice for anyone but is particularly good for beginners and people who want to clear their minds and de-stress.
Similar to Hatha yoga, Anursara is an excellent choice for beginners and more experienced people. Anursara tends to be more fast paced than Hatha, but with less emphasis on holding the postures with perfect form. Anursara yoga typically includes a range of difficulty levels within one practice/class, and it is up to each individual in the group to decide how they need to modify moves that are beyond their ability level.
Iyengar yoga focuses heavily on holding each pose with precision and proper alignment. Practitioners of Iyengar yoga often use blocks, straps, and other props to help them achieve proper form. This form of yoga is supportive of people with chronic injury or conditions that benefit from proper alignment and healing.
Using a combination of holding poses for a shorter period of time and flowing smoothly between each pose, Vinyasa yoga is the perfect choice for people with a wandering mind. This intense exercise is especially appealing to people who are easily bored or dislike repetition as each class tends to be different.
This stabilizing and grounding yoga practice is focused on the root chakra at the base of the spine. Kundalini yoga is focused on feeling connected and building strong core strength. It tends to be a more advanced and challenging workout. Kundalini is an excellent choice for people who feel dissociated, ungrounded, or unfocused.
A common style for one-on-one yoga instruction, beginners, and people recovering from injury or surgery, Viniyoga is focused on gentle movements which warm up the body and stretch the muscles.
Bikram or Hot Yoga
Taking place in a room with temperatures set to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Bikram is a form of yoga with growing popularity. It is focused on a standard set of 26 poses and is suitable for people of all skill levels. You might want to check with your doctor before signing up for a Bikram class, as it might not be recommended for people with certain medical conditions.
This simple form of yoga tends to be calming and relaxing and is used for people who are recovering from injury or surgery. Restorative yoga involves holding each pose for a long period of time, allowing you to support injured or weak areas and rebuild muscle and strength.
People who want to experience the physical benefits of yoga movement without the spiritual experience may enjoy power yoga. As the name implies, it is a powerful form of exercise which moves quickly, allowing for a cardiovascular workout.
CBD and Yoga Together
Incorporating CBD into your yoga practice can produce amazing results, leaving you feeling more relaxed and allowing you to experience greater physical and mental results from your practice. The benefits of using CBD include (14):
- Pain Relief
- Relief from anxiety and depression
- Relief from overthinking
- Reduced inflammation
- Elevated mood
CBD can be used to reduce pain response and relax the body when completing any form of exercise, however, yoga is a particularly good choice to pair with CBD because it encourages focused and controlled movements, inner peace, calm and relaxed feelings, controlled breathing, and meditative thoughts.
If you are recovering from surgery or an injury, or if you experience an area with unusually tight muscles, CBD balms and oils can be used topically on the affected area, easing pain and allowing the body to relax. You can also use CBD massage oils or lotions over a large area of the body for an all-over relaxing sensation that should allow you greater range of motion and relaxed muscles. When your body relaxes, you may experience greater flexibility and increased strength. That is not to say that CBD makes you stronger. Rather, when you release tension that is held in the body, it allows your muscles to work in other ways, such as focused strength in the movements you are working to accomplish.
If you are looking to experience a calming, relaxing sensation, a CBD capsule or tincture may be the right choice. When taken sublingually, usually a dropper of tincture under the tongue, CBD is quickly absorbed, allowing you to quickly experience the benefits. This is the recommended method for people who want to experience the benefits of CBD quickly for a short yoga practice, such as a group class. When taken orally, like in a gummy or capsule, CBD tends to release more slowly in the body, allowing for longer relief that might not be as intense.
The combination of yoga and CBD is not a new idea. Yoga originated in India about 3,000 years ago, in a region with a long history of cannabis use. In fact, many ancient practitioners of yoga, known as yogis or rishis, were believed to meditate and practice yoga under the influence of cannabis. They believed that yoga and cannabis enhanced each other’s properties, providing relief from stress and pain and allowing for the management of injury and disease. (15)
Using CBD During Yoga Practice
CBD is non-psychoactive, allowing you to experience the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive properties. Depending on where you live, cannabis products containing the psychoactive compound THC might not be legal, so CBD provides a legal way to experience cannabis plants for many people as well. (16)
The Journey Of Caitlin Using CBD And Yoga For Her Wellbeing
I have used yoga in combination with CBD for about five years now. My preferred method is a dropper of tincture under the tongue before attending a group class or utilizing a small vaporizer pen when I practice at home. I also have impingement in my right shoulder, the result of a childhood spent playing sports and pushing my limits, so I usually rub a CBD balm all over my shoulder and neck as well.
CBD works wonders for physical pain. I can feel my muscles loosen and relax. I carry a lot of tension and stress in my shoulders and neck throughout the day, and I can quite literally feel my muscles loosen within minutes of applying the balm. It allows me to breathe more deeply, and I naturally feel my breath come from deep within my diaphragm after taking CBD.
My body not only feels physically able to perform during my practice, but I also feel the benefits of CBD for hours after my workout is over. When I take CBD oil before a sunrise yoga flow, I feel more energized and focused throughout the remainder of the day. When I take it before a relaxing bedtime session, I fall asleep more quickly when I do get into bed. This is not because CBD wakes you up or makes you sleepy, it is because I am more focused on my intentions as I flow through my practice. Whether my intention is to begin my day on a productive note by working out immediately in the morning or my intention is to relax and prepare for sleep, my mind is processing that intention more fully when I take CBD.
This leads me to what is my most decisively positive benefit of using CBD with yoga, mental relaxation. I spent many years of my life as an anxious perfectionist with more commitments than I could manage and a complete lack of mindfulness or ability to acknowledge any sense of presence in the moment.
An Alternative Practice: CBD and Guided Physical Therapy
While yoga and CBD work together harmoniously, CBD can be used in conjunction with other methods of physical activity to produce some of the same results, like relaxed muscles, reduced pain and inflammation, and a focused mind. In fact, some businesses that focus on workouts and exercise classes are creating a new experience focused on bringing CBD into the physical experience.
One such business is Gym Box, which features on their website a class called Cannabliss. During the Cannabliss class, participants are given a CBD patch on the skin before beginning the guided physical therapy session, aimed at muscle and joint recovery for the average person. The class uses blocks, balls, and other equipment to focus on stretching and massaging deep, tight muscles that affect many people, such as the glutes, back, and shoulder blades. The practice is similar to a deep tissue massage - it can be somewhat painful during the process as it aims to release tension and toxins and leave you feeling more relaxed, healed, and experiencing less pain for an extended period of time afterwards. While the final results make the pain experienced during the class worthwhile to many people, the addition of the CBD patch can ease the pain, allowing not only for a more pleasant experience, but also a more effective approach. (17)
Classes like Cannabliss use CBD to improve the practice, bringing more positive benefits of CBD to a greater scope of people. However, it does not bring the same meditative sense of connectedness and inner peace that will forever be most closely associated with yoga. To many practitioners of yoga, there is no other activity that brings the same feeling of joining mind, body, and spirit. The multiplicative benefits of bringing CBD into your practice produces results that you just cannot get from other forms of exercise.
Yoga is not the most intense form of exercise. People burn less calories performing yoga than they would lifting weights, performing aerobics, bicycling, running, rowing, swimming, or even using an elliptical machine. (18) Yet yoga is more closely linked with prolonged weight loss and maintenance of healthy weight than practically every other form of exercise. Researchers have examined this connection and concluded that prolonged practice of yoga creates behavioural, physical, and psychosocial changes to mindset and behaviour that promote weight loss and healthy lifestyle.
One study concluded that prolonged yoga practice led to “less stress eating, reduced appetite, flower cravings, a shift towards healthier, more mindful eating” as well as “increased muscle tone, improved metabolism, reduced stress, as well as increased awareness, improved mood, and greater self-acceptance and self-esteem.” By the conclusion of the study, researchers reported that yoga provided better results than other forms of exercise, even if the other forms were more intense physically. They reported that the participants who had tried to lose weight before the study using other methods experienced easier weight loss that was maintained after the study had concluded. (19)
Both yoga and CBD are effective against stress, anxiety, and pain. However, when combined, these benefits are magnified, working together to create a potent remedy as well as supporting overall health and well-being. Yoga works to create balance and improve both physical and mental health, and various types of yoga offer different benefits depending on what your personal goals are. CBD infused yoga practice can help you to more fully relax and experience the benefits of yoga, in addition to providing health benefits of its own. The combination of CBD and yoga can be used as an effective treatment against stress, anxiety, pain, and related symptoms.
- 13 Benefits of Yoga That Are Supported by Science (healthline.com)
- Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program - PubMed (nih.gov)
- A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Antidepressant efficacy and hormonal effects of Sudarshana Kriya Yoga (SKY) in alcohol dependent individuals - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Yoga for depression: the research evidence - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Yoga-based intervention for carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized trial - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Iyengar yoga for treating symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knees: a pilot study - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Effectiveness of yoga therapy in the treatment of migraine without aura: a randomized controlled trial - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Effect of Yoga Practice on Levels of Inflammatory Markers After Moderate and Strenuous Exercise (nih.gov)
- Yoga reduces inflammatory signaling in fatigued breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Types of Yoga: A Complete Guide (healthline.com)
- Wanderlust Why CBD With Yoga Might be the Best Idea Ever
- Everything you need to know about CBD yoga | London Evening Standard | Evening Standard
- This Is What Happened When I Did Yoga on CBD (vice.com)
- Class Review: Cannabliss at Gymbox
- Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights - Harvard Health
- A Different Weight Loss Experience: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Behavioral, Physical, and Psychosocial Changes Associated with Yoga That Promote Weight Loss (nih.gov)
Please note that this article was written by a 3rd-party author who is a specialist on the topic of CBD, hemp and cannabis. Any information or recommendations contained within this article, are independent to the opinion of RUDERALEX CBD and our employees. We make no claims for any of our products, please read our disclaimer for additional information.