When a stressor is introduced in the body, the mind sends out a signal that there is danger. The adrenal glands, which are located right above the kidneys, start to secrete catecholamine hormones, high levels of which can cause high blood pressure, sweating, a racing heartbeat and anxiety.

These are symptoms of the fight or flight response in the nervous system. The adrenal hormones cause metabolic changes that make energy stores available to each cell and cause the body to sweat. The body also shuts down systems that are not necessary in the moment, which can make elimination more difficult, digestion uncomfortable and slow or stop growth, repair and reproduction.

Studies show that the body needs 20 minutes on average to recover from an acute stress response and calm an adrenaline surge. This is where yoga can help.

From a classic perspective, there are 8 limbs of yoga and only one of those limbs emphasizes a physical practice. The other limbs focus on the breath, mind, senses and ethical practices in guiding an individual’s life and how they interact with others.

Yoga extends beyond the physical practice on the mat to mindfulness, meditation and breathwork for a total mind-body experience.

20 minutes of yoga can positively impact:

  • Joint mobility
  • Cortisol levels – the stress hormone
  • Eye strain and headaches
  • The body’s relaxation response
  • Down regulation of the nervous system
  • Cognitive function and mood
  • Posture and lubrication of the joints and connective tissues
  • Spinal mobility and neck tension
  • Circulation throughout the body

Although 20 minutes of yoga is enough time to reap the benefits above, practicing consistently is important and necessary for your body to retain the benefits of the physical (asana) and mental benefits.

If you only practice when you feel like you need to, you miss out on the compounding effects of deep breathing, mindful movement and relaxation.

Numerous studies have shown that a regular practice has an immediate effect on decreasing cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure. More studies are being done to examine the impact of yoga and positive changes in health behaviors such as smoking, poor eating habits and excessive alcohol use.

Here is how to make the most of your 20-minute yoga practice:

  • 5 minutes – connect with your breath. Notice where in your body you feel your breath, note the quality of your breath and experiment with matching the length of your inhales to the length of your exhales.
  • 6 minutes – gentle movements to wake up the toes, ankles, fingers and wrists.
  • 5 minutes – Sun Salutations to bring heat to the entire body and create familiar patterns of movement.
  • 4 minutes – child’s pose and savasana to ground your energy and prepare for the rest of your day.

Breathwork and meditation can be done once or twice per week with the 20 minutes most often used for gentle poses or a similar sequence to the one above. Making the most of your practice is based on how you feel and what you need in that moment.

If you work at a computer all day, you might add in heart opening poses to undo the effects of prolonged sitting and stretches to release tension on all sides of your neck.

If you only have 20 minutes to devote to your yoga practice, you’re in luck! Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated or confined to a 60-minute studio class to be effective. Yoga is a practice because the benefits are felt long-term as the body and mind become accustomed to slowing down, breathing deeply, and focusing on the present moment.