A Nation Of Stress
We know the benefits of yoga are almost endless, helping align our body, calming the mind from stress and returning our perspective. Looking back to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (turn of the millennium guidebook to the art of yoga as meditation), the author states “When the movements of the mindstuff are stilled, then the mind, like a diamond, will clearly reflect what is before it.” Unfortunately, for a lot of us, a lot of the time, the mind isn’t clear. As a result, we don’t see things clearly and instead we are often overwhelmed by an ever growing list of commitments and uncontrollable emotions.
There is currently a global stress epidemic. We work too many hours, don’t properly digest our food, spend too long on our devices and not enough time in nature… (I could go on, but the point of this article isn’t to induce any more stress.) Things have gone so far, that even Facebook has acknowledged that it has the potential to negatively effect mental health.
A big causes of stress is the sheer amount we all have to do, all of the time. However much we may appreciate the benefits, even getting to our time out with a yoga or sports class can be an anxiety inducing experience; we find ourselves rushing from work to the studio, and then straight out again to make it home, or to our next appointment. Luckily you don’t need to go to a yoga class, or even leave your desk to help you use yogic practices to help manage your stress levels. Here are three simple techniques to help you keep your sympathetic nervous system in check. AKA keep you as balanced and stress-free as possible.
Make a habit of breaking up your day. Maybe eat lunch away from your desk, or perhaps take one or two minutes every hour and shut the laptop or put your phone down.If you’re driving somewhere, allow yourself the time to listen to a favourite song, before you get out of the car. Acknowledge this mini oasis of calm. Part of the problem is that we fill our days back to back to back. We are constantly going from one thing straight to the next without giving the mind time to process and assimilate what we’re experiencing. Nonstop living can cause us to sleep badly, over-react get angry, overwhelmed and stressed. Creating those little moments of space and appreciation and breaking up your day will allow you to deal with life much more effectively in more manageable sections.
If the ancient sages knew one thing, it was that the quality of our breath affects the quality of our mind. When we are stressed we often breath very shallow at the top of our lungs. Shallow breathing is both caused by stress, but also alerts the body that there is potential danger, which then causes a cycle of anxiety. In this space we’re more likely to respond to people, situations and requests as if they were a threat.
Luckily, breaking the cycle is simple. To begin, feel the breath in your body. As you become aware of the sensations, imagine you can breath right down, as if breathing into your belly. It can be helpful to place your hands over your naval. You can do this at your desk, no one will notice.
Ideally your belly will expand as you inhale, and your naval will draw into your spine as you exhale. However, the opposite or reverse breathing isn’t uncommon, actually it’s often a symptom of stress. See if you are able to change the pattern yourself, great, if not, a local yoga teacher should be able to help you.
Breathing into your belly will mean that you are lengthening the breath which will signal to the nervous system that it can relax. Receptors in the lower lungs will also be stimulated helping the body to find even deeper relaxation. Try this laying on your back if possible, the experience will be even more effective.
Conscious movement linked to the breath will get you out of your head and into your body. Being embodied is brilliant for helping us ground into the present moment, letting go of distracting worries and thoughts. One of the most beneficial yoga poses is Marjarayasana or Cat-Cow pose. Cat-Cow is really simple and will help stretch out and maintain the health of your spine. In addition, this will work your shoulders, hips, knees wrists, neck and even the soles of your feet and toes.
Start on your hands and knees. Hands under shoulders, knees hip-width. Press the base of your thumb and fingers down. Feel grounded through your knees, you can let the feet relax or tuck your toes under if you’d like an additional foot stretch.
Inhale. As if you had a tail, tilt your hipbones to lift it and press your belly down towards the floor. Now lift your chin. This bow’s your spine stretching out the front of the body.
Exhale. Start to tuck the chin as you breath out and draw your naval into your spine. Then tilt your hips, as if your tail and were pointing it down to the earth.
Try and keep your hips over your knees, so that you’re not moving forwards or backwards too much. Keep your arms strong, it can be good to keep a tiny bend in your elbows, engaging the muscles in your arms.
It can really feel great to close your eyes, matching the movements in the body to your breath. Closed eyes will allow you to feel more deeply the subtle sensations as this releases tension in your spine.
- If you have sore wrists you can make a fist or come down to the elbows. Those with grumpy knees, can place a folded blanket under them. During pregnancy, avoid swaying the back as are inhaling into the Cow posture.
Stressful experiences are unavoidable, but how we deal with them and look after ourselves is really important. You’ll be amazed at how seemingly little things can make a big difference. There are lots of ways to give yourself some TLC throughout the day. These will assist you in bringing a little more perspective, balance and calm into your life. Which is what yoga is all about.
A large part of our work at Special Yoga is to promote mental resilience in children and teachers. For information about how we do this, click here.
Share your experiences or tips you have to help combat stress in throughout your day.