Five Ways to STRESS LESS through Yoga
Stress has the ability to directly affect the lives of so many people around us. Stress is actually a direct link and a causative factor to many diseases such as heart disease and chronic pain. But how does just a little stress do such big damage? Let’s dive a little deeper and find out more.
In working with people through private sessions, one of the most important questions I ask people is if they are stressed. So many of my clients initially answer with “no”, “not really”, or “no I don’t think so.” But when we dive deeper into breaking down their lifestyle, habits, career, etc., we find that there actually is a lot of stress in their life. You see, stress isn’t just the large events people think about: career loss, tragedy, financial concerns, etc.
Our body actually interprets stress a lot differently than our intellectual mind does. When we face stress (think small stress: someone cut you off, you’re late for work, you broke a glass & spilled your coffee all over important papers, you have a close deadline to make, etc.) our body begins to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisone from the adrenal glands. Hello, Fight or Flight (or Fight, Flight, Flee or Freeze) response. These hormones help your body in a truly stressful situation to become mobile and flee from danger.
The stress response is a brilliant reaction from our body when we actually need to flee from danger. The problem is we often elicit a stress response when it isn’t truly needed. Imagine your “day from hell” where you wake up: spill coffee on yourself, skim your leg on the car door and scrape your leg, you end up late for work, then your boss sets up an impromptu meeting that you’re concerned about. We can let ourselves feel stressed and then stress response begins, or we can take a few deep breaths and laugh a little. When we don’t release the stressful energy we create through the stress response, it remains in the tissues of our body. When a subsequent “stress” event follows, the stress response begins and our body remembers the last stress event, also known as trauma. Stress hormones are released: heart rate increases, we begin to sweat, our breathing rate increases, and blood rushes to the extremities. Our nervous system now acts as though each “stress” event is a traumatic, life-threatening event. This causes chronic stress without us even thinking about it.
So let’s talk about how we get out of the stress response habit. Here are some of my favorite ways to slow down, to reduce stress and prevent it from occurring regularly.
One of the first and most important pieces is becoming aware of your body and your reaction to stress. Usually, we need to slow down quite a bit in order to listen. It sounds simple, but see if you can be a little more curious. The next time you experience a situation and start to feel stressed: pause. Take a couple of deep breaths, make a conscious decision to remain calm and try to shift your perspective. What can you do from here to stop this situation from escalating and negatively affecting the rest of your day? Take a few more deep breaths and move on. Letting go.
Next is slowing down, which is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned that has brought me from living a life of stress to living a life of (more) ease. Start with the things you enjoy. For me: enjoying a cup of warm lemon water and coffee in the morning is my favorite. So I take the time to slowly wake up. I enjoy the process heating water while I breathe deeply, I enjoy the sounds of grinding the coffee beans and pouring the water and grounds into the French press. I embrace the smell, sounds, and taste of my delicious beverages. The simple, subtle things that occur every day, or maybe not, that you love. The more we slow down, the more this slow and calm nature becomes our normal. Our homeostasis. So what activities can you do every day to slow yourself down?
The next step is conscious breathing. Breathing exercises are one of the most important pieces to a yoga practice. Our breath – whether fast or slow – is one of the most direct ways we can affect our nervous system. By adopting a slow, calm breath, specifically exhalations, we allow our Parasympathetic Nervous System to be in control. A place where our body slows down, rests, digests. This is a place where our body heals. So we strive to find a balance or homeostasis. There are many breathing exercises we can do to reduce stress and slow down. Try this one, called Alternate Nostril Breath that specifically works to calm the right and left parts of the brain and find more balance.
The next piece to reducing stress is our physical yoga practices or postures. When we move our bodies in union with our breath, we’re able to connect more deeply to the present moment; in addition, when we move mindfully in connection with our breath, we allow our body to release tension and tightness caused by stress. We can release and let go. Try this short yoga asana practice that can be done seated at a desk!
The last piece to reducing stress from affecting our life is using meditation as a tool. Meditation can be performed at many levels, including focusing on the breath, a mantra, or inward focus. Meditation helps to withdraw attention and awareness from the outside world (what’s happening around us, our “monkey mind”, stresses, to-do lists, etc.); meditation allows us to focus our attention inward, becoming more clear and focused. Try this meditation for a quick jump-start to meditation, or if you’d like a longer practice, try this Yoga Nidra practice for a longer, guided relaxation. Peel Away Tension Meditation
So what can you take away and adapt into your daily routine? What tends to stress you out most and what could you let go of?
Leave your comments below, and click the link below if you’d like to learn more about transitioning to a LESS STRESSED LIFE through private yoga therapy sessions.