I'm no stranger to stress. In fact, we are intimately connected. I've experienced many of the life events listed on the Holmes-Rahe stress inventory list, quite a few in the past 8 months, to the point where Jeff and I joked that maybe we should get a divorce just to get it over with. (Not going to happen!)
With today’s modern lifestyle, we are all constantly on high alert, keeping the ‘fight or flight’ response in a constant state of discharge, while the ‘rest and digest’ response, rarely operates at its ideal level, leaving us with a constant state of tension in the physical, mental and emotional body. With the increase of the sympathetic dominance in the body, we have lost our ability to know how to relax. There's no time!
This means that the body’s innate ability to self-repair damaged proteins, restore DNA, correct hormonal imbalances, and gobble up cancer cells, infectious agents, and foreign bodies that our bodies are exposed to everyday is disabled. The body can only repair itself when the body is in a state of physiological rest. Whenever the body thinks it’s time to run away or fight a perceived threat (the body is unable to distinguish between an everyday stressor like our thoughts or a real threat like being chased by a lion), it shuts down self-repair. So in other words, because we are inundated with stimulation in the form of our to-do lists, our unresolved conflicts, and our self-destructive habit patterns, our bodies are responding as though we are constantly being chased by a lion.
The heightened state of stress so many of us are experiencing has more to do with how you manage or cope with stress than what is triggering a reaction in the first place (which we may have little control over anyway).
Here are some powerful ways to support the pressure of stress in your life that I have found especially beneficial:
1. The Art of Relaxation
For many people, relaxation is a glass of wine at the end of the day, watching tv, reading, having sex, etc. Although these activities may feel temporarily relaxing, they are merely sensory distractions. If there is an underlying state of physical, mental or emotional tension, there cannot be a true sense of relaxation. Even with a full night’s sleep, if the body and mind are dealing with thoughts and worry, we wake up exhausted.
True relaxation is the state of being free from tension and anxiety. From a physics point of view, relaxation is the restoration of equilibrium following disturbance.
In Mindful Rest Yoga Nidra, relaxation is systematic; there is a conscious release of physical holding, and mental agitations. This powerful technique, which induces a profound parasympathetic-relaxation response throughout the body, leads to sensitivity to internal feedback cues, and educates the body-mind to enter into a relaxed, receptive state in which healing occurs spontaneously.
The process teaches sensitivity to various bodily states including:
- Slow, calm and regular heartbeat
- Slow and rhythmic abdominal breathing
- Significant levels of alpha brain waves
- A profound state of deep rest
- Feelings of satisfaction (suhkha), inner balance and peace
Research has shown that the long-term effects of progressive relaxation has come to be called the Generalized Effect because the relaxation experienced during regular practice, over several months, generalizes to the rest of the day. In other words, the more we practice Yoga Nidra, the deeper the relaxation response, and the more it becomes our spontaneous way of life. True relaxation means to be blissfully happy.
2. Practice Extreme Self Care
When we are physically fatigued, mentally agitated and feel overwhelmed with making decisions, even the simple ones; this is a time to practice extreme self care. Over time, practicing extreme self care becomes a way of life. As with many other aspects of life, we need to practice being good to ourselves-we deserve it! Practicing extreme self care is a bold and radical step in creating daily habits that improve the quality of our life.
This list really is endless, but here are a few ideas:
- Book a massage - regularly!
- Read a non-fiction book - in the middle of the day
- Buy yourself fresh flowers - weekly
- Take luxurious baths with essential oils or bubbles!
- Spend some time in Nature - She always knows how to bring us back into balance
- Listen to your favorite uplifting and inspiring music
- Spend time with positive and authentic people
- Laugh more! Watch a comedy, find a laughter yoga group or come to one of Jeff's classes :)
- Give less to others and more to yourself - as you refill your well, you will have more to give
- Create a routine. Our body-mind-soul thrives on rhythm
Most importantly, know that creating long lasting and positive changes takes practice, commitment and patience.
3. Diet and Exercise
We all know the saying You are what you eat. If we are eating foods that are devoid of nutrients and energy, that is how we will feel. Begin to incorporate more water, greens and whole foods into your diet. Regular physical exercise stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed, as well as boost your confidence and self-esteem.
Here are a few other ways as well as supplements to support you during times of high stress:
- Take a 15-30 minute walk after every meal to support digestion
- Commit to a regular weekly yoga class
- Drink Tulsi-Holy Basil Tea - a sacred herb regarded as an adaptogen or 'anti-stress agent'
- Medicinal mushrooms such as Maitake enhance immunity and fight stress
- Ashwaganda, an ancient Ayurvedic herb is revered for its anti stress properties that also balances, revitalizes and rejuvenates the body
- Rescue Remedy - I carry this tincture with me everywhere-if one of my girls has a minor bump, bruise or a fall, out comes the rescue remedy! This is a blend of 5 Bach Flower Remedies especially helpful to get through any stressful situation, from last-minute exams or interview nerves, to the aftermath of an accident or bad news. A few drops of Rescue Remedy before bed can also work wonders.
*You can find these supplements at your local health food store.
A great life starts with an open mind.
To learn more about cultivating positive changes into your life, take a look at our Lifestyle Program Online 8 week course. Each week we will explore a new and different aspect of living a Mindful Lifestyle, a whole, vital life. Including; nutrition, rest, career, nature, spirit, relationships and physical activity.
This course includes a natural entry into a mindful lifestyle, our first steps in this program will be developing a relaxation response. An ability to stop, change gears, slow down and tune in. We will introduce some simple techniques known as Mindful Rest Yoga Nidra which stimulates the body's innate ability to heal itself.
4. Everyday Gratitude
One of the practices in my Lifestyle Program is to invite participants to write down 3 things they are grateful for each day first thing in the morning. This is a powerful way to start the day when typically the mind begins to take inventory of what we don't have enough of: time, money, rest etc.
I began spontaneously practicing gratitude when I noticed I was getting overwhelmed. This often happened while cooking dinner for my family, perhaps my girls arguing or not sharing, my husband working, when there is too much stimulation coming at me at once. Rather than have a reaction, I would have a moment of Grace, and remember how fortunate we were to be together and to be healthy. Because for us, that is all that really matters.
5. The Art of Listening
Foundational to all of our retreats, workshops and yoga teacher trainings is conscious listening. Most of us grew up without this quality of listening in our lives, and so we yearn to be heard. So much so that we have forgotten how to truly listen. Conscious listening is a verbal meditation which fosters self-awareness and clarity. Conscious listening is an experiential process of bonding; it is a powerful and delightful practice of being with yourself and with another which can facilitate your feeling clear, loved, and loving. Conscious listening is a clearing process where there is no advice given, no processing, judging, interpreting, problem solving, analyzing or helping by either person.
For this practice to be effective, the following guidelines are important to adhere to:
- Meet with your partner as often as needed, making time to really listen
- One person agrees to be the first speaker and is given the floor for the chosen amount of time
- Make eye contact and focus completely on the speaker
- Drop expectations of yourself and the other
- Notice as the listener, how the mind naturally begins to compare, mind read, rehearse what you will say next, placate, dream, spar, judge or identify all that is being said back to your own experience.
- Create an atmosphere of trust and set the stage for ongoing open communication between you
- Understand that conscious listening is meant to create an exchange where truth and healing can occur.
- Breathe and relax
Throughout the practice of conscious listening we discover that at our core we share a common need for love. As we begin to trust in this common bond or love, we also come to honor the unique differences that we each bring to our relationships and interactions.
May you be well,