It has been one hectic week. Between kids, appointments, work, a friend in the hospital plus all the regular day-to-day stuff … it feels like I have been running around non-stop. And I am pretty sure that I am not alone in this experience. If not this week, I bet you have had your own like this.
Busy-ness is a part of our modern day life. And it’s not a bad thing. We like to be doing things and to feel productive. But all the hustle and bustle can be overwhelming and may leave you depleted and stressed. And this shows up in your body.
Your physiological stress response
Two important branches of the nervous system are the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic is known as the “fight or flight” system. In response to a situation, it makes your blood pressure rise, your breath quicken, and releases stress hormones into your body. All of your energy is directed to the situation at hand. Historically, this happened to get your body ready for fighting animals. But in today’s world, we can experience this response while we are sitting in traffic or having a crazy day at the office.
The stress response is supposed to be short lived (e.g., get away from the predator). But if we trigger the sympathetic nervous system regularly in response to daily activities, it can become a problem. Chronic stress has health consequences such as ulcers and heart disease.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest” state has opposite effects. It lowers blood pressure and slows the breath. Energy is available to systems that are necessary for long-term survival (digestion, immunity etc.) When the parasympathetic nervous system is humming along happily, your body has time to heal damage caused by daily stressors.
These two states (sympathetic and parasympathetic) arise automatically within our bodies. But can we control them? Can we harness the power of the parasympathetic nervous system to manage our response to stress? Yes! And yoga offers one pretty simple and effective method.
Breathing Away Stress
While we do breathe automatically (thank goodness!) we can also control the breath. We can change the pace and depth. And many studies have shown that deep breathing nurtures the actions of the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows relaxation and healing to occur.
Pranayama (or breath practice) is a big part of yoga. We practice specific breathing techniques and patterns that allow us to slip ourselves into the “rest and digest” state. This is where the healing occurs.
A breath practice can be standalone. Two you might try are:
Breath is also an important part of an asana practice. As you move through your poses, focus on:
- Taking long, deep inhalations
- Exhaling patiently and fully and
- Backing out of a pose if your breath feels stuck
In her book, Yoga Cures, Tara Stiles recommends the following series of poses to “Chill the *#&! Out”
I like it because it is physically challenging which can help to move energy and relieve anxiety. Challenge also forces you to focus your mind. Don’t get me wrong; I love a restorative yoga practice. But sometimes I need to stress my muscles to get out of my head and into my body and breath.
- Standing Side Bend
- Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
- Bow (Dhanurasana)
- Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana)
Does yoga help you manage stress? Do you have any favourite poses or practices that are especially useful? Just leave a comment to share!
Have a wonderful week. And happy mother’s day to all you moms celebrating this Sunday. May it be filled with love and hugs (and a bit of chocolate for good measure!)