Reducing Stress and Strengthening the Relaxation Response
By Jen Champion
We have all experienced stress, whether the media is sharing the news or the traffic jam has you late for a job interview. It is important to note our personal experience and how we relate to it, so we can then respond skillfully. We need to be in charge of our responses to stress and our actions around it.
We need the natural physical reactions stress creates to remain safe from harm and move forward in certain situations. But too much stress can lead to negative responses. We cannot cope easily and become exhausted and ill. The good news is, when our nervous system is in balance, we can maintain or regain optimum health and well-being.
Our Sympathetic nervous system can be referred to as the gas pedal, and the Parasympathetic is the brake. When the pedal is to the metal, we go too fast, have difficulty navigating obstacles, and we eventually run out of gas. When the brake is on for too long, we cannot move and get stuck; stagnation also causes stress. We want to travel at a speed that allows us to be engaged in the curves and landscapes and not be dizzied by them. When our scenery is constantly blurred by things out of our control, we cannot appreciate the sea’s waves or snow-capped peaks, let alone go with the flow. We write negative self-narratives and push through sensations of fatigue and pain without even recognizing we are doing it.
We need to have balance in our systems so our bodies can differentiate between good and bad stress to function optimally. We can then identify stress triggers and skillfully approach the situation to balance the gas and brake pedals. An excellent place to start is learning and practicing techniques from yoga traditions that begin with breath training. The yogis believe the breath is the link between the body and mind, where one can cultivate energy to charge or calm areas of the mind, body, and emotions to be in harmony with self and nature.I am here to help us learn how to become more aware of ourselves and take the appropriate action to move in and out of stress with more flexibility and ease. I will share techniques to help us create balance in our lives.
In this breathing practice, we begin to rest and will then move our bodies to help create awareness, release tension, and strengthen the relaxation response.
- Sit on a chair with your feet on the surface below you. Hands rest on your legs. Close your eyes and become aware that you are breathing. Keep your awareness at the tips of your nostrils and breathe with your lips gently closed.
- Begin to connect with the following five qualities of breath.
- When you breathe in, feel your abdomen expand and follow the awareness in the expansion in your lungs. As you Inhale, feel and hear the word “nourish.” As you exhale, release breath awareness from your lungs through your abdomen and feel and hear the word “relax.”
- Repeat for one minute. (You can grow your practice into longer segments when you feel ready).
- Mindful Movements can increase circulation throughout the body, improve posture and balance, restore vitality and rejuvenate the body and mind. One way to practice this is to coordinate your breath with your movement.
- Begin to ground and connect with stability in your core (your muscles that stabilize your trunk and allow for balance and movement)
- Relate to our core like this:
- Stand on your bare feet on a nonslip surface, carpet, or yoga mat.
- Press your feet firmly into the surface below you. Activate your legs and lower abdominal muscles and maintain a smooth, deep, even breathe
- Maintain this activation and begin to move.
- Sun Breath Arms: Inhale and lift your arms overhead. Exhale and lower your arms. The amount of time it takes for your complete inhale is the amount of time it should take you to move your arms overhead or to where you can comfortably get them. Same on the exhale. Sense a warmth and comfort surrounding you.
- Circle of Joy: Inhale and place your hands together in the center of your chest. Exhale and interlace your fingers and press palms down and straighten your arms. Inhale, lift your interlaced fingers and arms overhead. Exhale and release fingers and arms to sides with a smile and an audible sigh. Repeat 5 times. Invite joy into your life and send it to others.
- Seated Forward Fold: Sit on a chair with your feet firmly placed on the floor. Activate core muscles and breathe deeply. Inhale and lift your arms overhead. Exhale and hinge forward from the hips, let your arms open beside you and move to rest your forearms and elbows on your thighs. Bring your palms together, dip your chin slightly towards your chest. Breathe and relax. Stay for one minute and then inhale and slowly rise up. Sense a feeling of introversion and respect towards self.
Join our online yoga classes to help you create self-awareness, control stress, and maneuver obstacles with ease. Learn how to fill your tank with vitality, cruise, and enjoy the scenery and your life.