Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day-Soldiers under stress

In the UK today is Remembrance Day, where we remember our war heros. In America it is Veterans' Day which in the same way honours the US army heros. It is important to remember and remind ourselves that this must never happen again. 

My dad served in World War 2, but bore the mental and physical scars until he died in 2007. He was stationed in Africa. He and some fellow soldiers were crossing a field  when a mine exploded. According to my dad, one minute the sergeant was walking by his side, the next "his brains were on the ground". Another soldier was crying out for water. They gave him water, which came out through his back. He died the following morning. My dad looked down and for a moment thought his foot had been blown off. It was hanging on by a few ligaments and had been blown to one side. He tied it up with a scarf and had a long wait for the hospital truck to pick him up. When he got to 'hospital', he had another long wait, while others, more seriously injured were attended to. He had many operations on his foot and on his leg to remove shrapnel. These operations continued into the 60s but by some miracle his foot was saved. His other 'souvenir' from the war years was malaria. I can remember him having malarial attacks into the 60s. He had nightmare 'flashbacks' right until he died in his mid-eighties.

A few years ago I was proud and privileged to receive, along with my mother, a war medal on his behalf, awarded posthumously. I have placed it in a box of his memories along with his other medals.

Many soldiers suffer stress. Some even suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). They may feel depressed, have sleep problems, anxiety, nightmares or 'flashbacks'.

How can yoga help with even such severe stress?

  • Yoga triggers the relaxation response and reduces negative thinking.
  • Yoga triggers the release of endorphins from the brain stem which are nature's 'feel good' hormones
  • Yoga breathing techniques bring extra oxygen into the body by increasing the capacity and elasticity of the lungs, which has a calming effect. This is because the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is concerned with ‘quieter’ bodily activities is activated (as opposed to the Sympathetic Nervous System which prepares the body for ‘fight or flight’)
  • Inversions and forward bends bring fresh blood to the brain which calms the mind
  • Twists ‘wring out’ toxins which stress the body
  • Backbends open the chest encouraging deeper breathing which also calms the body
  • By releasing tension from the body, yoga also releases tension from the mind (remember the mind/body connection)
  • Power yoga, Ashtanga yoga and vinyassa yoga ‘burn off’ the stress hormones
  • If we develop the habit of staying centred through challenges on the mat by staying focused on the breath, eventually this transfers into our lives so when life is difficult we are more able to meet the challenge and react in a more considered way.
  • One of the limbs of yoga is pratyahara which is turning your focus inwards through asanas such as forward bends and meditation. In this way with practice we develop a ‘peaceful core’ that is untouched by many things that cause us stress.
  • Meditation helps clear and still the mind which helps relieve psychological stress.

Try the following sequence to start you off:-

Easy Pose - sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on a cushion and close your eyes. Watch your breath without trying to change it in any way for the next minute or two.  If any thoughts or emotions arise, let them go, like clouds floating by and return your attention to your breath.  After a minute or two, begin to deepen your breath then open your eyes.

Cat/Cow (soothing, meditative, linking breath to movement)- come onto all 4s, inhale lift your chest and tailbone, exhale tuck your chin and arch your back.  Continue working with your breath for several breaths then coming towards the back of your mat, sit on your heels and stretch your arms forward, bringing your forehead to the floor or a cushion for a variation of Child Pose (nurturing, restorative).  Spend a few moments here watching your breath in your back ribcage.

Cobra (back bend, opens up the chest allowing for more oxygen to enter the body which in turn helps relieve stress) - come to lying on your tummy.  Bring your arms to armpit/chest level and your forehead to the floor.  Lengthen your spine by inching your toes back. Breathe in run your nose forward lifting your chest with the strength of your back muscles. If that feels good in your back (no pinching in the lower back), lightly press into your hands, lifting your chest.  Press back into another Child Pose to lengthen out your spine after the back bend.

Downward Facing Dog (half inversion brings oxygenated blood to the brain which is calming for the brain- come back to all fours.  Breathe out and lift your hips.  If your hamstrings feel tight alternately bend your knees ('walking the dog'). Hold for 5 breaths. Walk your feet towards your hands and when your shoulders come over your hands, breathe in and slow roll up to standing.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose - grounding) - stand with your big toes touching, outsides of the feet parallel.  Lift through your kneecaps, tuck your tailbone under and lengthen your spine. If you can close your eyes or lower your eyes and try to find a place of stillness where your body is balanced over the four corners of your feet, big toes, little toes, inner and outer heels. Let go of any thoughts and try to find a place of stillness in your mind. Take a breath in a open your eyes when you are ready.

Breath of Joy (invigorating) - For instant energy and mood boost, try 'Breath of Joy'. Breath of Joy involves a three part inhale with arm movements (see below) followed by an exhale with knees bent and arms swept back. Note this breathing practice is not be for you if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, migraine any other reason why a three part inhale would not be right for you.

 Breathe in

 Breathe in

Breathe in

Breathe out

Triangle - with your hands on your hips, step your feet  a leg length apart, outside edges of your feet parallel to the short edges of the mat.  Turn the whole of the right leg to the right so that the knee and foot point the same way and turn the toes of the back foot in 45 degrees. The heel of your front foot should line up with the instep of your back foot. Inhale raise your arms to shoulder height, lift your chest.  Breathe out, hinge from the hips and bring your right hand to your right leg, left arm up towards the ceiling. Gaze can be straight ahead or up at the left thumb, depending on your neck. Do not overreach in order to bring the lower arm further down your leg as this will affect the integrity of the pose, causing the top shoulder to come forward, and the chest to collapse. To release windmill the arms back to shoulder height as you come up, turn your feet to face forward, release your hands to your hips. Repeat 2nd side.

Tree Pose (balance - for balances you have to be present, not thinking of anything else which is why they are useful to relieve stress) - come back to Tadasna and take your weight into your left leg. Bring  your right foot to your left ankle, shin or reach down and bring your right foot to your left thigh. Take your arms overhead or bring your hands to your heart in prayer position. Repeat 2nd side.

Seated Twist - sit on a cushion or yoga block and bend your right leg back and bring your left foot to your inner right thigh.  Breathe in and as you breathe out take your left hand to your right thigh, your right hand behind your right hip.  Hold for a few breaths and let go on a breath out.  Repeat 2nd side.

Savasana with Yoga Nidra- Please see the video on my YouTube Channel-'Yoga Nidra'-
After the practice, have a stretch and turn on to your right side and spend a moment there before coming back to seated. Please make sure you are fully awake before continuing with your day.

Janet x

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