Sunday, 6 December 2015

Mindfulness-Mindful of your stress levels

At this time of year especially it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all there is to do and all that is expected of us. Christmas is a time when all is supposed to be perfect from the presents to the Christmas dinner. The image is of happy, smiling people having a wonderful time. BUT it is not always like that. The pressure of presenting a perfect meal can cause stress to the host, the financial strain can be hard for many, and when relatives get together it can get a little fraught (get them out for a walk, it may be 'cabin fever' that triggers arguments!)
Now don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. I love relaxing with my daughters, going to church and a long Boxing Day walk.  

So how can we prevent stress spoiling Christmas or any other time of year?  Yoga!!!!
I have a series of videos on YouTube on stress, please see 'Yoga for stress series' -

Here are some of the ways yoga can help relieve stress:-
  • Most importantly yoga triggers the relaxation response and reduces negative thinking.
  • The breathing techniques encourage extra oxygen to be brought to the body by increasing the capacity and elasticity of the lungs.  This has a calming effect 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
  • Balances force us to be present - not fretting about the past or anxious about the future. 
  • Twists ‘wring out’ toxins which stress the body
  • Backbends open the chest encouraging deeper breathing which calms the body.  Backbends also nourish the adrenals, located on top of the kidneys.  The adrenals produce the 'stress' hormone cortisol and are more likely to produce the hormone if malnourished.
  • By releasing tension from the body, yoga also releases tension from the mind (remember the mind/body/spirit connection)
  • Power yoga, Ashtanga yoga and vinyassa yoga ‘burn off’ the stress hormones
  • If we develop the habit of staying centered 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 deal with it.
  • One of the limbs of yoga is pratyahara which is turning your focus inwards through asanas such as forward bends and also meditation. In this way, with practice, we develop a ‘peaceful core’ that is untouched by many things that cause us stress.
Depending on your personality, stress has different effects which was mentioned when we were considering the Ayurvedic doshas (Please see 'The yoga doshas series' on my YouTube Channel- If you are predominantly of the Pitta dosha your reaction to stress might be anger, irritability, high blood pressure and heart problems. If you are of Vata constitution your reaction to stress might be to become anxious and fatigued whereas if you are of Kapha constitution your reaction to stress might be depression and difficulty concentrating. For this reason balancing your doshas will also help to reduce stress.

Yogis believe in the mind/body/spirit connection and the disturbance to the mind of stress often manifests itself as physical symptoms such as back, shoulder and neck pain. This in turn can lead to tension headaches. Stress also affects the digestive system and stress often contributes to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Long term stress can even lead to cardiovascular problems, so it is important to try to reduce it.  

In this week's video we practice half-inversions, chest openers, back bends, balances and twists to bring about stress relief.  We end with a 'calm lake' meditation.  Please see my yoga video on my YouTube Channel-'Mindfulness-Mindful of your stress levels'-

I wish you a stress free Christmas and 2016.

Janet x

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