Although stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life,
-and in small amounts it can be good and even necessary- we need to be aware it doesn´t become a constant in our life.
Fight or Flight: a survival mode
When faced with challenges and perceiving threats, our body responds by releasing a surge of hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol. This reaction increases our heart rate and raises our blood pressure, what is known as a "fight-or-flight" response: the body shifts its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat or fleeing from an enemy.
Once the threat is gone, the body is meant to return to a normal, relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop complications of modern life and its demands and expectations provoque that some people's alarm systems rarely shuts off. When this is the case, the fight-and-flight response can become the permanent state in the body: this usually happens when we are constantly inundated by stressors.
Stressbusters: a battle against everyday adversities
The causes of stress are called "stressors" and they might include issues related to work, family situations, financial problems, and also dealing with daily stuff like waiting in lines or losing our keys. Poor lifestyle choices such as inadequate nutrition, sleep depravation, and addictions can make us even more vulnerable to stress. And "happy" events, like getting a promotion, going on holidays, getting married...can also trigger stress. The problem is that most people often overwhelmed by stress either don't have a clue on what to do about it or feel that living in constant pressure is "normal" and even helpful.
The truth is that experiencing too much stress through time can cause unhappiness, sickness, poor relantionships, anxiety and when not adressed properly it can lead to health issues that manifest physically, mentally and spiritually. Over time, chronic stress can lead to serious health problems.
The stress reaction is activated by the Sympathetic Nervous System and it happens in a fraction of a second, enabling you to fight harder or run quickly for your self protection. But what happes physicly in our bodies?:
Adrenaline increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy.
Breath starts to happen faster, to supply energy to the big muscles.
Muscular tension increases.
Cortisol increases and inhibits functions that are not essential for that specific moment: digestion, kidney functions, and tissue repair are slowed to save energy.
Reproductive system and growth processes are supressed.
The Parasympathetic nervous system is, on the other hand, the responsible for signaling the body that the stress is over, it calms our bodies and aids the "rest and digest" process.
Hormone levels are returned to normal, heart rate and blood pressure return to base levels. These lead digestion to happen naturally, breath become regular & sleep improves .
These two systems control the same organs; however, they work in opposite directions. Think of the sympathetic mode as the gas pedal and the parasympathetic mode as the brake pedal. When the nervous system is healthy, these two systems work in harmony to bring balance to the body.
Yoga Nidra: The Pursuit of Inner Calm
The causes of stress are different for each person and the trick might be learning "how to control what I actually can control" and "how to deal with the uncontrable". Yoga for stress management gives you a range of tools to reset and to recalibrate your alarm system. It can help your mind and body adapt (resilience), for a more balanced, healthier life.
Some of the best ways to develop better resilency can be found in Yoga philosophy, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, movement + breathing exercises and relaxation practices as Yoga Nidra.
Particularly the Yoga Nidra practice promotes the removal of excess cortisol (stress hormone) from the system, which can weaken the hippocampus, and makes us vulnerable to depression and anxiety. During Yoga Nidra both Gaba and Serotonin are naturally released in the body, creating anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects.
Yoga nidra is an ancient yogic practice that’s becoming increasingly popular as both a form of meditation and a mind-body therapy. It is a systematic form of guided relaxation that is typically practiced for 15 to 40 minutes at a time.
In a typical yoga nidra session, the teacher guides practitioners through several stages. We start by developing an intention for your life and for the practice. Then you learn to focus your awareness on your breath, bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Throughout, you are encouraged to tap into an underlying sense of peace that is always present and to cultivate “witness consciousness,” observing and welcoming whatever is present without getting caught up in it.
A practice suggestion
If Yoga Nidra looks too advanced into Yoga practices, consider that the simple fact of practicing Basic Relaxation Pose on regular basis is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves:
*Just to find a quiet place and make yourself comfortable with a small pillow or a folded blanket
*Loosen any restrictive clothing , remove your watch, your glasses
*If possible, close your eyes (you could even cover them with a piece of cloth!)
*Begin by noticing if your body is aligned and then move your attention to the breath. Just watch it and feel it moving.
*Then try to increase its depth , see if you can make your inhalations and exhalations equally long for a few rounds and then release to a natural rhythm.
*Let yourself drop down and inward.
If you notice this exercise works for you, schedule a regular time and persevere.
Lying down in Basic Relaxation Pose is an act of love and courage.
All the people around you besides yourself will benefit from it.
Lean toward peace. Don't wait until stress damages your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing stress management techniques today!
- Cannon, W. B. (1915). Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear, and rage. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times by Judith Hanson Lasater -
- Living your yoga by Judith Hanson Lasater