It's almost summertime. And the living is... crazier than ever, right?
What's one to do?
There are people who will tell you to yell, scream, shout, or beat a pillow. Others advise crying, or running away. Some people freeze or turn a cold shoulder. Others push through or get more active when confronted with adversity. Do you have a typical response? If you asked a neuroscientist, a psychologist, or a stress researcher, they would explain that there are four standard reactions to stress:
• Fly away
• Freeze or
• Tend and Befriend
Each of these reactions has a unique relationship to several key hormones in the body, including adrenaline and oxytocin. Regardless of what might be your predominant tendency, each of the above reactions can pull you out of balance and leave you feeling exhausted in the end. An unmitigated stress response can lead to trouble with your organs, tissues, and even whole biological systems.
Ancient Wisdom traditions, however – and in particular, the fields of Yoga & Ayurveda - espouse a different approach to handling stress and uncertainty. One where you learn to step aside, witness what is going on, and from a less attached perspective, make choices about how to most effectively engage. You become a detached observer of the various reactions going on around you, and within you. This allows you to choose appropriate responses to any particular situation without compromising your health. As a professional yoga therapist and reiki master teacher trainer, I am steeped in the practice of observation. As a matter of fact, that “super power” helps me effectively craft practices tailored to the unique needs of my individual clients, and even weave together beneficial classes for groups of students so that each person leaves feeling better than when they arrived. I like that super power, which I have fine tuned over many years, as it allows me to guide people to a place where they, too, can find stability and peace and learn to respond with compassion to events around them instead of reacting out of fear. Even in tumultuous times, like the one we, collectively, find ourselves in now.
The tools I use help intelligent yet tapped out, stressed out people cope with uncertainty, anxiety and fear in a life enhancing way rather than in ways that tear the body down. They build you up, instead of reduce the mind's ability to focus, interrupt quality sleep, and run you through a whole host of negative emotions. They have their roots in ancient wisdom, and are backed by modern neuroscience.
What happens is that, instead of:
• Fighting... We move. Gently. Mindfully. And in alignment with our body/mind's structure and condition.
• Flying away... We remain present by breathing through the situation.
• Freezing... We meditate.
• And even though “Tending and Befriending” can be very nice, we learn to affirm our own value first and offer ourselves compassionate self-love, which fuels our journey to offer support to others.
That way, we can stand steady and offer more effective support to others when it's needed.
There are many great articles on the web about the benefits of the tools I use. They revolve around yoga principles and philosophy, mindfulness, meditation, breathing and healthy living practices (see some of the articles, referenced for you below). I invite you to search out more information if you're curious about how movement, mindfulness, and meditation can elevate the quality of your life.
At the same time, the benefits increase tremendously when you work with a seasoned practitioner. So if you're looking for tools to help you manage stress in a healthy way, or want an effective and natural antidote for a troubled mind or challenging sleep patterns, you'd be best served by working closely with a knowledgeable professional. Like me. I would be happy to help!
Please email me or call me if you'd like to explore how my work might help you find calm, feel stable, and enhance your self-confidence to carry you through these crazy times, and beyond, with more ease and grace. I am happy to talk on the phone to see if we might be a good fit for working together, and all my sessions can happen virtually.
Even during the time of CoVid, I am on a mission to minimize dis-ease across the planet, one breath and one person at a time so that each of us can live a vibrationally elevated life.. If you'd like that, too, reach out. I'm here for you. And meanwhile... May you find practices and a lifestyle that promotes less tension and greater levels of joy for you and yours as the summer season unfolds.
Yours, in health and well-being.
Sharon Harvey Alexander, C-IAYT
Points of Interest from Recommended Articles:
1.) By simultaneously getting us into better moods, enabling us to be more focused on the present moment, and by encouraging us to give ourselves a break, yoga is a very effective stress reliever.
Li AW, Goldsmith CA. The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Altern Med Rev. 2012;17(1):21-35.
2.) Yoga, practiced in a more gentle and integrated form (ie, with an ethical and spiritual component) may provide additional benefits over yoga practiced as an exercise regimen.
3.) A 3,000 year old tradition, yoga, is now regarded in the Western world as a holistic approach to health and is classified by the National Institutes of Health as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit root “yuj” which means union, or yoke, to join, and to direct and concentrate one's attention. Regular practice of yoga promotes strength, endurance, flexibility and facilitates characteristics of friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control, while cultivating a sense of calmness and well-being. Sustained practice also leads to important outcomes such as changes in life perspective, self-awareness and an improved sense of energy to live life fully and with genuine enjoyment. The practice of yoga produces a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response and with that interruption in the stress response, a sense of balance and union between the mind and body can be achieved.
4.) The following evidence-based material is a synopsis of information taken from an excellent article that can be found on HealthLine.com (see reference, below).
Thirteen Evidence Based Benefits of Yoga
1. Can Decrease Stress
Summary: Studies show that yoga can help ease stress and lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which also improves quality of life and mental health.
2. Relieves Anxiety
Summary: Several studies show that practicing yoga can lead to a decrease in symptoms of anxiety by emphasizing present moment awareness which calms the mind, lowers blood pressure, and elevates “feel good” hormones.
3. May Reduce Inflammation
Summary: Some studies show that yoga may reduce inflammatory markers in the body and help prevent pro-inflammatory diseases.
4. Could Improve Heart Health
Summary: Alone or in combination with a healthy lifestyle, yoga may help decrease risk factors for heart disease, including lowering blood pressure, and decreasing cholesterol,
especially the “bad” LDL.
5. Improves Quality of Life
Summary: Some studies show that yoga could improve quality of life and may be used as an effective adjunct therapy for some conditions because it improves sleep quality, enhances spiritual well-being, improves social function and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.
6. May Fight Depression
Summary: Several studies have found that yoga may decrease symptoms of depression by influencing the production of stress hormones in the body.
7. Could Reduce Chronic Pain
Summary: Yoga may help reduce chronic pain in conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis.
8. Could Promote Sleep Quality
Summary: Yoga may help enhance sleep quality, thus reducing the incidence of many diseases, by effecting melatonin levels and positively impacting several common contributors to sleep problems including anxiety, depression, chronic pain and stress.
9. Improves Flexibility and Balance
Summary: Research shows that practicing yoga can help improve balance and increase flexibility by practicing for just 15-30 minutes a day.
10. Could Help Improve Breathing
Summary: Yoga incorporates many breathing exercises, which could help improve breathing, lung function, and vital capacity which is especially beneficial for those with lung disease, heart problems, and asthma.
11. May Relieve Migraines
Summary: Studies show that by virtue of stimulating the Vagus Nerve, yoga may reduce
migraine intensity and frequency, alone or in combination with conventional care.
12. Promotes Healthy Eating Habits
Summary: Yoga encourages mindfulness, which may be used to help promote mindful eating and healthy eating habits.
13. Can Increase Strength
Summary: Some studies show that yoga can cause an increase in strength, endurance and flexibility.
According to HealthLine.Com, the Bottom Line is that:
Multiple studies have confirmed the many mental and physical benefits of a yoga lifestyle (that which incorporates movement, mindfulness, breath awareness and meditation into each day).
Incorporating that into your routine can enhance your health, increase strength and flexibility, and reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety.
Finding the time to practice yoga just a few times per week may be enough to make a noticeable difference when it comes to your overall health and well-being.