BY THE WAY, WHAT IS STRESS?
Although matters such as this are difficult to articulate with language, let me attempt to describe how I experience stress in my body.
My ability to think clearly, then act from that place of clarity, gets overridden by an underlying sense of fear or worry. My muscles tighten to one degree or another, especially in my, jaw, face, neck and shoulders. Sometimes I feel pressure, tension or a panicked sensation in my chest and heart. Overall there’s a disorienting intensity to the moment. When my inner experience of stress is high, I lack a clear understanding of the best way to attend to the matters at hand.
Can you relate?
The physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival is, in other words known as, an acute stress response. We each experience stress a little differently in terms of symptoms but the chemical reaction that is taking place within the body is similar for all of us.
When it comes to understanding stress it’s important to realize that stress isn’t all bad, there’s actually healthy stress that we couldn’t survive without having. Beneficial stress can help us adapt to our environment and meet, as well as overcome, challenges.
Exercise is an example of good stress; it’s an intentional dose of stress that causes the body to adapt. Exercise stresses tissues, bones and the cardiovascular system; in response, stronger tissues are built and the capacity of the heart and lungs will increase.
The adaptation results in an ability to handle more physical stress and challenge in the future. It’s imperative to the vitality of the physical body; when the body doesn’t have this kind of stress and growth it begins to deteriorate.
Beneficial stress is called eustress; it motivates, it focuses energy, it improves performance and it enhances the ability to thrive within an ever changing environment. This kind of stress is typically short-term; when experienced it’s perceived to be within the realm of what the person can cope with.
That last sentence is important – the person perceives this kind of stress to be within their ability to cope – because of this perception, the stress becomes something that helps the person adapt and become stronger.
Spiritual growth happens in moments of ease, flow and adaptation not during distress.
When stress moves from beneficial to harmful it’s called distress. When in distress, a person loses connection to their capacity to cope and adapt to the matter at hand. Distress feels unpleasant, it decreases performance. Over time it can lead to mental, emotional, and physical problems in a person’s health.
If you are frequently feeling – an inability to cope and adapt – you are building a backlog of distress. The good news is, you can learn to shift unhealthy stress to healthy stress in many situations. There are two questions that will help you begin to shift your stress management skills.
- How urgent is this really?
- Do I have the resources to skillfully cope with this right now?
These are great questions to ask yourself because if you can change your perception of how urgent the situation actually is, and you commit to practices that build your ability to cope (when not in a stress response), then you’ll be well on your way to soothing your overall distress; additionally, you’ll be learning to adapt to stressful situations in the moment more effectively.
HOW CAN YOGA AND AYURVEDA HELP?
If you want to get good at changing how you perceive the stress you encounter, learn about prana and the roll it plays within your physiology.
According to Yoga and Ayurveda you have 5 Koshas, each one represents a different part of yourself – from your dense physical body to the more subtle aspects of what makes you human – like your mental body, emotional body and your energetic body. Of these 5 Koshas, the one that is called the Pranamaya Kosha is the home of breath and the home of prana.
In your body, it’s prana that keeps all functions “moving”. This subtle energetic force performs respiration, which brings oxygen into your cells. Additionally: circulation, sensory functions, higher cerebral activities and the physiological functioning of your heart are all governed by prana.
Prana is described as the vital life essence; when it leaves the body, life ceases. Prana is also known as the great connector; one role that prana plays is to connect your thoughts with your body. It’s a big player in whether or not your thinking is stressed or otherwise.
When the flow of prana is steady and robust the mind and body work together with ease.
Prana gets blocked when there is mental stress, emotional stress or a sense of attachment to things being a certain way. When prana is blocked a chain reaction occurs. Among other things, the subtle energy system, which is in charge of spiritual growth, gets stalled.
LET’S PUT THIS INTO PRACTICAL ACTION STEPS
If you want to have a more adaptable perception of the wildly emotional ride of modern living: increase your ability to cope, learn to adapt, create more ease and flow on a daily basis.
Right? But how to do that?
Work with prana!
Out of balance prana can lead to a variety of symptoms. If prana is running too high you might experience: overwhelm, anxiety, busy energy and disconnected movement. If prana is depleted symptoms may manifest as: low energy, exhaustion and adrenal burnout.
On the flip side, when the flow of prana is steady and robust the mind and body will be in sync; they’ll work well together; additionally your energy levels will have the potential to become vibrant and consistent on a daily basis.
In order to decrease distress, take a double pronged approach: work with your awareness in the moment while also instilling practices that regulate, revitalize and balance your prana. Below are 3 practical techniques for building resiliency within your Pranamaya Kosha and your life.
#1 INTERRUPT THE PATTERN IN THE MOMENT
Utilizing breath during moments of stress invites prana in to do it’s job. When prana is on the job, you get the brain and body working together, it’s becomes easier to realize the plan of action that’s needed in order move forward with intelligent action.
Often times stress is merely a habitual response (it’s actually not that urgent); if you catch the habitual thought pattern you will interrupt it. Once you catch the pattern take a few deep breaths, you’ll be interrupting the pattern further.
When you interrupt your habitual thought patterns you make them weaker; you lessen the grip they have on you.
Here’s the 4 part process for interrupting unwanted habits of the mind:
- Notice your stressful thought patterns in the moment.
- Congratulate yourself for catching them, this weakens them too. Tell yourself good job for catching it!
- Take 1-5 deep breaths.
- Consider how you’ll move forward in a way that feels more easeful. Take one small step in that direction.
#2 PRACTICE LONGER HOLDS IN YOGA POSES
When you practice yoga asana you are moving into, breathing into, and feeling into, stuck parts of your tissues; because of this you’re spreading prana into more areas of your body. Prana = Attention + Breath.
When you practice longer holds in the poses your muscles to begin to relax. If you hold a posture for just 15-30 seconds, the tendons tighten a bit in order to stabilize which also resists the lengthening of the muscle. But, if the pose is held for 2 minutes or more, the belly of the muscle begins to release and lengthen.
Lengthening the belly of the muscle offers a more permanent elasticity and flexibility. With greater muscle flexibility and elasticity, prana can move in freely. It’s prana that helps to break up the subtle mental, emotional and energetic blocks that get bound within your physical body.
#3 FOR MORE ENERGY PRIME YOUR PRANA PUMP IN THE MORNING
It’s morning, you’ve had 8 hours of sleep but still, you’d rather hit the snooze button. If feeling refreshed and waking up bright eyed is not your norm, regulating your prana can change this. You could end up being a perky and inspired morning person! (Unless that totally annoys you. If that’s the case then change the adjectives to suit who you want to be. Long story short – morning is awesome!)
Seriously, even if “I’m not a morning person” has been your modus operandi for as long as you can remember, you can change that. According to yoga and ayurveda if you get prana moving throughout your body in the first part of the morning you’ll experience authentic, sustained energy throughout your day.
Even if you are going to exercise later, get your breath moving in and out through your nose each morning for 15-20 minutes, before you eat. It’s important that your heart gets pumping a bit. If 20 minutes in the morning doesn’t work with your schedule, start with 5 and build the habit over time.
Depending on your constitution and your needs, this morning burst of breath and movement might look like one of the following, or a combination:
- A vigorous yoga sesh
- 5-10 minutes of breathing exercises (pranayama)
- 10 rounds of sun salutations
- A series of standing poses
- Jumping on a mini trampoline
- A short workout or dance session
- A brisk walk or a jog… etc
OVER TO YOU
“Evaluating, understanding and taking steps to reduce your stress is one of the most important as well as most neglected steps you can take to improve your health and wellbeing. No matter what diet you follow, how much you exercise or what supplements, herbs and superfoods you take; if you’re not aware of and tending to your stress, you will still be at risk for modern conditions like heart disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism and autoimmunity.” – Chris Kresser
When you take an honest look at your stress you will come right up against core patterns and behaviors that are difficult to change. If you really want to take action to counter the stress of modern western living you will be forced to slow down.
You’ll have to take a step back and disengage ** if only for a brief time** from the buzzed up current of social norms. You will have to teach yourself **human-mind-body-self-care** in a culture that does not value it or show you how.
Here’s the deal: if you’re not doing some form of regular stress management, you will sabotage all of your efforts with meal planning, food choices, exercise, eating for your dosha, herbal remedies, cleanses and supplements.
Do you have the ability to recognize what if feels like when you’re in a stress response?
In this day and age it’s important to prioritize activities and conversations that will help you to get to know and understand your stress. Together we can learn to soothe and shift our relationship with stress: in the moment and in a preventative manner.
Stress management can be creative, pleasurable and relaxing; if you take the right perspective it can become the sweetest pieces of your day, the good stuff in life.
It is absolutely possible to shift mental patterns from tension to ease.
Cultivating healthful, nourishing, daily practices takes time and dedication. Honestly, it’s pretty tough to do it alone; when it comes to changing habitual patterns, community and support is where it’s at.
Would you like help creating delicious daily habits for stress management and easeful living? Check out my Align With Balance program – it’s fun and effective. I’d love to share it with you!