It's interesting how our world has changed in such a short period of time. Here we are in the third week of sheltering in place and social distancing, and we'll be doing this at least through April. The uncertainty of the current state of affairs creates stress, and stress impacts our health. Shallow breathing is a direct result of stress. Our heart rate increases and stress hormones flood our body to prepare us for action against a threat. The threat for most of us results from our thoughts creating negative emotions - worry, fear, anger, guilt - consuming our waking hours and prevent us from sleeping at night. Our brains are efficient and learn to focus on where we put our attention. So, if we spend our time thinking about the spread of the virus, the lack of toilet paper or other supplies, the things and people we are missing, fear of financial difficulties or other worries, we get really good at focusing on these things. We know, reasonably, that social distancing will end in the not-too-distant future, businesses will reopen, we will go back to work, and toilet paper will be plentiful.
In the meantime, the good news is that a consistent yoga practice can combat the impact of stress. and even improve our health!
Yoga breathing is the opposite of shallow breathing and is recommended by the medical profession to keep the respiratory system strong and improve patient outcomes across a number of conditions. Yoga breathing can shift our energetic state, taking us from anxiety to calm, or from lethargy to vitality. Deep breathing, as done in yoga, will shift the nervous system from the stress response (sympathetic or fight-or-flight) to the relaxation response (parasympathetic or rest-and-digest).
The full-body movement experienced in yoga makes the body feel better and strengthens the cardiovascular system. Movement, deep stretching and deep breathing improve the movement of lymph fluid throughout the body, enhancing the function of the lymphatic system. This system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials while transporting infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body.
Moving while breathing in yoga cultivates awareness of the body and the mind, helping to unite the two, creating a state of being in the present moment and peaceful.
I frequently use mudras, which are hand gestures that represent a quality such as fearlessness or immunity, during my practice. We can hold the gesture while holding or moving through a pose and focusing on the power of the pose to alleviate fear, for example,
Positive affirmations, statements such as "I am healthy", "I am peaceful and calm", or "All is right in my world", can shift us from a negative mental state into a positive state. We can use positive affirmations while doing a yoga practice. We can also use them during meditation practice.
Take a moment to think about your oral hygiene routine. It's a habit you do multiple times per day that results in healthier teeth and gums, fresh breath, and many other health benefits. Meditation is like mental hygiene. It's "flossing" for the brain. When you develop the habit, just like oral care, you do it and you feel refreshed afterward. But, it takes consistent practice, just like yoga, which, by the way, prepares the body for meditation.
Maybe until now, you thought yoga was just another form of exercise. I assure you it is that and much more! Yoga is a system that addresses the many layers of our being - physical, energetic, mental, and spiritual. This is why yoga is so effective - it offers whole-being health.
If you haven't tried yoga, I would love to introduce you to its many benefits. NOW is a perfect time to start!
Hi! I'm glad you're here! Actually, I'M glad to be here. This blog is one of those things that I've been putting off doing. Do you ever do that - put off something you need to do? I'm sure we all do it from time to time, or maybe more like daily!. My first attempt at a post was dated 12/12/2015. Yes, that's more than a year ago. And, if I get this attempt posted, I certainly hope that it won't be another year before posting again!
The beginning of a new year is a great time to "wipe the slate clean" and start some new habits. Posting to my blog is a habit I hope to cultivate. It keeps me accountable to my website and to you, my new readers!
Usually, a habit is something we do again and again until it becomes automatic behavior or at least easier. The word "habit" has a different meaning for people living with an addiction. I have been leading a workshop recently for people in recovery from addiction. The more I learn about addiction, the more I realize that we are ALL addicted to something. It doesn't take much soul searching to figure out our own "habits", even if they aren't as harmful as a drug or alcohol addiction. How about that morning cup of coffee? Your smart phone or other device? Do you have a closet full of shoes you hardly wear? Do you binge-watch Netflix instead of working out? What about food? Do you "need a chocolate fix" every day? Did you know sugar lights up the same areas of the brain as cocaine? It's just as addictive, too!
Oftentimes, we develop coping mechanisms to help us deal with our painful "stuff". Feeling inadequate or worthless, feeling unlovable or guilty, feeling angry, anxious, or depressed - our feelings can be uncomfortable and we want to get away from them or blunt them in some way. Drugs, alcohol, shopping, TV, internet, gambling, exercise, sex/porn, food - all can become ways to escape our feelings. We forget our problems, at least temporarily. We feel good, maybe even "normal" for the time being. But when the good feeling of the drug starts to wear off, those feelings come back and we still haven't dealt with them.
Now, when we are "using" our brain knows something is up and wants the body to return back to a place of ease called homeostasis. The brain adapts to the drug so we won't feel as much of the effects. This means that, over time, we need more and more of our drug to get the same effects. This is true for behavioral addictions, like gambling and shopping, as well as chemical addictions.
How can we effectively break this cycle? If you are active in a chemical addiction, I urge you to seek medical help to aid you in coming off a drug or alcohol addiction safely. Additionally, find a 12-Step support group. There are groups that meet everywhere, everyday. You can even attend an online meeting, but most people need the support of an in-person meeting. The 12-Step program can help you start to deal with those thoughts and feelings that started you on the path to addiction. Learning how to take good care of yourself is so important in recovery. Proper nutrition, exercise and sleep habits will help your physical body feel better so that you can address the underlying issues, learning how to reconnect to yourself, restoring wholeness. Cultivating a yoga practice is a great complementary tool for recovery from addiction. Yoga helps the physical body feel better, aids in restful sleep, and helps reduce stress that can lead to relapse.
As we explore addiction and yoga in my workshop, we are using the Yamas and Niyamas as the guidelines. These are personal and social observances for action. The Yamas guide us in action and relationship with the world. The Niyamas guide us in action and relationship with ourselves. Each week we explore a different guideline.
The guideline upon which all others are based is called Ahimsa, which means "do no harm". If we used this as a litmus test for all decisions we make, we would lead simpler, more peaceful lives. "Is this helpful, or harmful"? When we apply this to our "habits" we can easily see the impact.
Take, for example, the decision to impulsively purchase a new pair of shoes or a purse when your budget doesn't allow for it and your credit card bills are already too high. You have to hide the purchase from your husband.
What about checking Facebook or other social media when at work and an hour later you're still involved with it, your work piling up?
Things didn't go as you planned today so "to help yourself feel better" you skip out meeting your friend at the gym, grab a pizza and ice cream and hibernate on the sofa all evening.
You promised yourself you would cut back on the wine, but after a stressful day you "deserve" a glass or three. You're too "tired" to read your kids a bedtime story.
You can see the impact of each decision on others as well as on you, which is why the tenet of non-harming is considered a social tenet.
We can use the "do no harm" litmus test in all of these situations. Imagine how you will feel when you choose to NOT make the purchase, binge on Facebook, skip the gym, eat the food, drink the wine? Not only do you benefit yourself, you benefit your relationships as well!
Non-harming is the first step. See if you can cultivate a new habit by using the litmus test in your decision-making and notice if it makes a difference.
Until next time.
Light and love,