Did you struggle to wake up, after a restless night? Did you then have to rush to get ready for work, juggling other family members' needs while getting ready? Did you run out of the house, perhaps quickly eating on the way to work or school, frustrated in heavy traffic or standing on a crowded train or bus - only to get to work late or just on time, with a meeting underway or having forgotten that you were supposed to attend one? Do these high stress situations usually continue throughout your day?
Generally, when the body faces stress, it goes into the 'fight or flight' mode of response. Our heart beats faster, we generate heat and we breathe faster and shallower - The body reacts to stress as though we are facing an emergency situation, designed to anticipate the need to fight or escape the huge bear or other predator that we might be facing. Not many bears in most of our lives, but stressful situations are greater than ever.
Hormones are activated in a stressful situation by the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system and rush into the bloodstream to signal a potential threat to our well being. These stress hormones are necessary and good in emergency situations, but chronic stress results in the excess release of stress hormones, which can then lead to immune-system malfunction, gastrointestinal issues, and blood vessel deterioration, among other health complications, according to the Heart MD Institute website. Further noted on the site, "over time, such symptoms can evolve into degenerative diseases like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease."
In numerous studies, utilizing high tech brain scans and heart monitoring, the yogic breathing that I learned doing yoga and in my training to be a yoga teacher has been shown to help. Pranayama (life force) breathing exercises calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and can benefit all of us, off the yoga mat as well as on the mat.
While we cannot control when or how stressful situations will surface and challenge us, we can manage the physiological reaction to the stressors by using yogic breathing to relax the body. "Relaxation counteracts the effects of the 'fight or flight' response by helping to boost the immune system function, reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels, and protect tissues from damage caused by stress-hormones." (Heart MD Institute)
Dr. Stephen Sinatra, board-certified cardiologist, certified bioenergetic psychotherapist, and certified nutrition and anti-aging specialist spoke at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas last year about the benefits of yogic breathing. "The solution to stress lies within us. Nature has given us a defense mechanism with which to combat the physical effects of stress: parasympathetic nervous system activity catalyzed by diaphragmatic breathing."
Breathing yogic breaths, using the diaphragm in slow and focused movements, helps to immediately calm the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
YOGIC BREATHING - HOW TO GUIDE
It's best to practice the breathing techniques and become very familiar with them, in order to use them comfortably and most effectively. With practice, the diaphragmatic and alternate nostril breathing techniques can be used with ease. When something is routine, we can “just do it” (i.e. let our thoughts go because we don’t need to think so much about what we are doing). In a stressful situation, use the breathing as long as needed.
Diaphragmatic breathing is simple and will quickly have impact on the body.
Alternate nostril breathing is another breathing technique that is helpful in balancing and calming the ANS.
Next time you are in a stress filled situation or stuck in traffic or are elbow to elbow with others on public transportation and feeling the effects of stress..... or feel a headache developing or experience an unexpected sharp pain.....focus on your breathing and notice the immediate calming sensation.
I hope this information will be helpful to you.
Namaste and Love,
Thank you for taking this journey with me!
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