Why you need to relax
Everyday more and more people are realising they need to slow down. To step away from their busy lifestyles. Prioritise their mental wellbeing and learn to relax. The sad thing is this realisation often comes after experiencing a health problem or a trauma. A turning point of realisation that their current lifestyle cannot continue.
The very fabric of our society has changed dramatically over recent decades. The modern household is very different to the household thirty years ago. Stress and anxiety are very real global issues.
To learn how to relax is a very real opportunity to press a pause button.
How stress impacts your health.
“Stress” can be positive. You need some stress in your life. It helps you to undertake tasks and projects. It can even improve your performance and problem-solving ability.
However, if the stress is constant and persistent for an extended period of time, it can be debilitating and distressing. Chronic stress is a real issue of modern society.
We are continuously overstimulated. From the moment we get up, until we go to bed our mind and our sympathetic nervous system is fully switched on. Continuous stimulus from technology. Pressures to work harder and longer. Worries and fears of losing your job. How am I going to feed my family and pay the bills?
You only have to look back at the last three years to see how global events have impacted on mental health and wellbeing. A worldwide pandemic. International conflict. We’ve seen an increase in natural disasters due to climate change. Inflation. Cost of living increases.
All these issues create uncertainty in life. As a result, the levels of stress and anxiety have increased radically. This over stimulation creates excessive stressful environments.
This activates what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response (sympathetic nervous system), intended to be activated as a response to environmental demands or pressures that causes it to adapt.
Long term implications
In this physiological response, the stress hormones are stimulated, immediately altering the blood pressure, the heart rate, muscle tension, the digestive process, alertness etc.
Whereas these responses are needed in survival circumstances. The long-term fight and flight arousal, which has become very common in our modern world, has been linked to common health problems.
High blood pressure, chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart attack, weak immune system, learning difficulties, hormonal imbalances, infertility and many more.
Being constantly under stress can really mess up your health. It also affects your mindset, it breeds negatively. Impacts your personal relationships, with family and community.
What is true relaxation?
We think that we are relaxing when we are sitting or lying down in a comfortable place. Drinking tea, reading a book, listening to music. However, these activities are not enough to produce physiological changes.
To really move into a relaxed state of being, it is necessary to reach a deeper level of ourselves. Dr Herbert Benson, who coined the term the “relaxation response” says,
“Just sitting quietly or, say, watching television, is not enough to produce physiological changes. You need to use a relaxation technique that will break the train of everyday thought and decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.” (Dr. H. Benson)
The relaxation response is the deep resting physical state that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress.
The relaxation response reverses the fight and flight mechanism, bringing the body back into balance and allowing for healing responses to occur. In the relaxation response, the muscles relax. Metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing all decrease.
3 ways to truly relax.
Here I share with you three yogic practices that will support you to activate the relaxation response.
Practices to harmonise body and mind and create balance to your nervous system. Inducing physical, emotional, and mental relaxation.
1. Gentle and Restorative Yoga
When you practise ‘gentle asana’, you move consciousness to deeper layers of your body. Moving the body in a “Meditative” way with awareness. Observing the body at all levels, physically, physiologically and mentally.
Progressively you will develop awareness of the different sensations within the body. The breath. Your heartbeat. The different organs in the body. Your emotions, thoughts etc..
The physical postures can be modified to suit your individual needs. You can use accessories to support the postures, such as pillows. The important thing is to ensure you don’t create any tension in the body throughout the practice.
Try a 30-minute gentle yoga class by clicking on one of the links below:
30 minutes gentle yoga practice in English
30 minutes gentle yoga in Spanish
In Restorative Yoga the postures are held for longer periods, Props are used to support the body to fully relax. Such as blankets, bolsters, and blocks. These props help to activate the relaxation response, allowing the recovery of certain muscle groups and or areas of the body.
One of the most relaxing restorative postures to practise before bedtime is to raise your legs up against the wall (Padhotanasana variation), Also child pose (Shashankasana) supported with a rolled up blanket or bolster between the legs.
2. Breathing practices (pranayama)
Your breathing reflects the state of your mind. Close your eyes in any moment and the pattern of your breath will tell you about the state of your mind.
During stress, the breath is shallow, rapid and short. The abdomen, chest and throat are tense.
When you are in the relaxation response, your breath is completely opposite. Breathing is slow, long and calm.
Basic Breathing Techniques are the best tools you can learn to use in stressful situations. They are magic! You can use these practices to change the pattern of your breath. Calming and slow the breath down and importantly move you to the relaxation response.
To be able to use these techniques in critical moments of stress, it’s important to know the practices properly through regular practice. It just takes 5 minutes a day!
Click on the link to learn the best basic breathing practice to induce a state of total tranquility, the Abdominal Breathing
3. Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra. The easiest and most assessable practice to induce to state of deep relaxation on a “physical, mental and emotional” level. It’s a technique in which we learn consciously to relax. Yoga Nidra is a conscious state of sleep.
In our years of teaching classical yoga and meditation, the one practice that students love and look forward to the most is Yoga Nidra. It is a beautiful practice that you can depend on when you’ve had a busy, stressful day and you need to fully relax. (We’ve used it MANY TIMES in this situation!) You can also practise Satyananda Yoga Nidra when your energy is low.
Which is ideal if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, or you’ve hit a mid-afternoon slump!
Yoga Nidra is one of the best self-care gifts you can give to yourself. Why?
When you practice Yoga Nidra regularly you learn how to relax and harmonise your body and mind. This creates balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Evoking physical, emotional, and mental relaxation. It’s the best practice we know to obtain a deep level of relaxation.
If you would like to experience the practice of Yoga Nidra, click here to access a 20 minute audio practice.
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