I promise I am not going to start this article by saying things like, what a terrible year this has been! Will this ever end? Isn’t there anyone who can reboot 2020, turn it off, and back on again? No, I am not going there. Instead, I am going to ask you to close your eyes and visualize a busy highway in the evening. I know this may seem a little strange, but just go with me on this one.
It is nighttime, and all the lanes are filled, but traffic is flowing nicely. There is a plethora of red and white lights that are glowing like twinkling stars. It is quiet but for the sound of a gentle wind.
Now think back to a time when you have felt stress. Maybe it was something small like you got into the shower and realized you have no shampoo, you were late for work, or you have teenage children. Perhaps it was more significant and life-altering like the death of a loved one or the breakup of a marriage.
How are the highway and your stress connected? Well, when you feel stress, whether it is big or small, your body goes to work by releasing hormones and starting processes to help you manage. These natural chemicals and neurotransmitters are jolted into action as if they got a green traffic light. It happens when you feel things like annoyance, happiness, excitement, sadness, or anger. When you feel these emotions, you may notice that your heart starts pounding, maybe you get a stomach or headache, you sweat, or your face turns red. These real symptoms are the result of your natural response systems, and guess what? You can affect the outcome, to make the good better, and lessen the bad.
Stress and the lack of management are causally related to some serious afflictions that put our health in harm’s way. According to the National Institute of Health, Boston University School of Medicine, Psychology Today, and many others, yoga and meditation are shown to improve our overall health. Thus, by adding this to our practice of life, we are setting ourselves up to prevent diseases like heart disease, cancer, and depression and anxiety disorders. It is no joke that we all live incredibly stressful lives, constantly connected to work via digital devices. More often than not, giving ourselves time to regroup falls by the wayside.
You may have heard some terms in the past that are associated with stress like; cortisol, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline, and then there are progesterone and estrogen. Others that may be less familiar are anandamide (the “bliss” molecule), GABA, which is directly involved with anxiety and mood stabilization, and the Vagus Nerve, the neural highway sending calm messages to your organs.
Sometimes some of these hormones and neurotransmitters fight with each other, like a traffic accident. Sometimes they work together, like a construction team fixing a pothole. The point here is not to launch into a biology lesson on the immune and inflammation processes of our bodies. It is to let you know that when you take positive action, you are moving your own body’s processes toward resolution, not an argument. You are the controlling mechanism.
You may guess where I am going next because of the title of this article, and you would be right! I am going to tell you that yoga and meditation, along with your regular exercise regimen, will move you toward peace, serenity, and better control over your emotions. So, let’s go there.
Every time you take a deep breath, you are increasing the production of your hormones that send out calming messages. Enter GABA and the Vagus Nerve. Add a gentle stretch or holding a pose, and you increase oxygen and blood flow to your organs, including your brain, which is the control center. Think decreased cortisol and increased adrenaline.
Here is a challenge. Every morning before you start work or your day, whatever it may entail, take ten minutes to sit quietly. This is for meditation purposes. You can crisscross your legs and relax your hands on your knees, put them in a prayer posture, or even hold out your arms to the side. Do some deep breathing, in for a count of five and out for a count of five. No noise unless it’s relaxing, like music (not AC/DC, but perhaps Kenny G or Mozart).
Try to clear your mind and visualize a happy moment or a peaceful place. Do this for two weeks and see how you feel. You might be pleasantly surprised at how adding just this small ten-minute daily ritual helps to recenter your mindset. I am proof that this works, as I incorporated this into my morning routine about a year ago. I find my concentration is increased, and my ability to digest stressful situations is improved. I’m not saying I don’t get fired up about things, we are all human, but my perspective is more balanced. In addition to this, you might try scheduling a yoga class. Online, outside or in whatever way you feel COVID comfortable.
Now there may some truth to the saying that you never realize how long a minute is until you are trying to hold a plank, but that does not make holding a plank less effective. Every minute you spend in a pose or just sitting quietly in your favorite happy place, allowing your mind and body to reset, is shifting your body to a tranquil and balanced state. You are your own solution. It is actual science, and it works!