Sunday, 16 January 2011
Stress & Yoga
The mechanism of Stress
What is stress?
Stress is not a new thing.
People have been experiencing stress since the beginning of humanity!
What we call stress is a chemical response to danger. The body registers a danger and turns on its “emergency” button to protect and defend itself. The body is then in “war mode”.
What happens to us when the war mode is activated?
Here is what happens to the body:
- The rhythm of the breath increases, the heart is pumping blood faster to create energy.
- The blood pressure then increases too
- the amount of glucose in the blood increases to create energy to be able to “fight” the problem
- the muscles are more stretched
- All the digestive enzymes decrease so digestion is very poor (as the whole body is focusing on the “fight” functions: heart, muscles. The other functions of the body sort of shut down. This is why it is best not to eat while stressed as the body is unable to absorb nutrients properly which will eventually result in even more stress)
- Cortisol is released and our lymphatic system swells to protect our organs from the poisons streaming in our body.
In “war mode” the body functions are focusing on “fighting”. The response to a “danger” means that the body focuses on maintaining vital functions (preserving the heart) and focuses on being ready to fight and being reactive. This is why some functions are momentarily stopped (such as digestion).
Stress is an amazing mechanism that is very useful and keeps us going. It helps us deal with emergencies and stimulates us to go forward and do new things.
When the danger is not a danger anymore, the body calms down and relaxes again. The mechanism of stress uses a lot of energy and when the “danger” situation is gone, it is very important that the body gets a rest to recover. If the body is healthy, it is able to turn off the stress button and activates the relax button automatically. However, if the body is ill, tired, or stress never stops, the war mode is on all the time and the body can’t turn it off any longer and this can lead to diseases.
Too much stress can leave the body depleted and lead to depression.
If the body never gets a chance to reactivate its “relax mode” functions, it can never recover and can never reactivate the other functions that were stopped during “war mode”. This is why too much stress (which can become chronic stress) can lead to poor digestion, exhaustion, insomnia, depression, anger…
What activates the “war mode” can be very varied.
Stress can be caused by environmental or mental assaults, poor diet, lack of sleep…
What you eat is also a factor to consider. Some foods can stress the body by creating too much toxins to eliminate and tire the body out. This purely physical stress can lead to mental stress as the body is using so much energy to deal with the stress it has less energy to deal with other activities.
Coffee, tea, alcohol, sugar, meat are best to avoid or consumed in small quantities to prevent stress.
This is why a proper diet is so important if you want to optimise your energy and feel at your best. Try to incorporate at least 50% of raw fruit and vegetables in your diet and try to minimise (or even stop) your meat consumption (meat creates lactic acid in your muscles which stiffens them and takes a very long time to digest, which takes up a lot of energy). Most importantly, learn how to listen to your body and what it is asking for. Your body knows what it needs; just pay attention to it has to say!
A good starting point is to try and recognise when you feel stressed, and see if there are patterns. Try to listen to your breath, watch your digestion and see if your stress is caused by an external (work, relationships, and environment) or internal factor (health condition, diet, sleeping patterns…). Both causes (internal and external) can be inter- related. It is a good start if you can recognise when and why you feel stressed.
Yoga & stress
Yoga is not a miracle cure that can free a person from all stress, but it can help to minimize it.
When the muscles are not moving for a long time, a chemical called lactic acid accumulates and makes the muscles stiff. It creates a physical tension that can induce physical stress. The toxins which accumulate in the joints prevent free movement. The adjoining muscles also have minute spaces in which circulation stagnates. So yogic postures stretch the muscles and expand the joints. As a result circulation improves and toxins are drained away.
Yoga can help you become more aware of your body and of what it is saying, making you more able to recognise what it needs.
The series of movements (Asanas) we do are designed to unlock energy channels in the body and let the energy (Prana) flow again.
It is also reactivating the parasympathetic system, which is reactivating the “relax” mode process.
Sometimes stress becomes chronic. The body stops being able to reactivate that system by itself and is in constant War mode. This is dangerous as, as you have read above, it stops the body from functioning properly and can lead to all sorts of disease (cancer included).
Your yoga Asana and pranayama practice (the series of movements and breathing exercises) mechanically reactivates the parasympathetic nervous system. By simply and consciously reactivating that system, (sometimes it only takes to do a few sun salutations), you are able to stop that stress mode button and the functions to start working properly again.
On a more subtle level, the series of movements (Asanas) and breathing exercises (Pranayama) we do are designed to unlock energy channels in the body and let the energy (Prana) flow again.
So remember to breath fully ,
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