Strategy for Stress
In my last post I suggested that during this busy festive period you might find that taking just ten minutes out for some restorative yoga might help get you through the Christmas season with your sanity intact. But what if you don’t have ten minutes? Just taking a few moments to check in with your breathing, wherever you are (and especially when your children are intent on derailing your plans) is always helpful.
You can do it standing up, sitting in a chair that supports your back, or lying on a bed or yoga mat on the floor. Make yourself as comfortable as you can. If you can, loosen any clothes that restrict your breathing.
If you’re lying down, place your arms a little way from your sides with the palms up. Let your legs be straight, or bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor.
If you’re sitting, place your arms on the chair arms or on your lap. Sitting or standing, place both feet flat on the ground, roughly hip-width apart. Alternatively in all these positions you can place your hands on your stomach so you can feel your belly rise and fall with your breathing.
- Close your eyes and start breathing through your nose.
- Then, inhale for a count of two. Hold the breath in for a count of one and then exhale gently, counting out for four. Finish by holding the breath out for a count of one before repeating the sequence and breathing in again for a count of two.
- Keep your breathing even and smooth.
- If the 2-4 count feels too short try increasing the breath lengths to 4 in and 6 out, or 6 in and 8 out, and so on until you find your comfortable breathing pattern. If longer breaths create any anxiety then rein it in and shorten them again.
The most important thing is that the exhale is longer than the inhale, not the length of the breath. We all breathe, and count, at different rates. When your exhale is longer than your inhale, your breathing stimulates the Vagus nerve which sends a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and counteract your sympathetic nervous system.
- You can stimulate the Vagus nerve further by using gentle Ujjayi yogic breathing (to do this, breathe as if you are trying to fog a mirror but breathe in and out through the nose, this creates a slight constriction at the back of your throat making a ‘hhh’ sound).
As briefly touched on in my previous post the sympathetic nervous system commands your fight or flight response. When fired up, your heart rate and breathing speed increase and stress hormones such as cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to face a threat. Most of us don’t see the Christmas season as a threat, but our bodies haven’t developed that cognitive knowledge yet and any stressful situation provokes that physical response to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t know about you but I certainly find the build-up to Christmas stressful.
The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, controls your rest, relax and digestive response. When the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers and your body is put into a state of calm and healing – which is really what we all need during the season of Joy.
And then if you want to resort to gin, that is your prerogative.