You have probably heard the saying that stress is the cause of all disease.
While I do agree to some extend, I also think that stress, in its core, is not a bad thing.
Stressful challenges are necessary to help us grow stronger both physically and mentally.
Stress is the body’s natural response to danger, and without it we will have no survival instincts.
Picture yourself for a moment, swimming in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, feeling happy and content with life…
Suddenly, you spot a great white shark charging in your direction!
If the stress of the situation and the spike of adrenalin did not cause your body to immediately switch into a fight or flight response, you would just float there and be eaten for breakfast…
This is an extreme example, but if you think of stress in the context of your everyday life, you can see what an important role it plays in protecting you from dangerous or life-threatening situations.
Stress is your body telling you to back off, which only becomes unhealthy when we chronically subject ourselves to circumstances causing us to feel tension and anxiety, such as a highly demanding job or a toxic relationship.
This is stuff you have to resolve fast, because the body will only give you so many signals before it gets exhausted and starts to develop illness.
I believe that chronic stress is the main culprit behind chronic disease, because it puts your body in a prolonged state of emergency, exhausts your adrenals and forces you to store negative emotions in the form of toxins deep within your tissues.
You see, the human body is truly incredible in its efforts to maintain homeostasis (balance) throughout your entire life.
Every time it senses that you are living in an emergency mode, which is signaled by your psychological response to stressful situations, the body will do its best to protect you. One way it does this is through suppressing your immune system and forcing you to slow down and withdraw.
Overtime, however, chronic stress and the overproduction of cortisol, intended to help us survive the occasional life-threatening events, begin to affect our everyday physiology and health.
One of the best ways to manage stress in our lives is through conscious breathing, something most of us take for granted.
The breath is an excellent tool for establishing long-term health and well being in the body. Regular pranayama (breathwork) practice can have a healing effect on the nervous system allowing us to effectively manage the body’s response to stress (fight or flight).
Here are three of my favorite breathing exercises, which I often teach in my yoga classes:
1. Brahmari (Humming bee) breath is very therapeutic, as it calms the nervous system and creates a warm sensation in the body.
Sit comfortably, with the back tall (lean against the wall for spinal support) and relax your shoulders away from the ears. Rest your hands in your lap.
Close your eyes and start breathing comfortably in and out of your nose.
Keep your lips lightly sealed as you take a deep, long inhale through the nostrils.
As you exhale, make the sound of the letter M, which will produce a humming sound resembling a buzzing bee. Sustain the sound throughout the entire exhalation (the longer it is, the more powerful the effect).
Continue by inhaling as needed and exhaling with this sound for several minutes. You can practice five to six rounds of Brahmari before you return to your normal breathing for a few minutes.
2. Alternate-nostril breathing helps to clear the mind and balance your energy.
Sit comfortably and close your right nostril with your right thumb.
Gently inhale through the left nostril.
Next, lift your thumb, close the left nostril with your ring finger, and exhale through the right. Reverse the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left.
Repeat for 5 to 10 times, or for as long as it feels good to you.
3. Sama Vritti (equal inhales and exhales). Practice this breathing technique at any time during the day, especially before going to bed and during high-stress times. You should immediately feel more relaxed, clear, and invigorated.
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
Place your dominant hand on the heart and the other one on the lower abdomen.
Take a few relaxed breaths, feeling the abdomen expand on the inhalation and gently contract on the exhalation.
Mentally count the length of each inhalation and exhalation for up to five breaths, making sure you are not experiencing any strain in the abdomen.
If the inhalation is longer than the exhalation, or vice versa, begin to make them the same length over the next few breaths.
Repeat as many times as you’d like, ideally for about 5-10 minutes.
Hope these simple exercises help you with alleviating stress and anxiety in your life.