Today is National Stress Awareness Day. For real though, we don’t need a day to remind us that we have stress. It’s everywhere. On some days it seems that the stress starts from the second we wake up and doesn’t stop even when our heads hit the pillow at night. Stress dreams can plague sleep leaving you to wake even more tired than when the night began. That’s life though. Right? It’s how we live. No big deal. Everyone is stressed. But listen carefully, if you aren’t careful stress will kill you. When stressed, we kick off the flight or flight response in our bodies. It protects us from mortal danger. Here’s the rub, when our brains tell us to fight or flee our organs respond by creating adrenaline and dialing up the engines of our organs. In today’s society many of us function like this even though our bodies aren’t in mortal danger. This isn’t healthy. In fact it’s dangerous. Sure, it’s not like stepping on the third rail dangerous but it is like playing 10,000 games of Russian Roulette and never getting the bullet. The odds keep increasing that one day…bang.
The Stress in America survey results show that adults continue to report high levels of stress and many report that their stress has increased over the past year – American Psychological Association.
75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year – American Psychological Association.
Approximately 1 out of 75 people may experience panic disorder – National Institutes of Mental Health.
Stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grade, psychologists say that if they don’t learn healthy ways to manage that stress now, it could have serious long-term health implications – American Psychological Association.
80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. And 42% say their co-workers need such help – American Institute of Stress.
Stress levels in the workplace are rising with 6 in 10 workers in major global economies experiencing increased workplace stress. With China (86%) having the highest rise in workplace stress – The Regus Group
Alarmingly 91% of adult Australians feel stress in at least one important area of their lives. Almost 50% feel very stressed about one part of their life – Lifeline Australia.
Australian employees are absent for an average of 3.2 working days each year through stress. This workplace stress costs the Australian economy approximately $14.2 billion – Medibank
An estimated 442,000 individuals in Britain, who worked in 2007/08 believed that they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill – Labour Force Survey.
Approximately 13.7 million working days are lost each year in the UK as a result of work-related illness at a cost of £28.3 billion per year – National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide – World Health Organization
Fewer than 25% of those with depression world-wide have access to effective treatments – World Health Organization.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Just as easy as it is to live a life under stress we can take small steps to reduce it. Here are some tips that you can take to slow it down and live longer:
Breathe. Take a deep breath in for a count of four and an exhale for a count of four.
Yoga. Any physical activity for 30 minutes a day will help reduce stress. I’m of supporter of yoga for stress reduction because yoga itself is the idea of yoking our body, mind and breathing. In yoga we talk about moving through the asana practice with steadiness and ease. By controlling how we breathe as we increase intensity we are training our bodies how to deal with stress off of our mats.
Laugh. Check out the benefits courtesy of the Mayo Clinic: A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:
Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Eat well. When we fuel our bodies with good food we are better equipped to thrive. I love what Michael Pollan says about a healthy diet, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Keep it simple.
Sleep. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Keep your electronic devices out of bed. Keep the TV off (ideally- don’t use one). Keep the bedroom a sanctuary of peace.
Today take a minute, take a second and remember that it’s okay even when it’s not. But by managing the stress we can make better decisions and live a better life.
These days meditation is at the forefront of my life. Being still has brought a sense of peace and helped ‘unstick’ some stuck places.
While I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea of quieting the mind stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder how to find ways to still my mind as I’m living life. The benefits of mediation of yoga are amazing. How could I be more mindful while doing day-to-day activities?
For example I can’t tell you how many times I commutes home from work careening down the NJ Turnpike at 80 mph only to arrive at the parking garage with no recollection of any of it. Yikes.
Even now, I walk from point A to point B without remembering the journey.
I’m distracted by an outside force like a phone or by an inside distraction like my wandering mind. Lately though, I’ve embraced the idea of meditating while while in transit. Some call it mindful walking. Buddhism says that by being mindful we create a foundation of well-being and happiness.
Yesterday afternoon, I grabbed Dakota and headed out into my neighborhood. I didn’t have a destination, just a desire to stay in the moment.
Five things that helped me during my mindful walk:
Posture. Standing tall I closed my eyes and mentally scanned my body to see if I was holding onto tightly in certain areas and made a conscious effort to let go.
Breathing. Before I started walking in took deep inhales and exhales. As I began my walk I tried to pay attention to how I was breathing.
Intention. Setting an intention was helpful. It allowed me to create a shape to the practice without feeling like a test.
Attention. Before walking I noticed the ground under my feet. As I moved I directed my thoughts to how my heel connected with the sidewalk. It felt like cat/cow, I observed my foot touching the ground and felt the moment just when it lifted off the ground.
Acceptance. Once I was moving I noticed the breeze on my face and the hang of my jacket on my shoulders. I acknowledged smells, sounds and sights.
Are there ways that you meditate while in motion? Mindful cycling in next on my list.
In movies rain is symbolic of change. You know that moment when the main character realizes something that is central to the story or some major event takes place in the rain indicating that something big may be around the corner. Sometimes the use of rain is blatantly obvious representing baptism or rebirth. Think Tim Robbins in Shawshank. He escapes during a thunderstorm. He crawls through a tunnel of shit metaphorically and literally to emerge reborn and free. In this case the rain washes away the wrongs against him- absolving him of the crime of prison break.
Rain is change. And change shows us another point of view.
Handstands help me see the world from another perspective. I am literally turning myself upside down. As a kid I loved to stand on top of dresser and feel how different the bedroom was. It was like living in a new place. Sadly, while I’m plenty fearless in some parts of my life there are a few areas that need an shake-up.
The past few months have been challenging and trying. I’m in the middle of a debate in my head about which direction to take my yoga and it’s been really hard. I’m wavering more because I’m almost sure positive what I want to do but afraid to take the leap. This recent decision isn’t what I planned and is uncharted territory. Irrationally, I started looking for signs to see if I was making a good choice.
The universe didn’t hit me over the head with a brick but at Jivamukti the monthly focus is inversions. For the past week I’ve been on my head, hands and thinking with my heart.
Shiva the Destroyer blasting through what I thought was real as I kick my legs up.
Shiva the Destroyer bringing me back to earth as I come falling down out of Pincha Mayurasana.
With every fall and every kick back up I am a little more balanced, a little less afraid and a little closer to finding that center.
It’s true that when you change the way you look at things, the way you look at things changes.
My mama said
Baby don’t ride that crazy horse
And my mama said
You must push with much force
And my mama said
Go get all that you’re after
And my mama said
That love’s all that matters
But I’m always on the run,
Always on the run,
But I’m always on the run ( on the run )
– Lenny Kravitz ‘Always on the Run’
Sometimes meditation just- sucks.
It ain’t been so easy the past week. Sitting still has been a struggle. I’ve been grasping at frustration and physical pain. Added to that are the thoughts that I should be headed down a different path than the one I’m currently on.
But I’m sticking with it.
This morning while walking Dakota I was listening to Pema Chödrön (as I am wont to do when I am feeling a bit out of sorts). I pulled up any track. Pema was talking about learning to stay. My facetious face reared its snarky head. Oh great. I listened anyway.
In meditation there will be bad days. But if I can learn to be with the thoughts and stay compassionate with myself, it’ll be okay. On the days that I’m feeling growly is when I most need this. It’s on these days when seconds pass like hours that I learn the most. The space in between the seconds is my opportunity to open my heart a little more. Acknowledging feelings of hurt, frustration or fear during a sit helps me move beyond instead of running away.
Yes Meditation, you are a crafty vixen but I see you.
Ten days ago I got my period. Not such a big deal (and you may wonder the reason for the ‘overshare’) except, that I’d just had it a few weeks prior. Along with excessive bleeding came pain so intense that I could no little more than teach my classes and roll on the floor hoping someone would kill me. The cramping was even too much for this masochist so I went to my Gyn. I have endometrosis and a history of fibroids, so pain isn’t unusual. But dealing with an extra period- um- I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Not happening. No way.
Fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus (womb). Another medical term for fibroids is “leiomyoma” (leye-oh-meye-OH-muh) or just “myoma”. Fibroids are almost always benign (not cancerous). Fibroids can grow as a single tumor, or there can be many of them in the uterus. They can be as small as an apple seed or as big as a grapefruit. In unusual cases they can become very large.
There are factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids.
Age. Fibroids become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s through menopause. After menopause, fibroids usually shrink.
Family history. Having a family member with fibroids increases your risk. If a woman’s mother had fibroids, her risk of having them is about three times higher than average.
Ethnic origin. African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.
Obesity. Women who are overweight are at higher risk for fibroids. For very heavy women, the risk is two to three times greater than average.
Eating habits. Eating a lot of red meat (e.g., beef) and ham is linked with a higher risk of fibroids. Eating plenty of green vegetables seems to protect women from developing fibroids.
I must admit I’m not so sure about the green veggie thing. My diet is 70% plant-based. I don’t eat meat. I’m not overweight. However, there is a family history of fibroids.
My doctor was great and after an exam I was sent off to get an ultrasound to get the bottom of the problem.
Fibroids themselves are usually benign and don’t cause problems unless they push on something or get embedded in a way that may cause pain.
There’s tons of talk about how to ‘cure’ your fibroids, but I give serious side-eye to anyone who says that they can ‘cure’ anything. There’s no cure for the common cold but eat a can of kidney beans, hop on one leg while drinking turmeric milk and I’m cured of fibroids. Yeah, sure.
However- yoga helped some. A few restorative versions of the following poses helped get me through the rough patches:
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) – resting with a block under my sacrum was such a relief for my sacrum.
Vaparita Karani (Legs against the wall)- this pose is said to be an attitude adjuster (of which I was greatly in need), relieves mild back pain and helps with tired legs and cramped feet.
Once the tests come back, I’ll know more. But in the meantime- it’s yoga, yoga and more yoga. With some Motrin when absolutely necessary.
Are there yoga poses that you use to help alleviate physical pain?
There’s a nifty fact sheet about fibroids here. Check it out.