There’s a war raging in your body, but you can win it through the path of least resistance!
When we face stressful situations, our nervous system prepares the body for battle: the sympathetic nervous system goes on alert, automatically recalibrating to increase blood pressure and heart rate and reduce digestion. Needless to say, our contemporary manner of living, which is full of stressors and sensory overload – tracking indices and social channel updates, digging ourselves out of bottomless inboxes, rushing from meetings to lunch, to meetings over lunch – place a constant stress on us and trigger this ‘fight or flight’ response of the sympathetic nervous system all the time.
When we are time starved, we often try to make our workout more efficient, either by going for a hard run or taking a bootcamp class or choosing physically demanding yoga styles. Perhaps these are efficient from a standpoint of calorie expenditure. But are they giving us overall health, vitality and balance?
With our relative physical inactivity, from desk bound tasks for work to internet surfing for entertainment, switching into weekend warrior mode with high-intensity workouts jolts the body’s nervous system.
When it comes to physical yoga, it can be better for the body to slowly build up the practice with discipline, by making it a regular part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle than to get a quick dose of strong power yoga once in a while.
More importantly, it is critical not to neglect the counterpart of active yoga – the more restful, effortless style of yoga practice often called ‘restorative yoga’. It is so called precisely as it replenishes and renews the practitioner, with the body slowly eased into shapes while supported by various props. Poses are then held for up to 10 minutes at a time (or longer!).
Now, you may ask, to get rest and quiet our ‘fight or flight’ response, why don’t we just get to bed earlier?
Proper deep sleep turns on the parasympathetic response of the nervous system (PNS), which has the beneficial effects of lowering blood pressure and heart rate and increasing digestion, and also promoting cellular regeneration. A well-functionining PNS unleashes our capacity to heal ourselves from within.
But many of us are not actually getting the proper rest that is so crucial for these restorative processes to happen. A build up of city noise (including light and actual sound pollution), mental noise and tension arising from chronically held stress, strain from late nights, irregular and imbalanced work and rest hours and meal times, keeps the mind-body in constant duress. We may not even get to the deep sleep stages of the sleep cycle.
After a strenuous physical workout, it may take you perhaps a day or two for the muscle soreness to go away, but your nervous system takes a much longer time to recover.
Have you ever noticed a nagging fatigue, the feeling that you’re just not ready to start the week ahead? It can be from the lack of proper rest and an over-active sympathetic response.
Our bodies need proper rest for the vital systems to run smoothly, and to compensate for the stress that we subject them to. Without good quality rest, there’s no chance for cellular repair and regeneration to take place. You can see this in athletes under-performing when they are over-trained. Mark Jenkins gives a succinct explanation here.
According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. It is a lifestyle disease caused by a variety of factors, including poor diet, irregular and lack of physical exercise, and a constantly stimulated nervous system. This last factor is also a likely explanation for hormonal imbalances, chronic pains, diabetes, allergies, etc.
When we don’t give our bodies the chance to heal, even from daily stresses, we deplete our overall immunity and, over time, wear down other essential functions of the body.
Restorative yoga is not optional, it is essential to our continued vitality!
We all need these therapeutic self-care sessions. Try starting your week, or day, with it (or if short on time, practice one of the restorative poses for 10 to 15 minutes as a pick-me-up anytime your energy feels like blah…).
Like most skills, relaxation takes practice! Next week, I’ll share some specific restorative guidelines you can try at home, but it’s also a good idea to start with some guidance! Include a restorative class as a much-needed and conscious time out in your schedule. It’s your weekly ‘Top-Up’!
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