Thought for the week

In thinking about the presence of stress in our lives, B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us that a certain amount of tension and stress is required for moving and living and that we must differentiate unhealthy levels and negative stress from requisite stress. He explains that the main causes of negative stress are anger, fear, speed, greed, unhealthy ambition and competition, which produce a deleterious effect on the body and mind. “When one does good work with out selfish motives, though there is the stress of work, it is positive, and does not cause the far greater stress that comes from grasping and greed. The practice of asana, (the yoga poses) and pranayama, (the breathing exercises), not only de-stress you, but energize and invigorate the nerves and the mind in order to handle the stress that comes from the caprices of life.” He offers this analogy, “When it rains heavily, the water does not necessarily penetrate the earth. If the surface is dry and hard, the rain water floods the surface and runs off. But if it rains gradually, for many days continuously and the ground is moist, then the water seeps deep into the earth which is good for cultivation and for life. Similarly in ourselves, we must moisten our muscles and nerves through the expansion and extension of the various asana. In this way, the stress that saturates the brain is diffused throughout the rest of the body, so the brain is rested and released from strain and body releases its stress and strain through movement.”

-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

Combat Stress

As we get older, our bodies are less able to handle the wear and tear caused by stress. The body, especially the brain, has built-in mechanisms to keep stress hormones at the proper levels but as we age, these internal stress-hormone reducing mechanisms gradually become less effective. What to do? Learn and practice strategies to create and maintain an inner calm. Learn how to keep the body’s stress levels stable. They are regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which works like a computer to keep the body running automatically. There are two components of the (ANS) which compliment one another, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The (SNS) revs up the nervous system as a protective mechanism referred to as the “flight or fight response.” In balance the (PNS) calms down the nervous system promoting relaxation, rest and sleep. This system is the target of stress reduction techniques. The more we can reduce our bodies undue stress and the more effective we become in instructing the adrenal glands to stop pumping cortisol and other stress hormones through our body, the better we combat accelerated aging. The stress researcher Dr. Hans Selye reports that “After every stressful situation, we become a little older.” Therefore, the older we get, the calmer we need to be.

Excess stress shrinks the brain, ages the heart, weakens the bones, prevents or disturbs quality sleep, makes us sick, inhibits a healthy gut, increases belly fat, and can lead to diabetes. And that’s the condensed list! Chronic, unresolved stress prematurely ages every vital organ.
Stress management is a key health component of centenarians and people who prefer an enjoyable life. Here are a few simple stress striking tips:

*Practice letting go. In yogic terms this is referred to as non-attachment. Choose not to focus on aspects of your life you can’t change. We can’t always control situations, only our responses to them. Know the difference between helpful reflection and destructive rumination. Let go of what has passed.

*Focus on solutions, not problems. Problems inevitably arise. Teach and train yourself to greet them as a learning opportunity. They really are. Humans seldom learn from ease and comfort.

*Keep the mini-stressores small. Having to wait in line for a latte or several slow traffic lights is regular life stuff. Stop behaving as if it’s a surprise or of consequence. Let the occasional, real, big issues warrant your concern.

*Redirect negative thoughts. Pre-load your mental/emotional/visceral library with a few vivid memories of relaxing and calming past experiences. Program your mind to reflexively recall these memories in response to stress stimuli, effectively filling your mind “tank” with premium thoughts, preventing negative thoughts from taking hold.

*Breathe… Immediately following a stressor, remind yourself to breathe. Close your eyes if possible, and take several natural, relaxed breaths. Notice the instant calming effects as your (PNS) is increased, allowing more air into the lungs, increased muscle relaxation getting more oxygen into your system. Make a habit of taking a “breath break” 8-10 times per day. It only takes a moment to create such a different and positive physiological effect!