If I were to ask you if you’ve checked your emails recently a response is likely to be raised in you. Can you feel into what that response might be? Often, we are compelled by reactivity and drawn into action and reaction, even when we really don’t need to respond, or at least not immediately. This responsive reaction is one that leads us down a slippery slope. Now, if I were to ask you to check your emails, then your text messages, whilst trying to find the latest Christmas movie on Netflix and help your child with a tricky bit of Lego building at the same time as finishing off the Christmas present wrapping, your reactions will get even more busy, chaotic even. This will in turn begin to put your nervous system under considerable strain and tension. If the stimulation doesn’t stop your system will soon become overwhelmed which will lead to stress and even burn out. Burn out is when our electrically wired nervous system feels like it litterally fries due to over load, just like an electrical fault. Terrible really, but I’m pretty sure we all know the feeling.
Actually, some stress can be a good thing. Say if you have an assignment to complete or a competition to win. But if we live our lives like this on a day to day (or worse hour to hour) basis then the stress will become chronic and all sorts of nasty physical and mental by-products will develop in the body.
So, what can be done? Well it’s super unlikely we are going to stop looking at our texts and emails, (even the idea might raise a stress response!). We are unlikely to stop working or be able to avoid advertising or marketing ploys and we are hopefully going to continue to care for our loved ones, however demanding they might be! And the 25th December will always arrive sooner or later, come what may. So, we need to find a way to keep balanced within all that activity. To allow all the chaos to continue whilst finding a way to feel into what effect that particular chaos is having within us at any particular time. If the chaos is good, stay with it, (it might be fun at the party or that report just might have to be written by the deadline). If the chaos is too much we can then choose to switch off some of the stimulation. In the main, this modulation or balance, needs to be learnt and then practiced regularly, ideally daily. This is particularly true for our children who are growing up in an environment where the stimulation is constant, almost 24 -7 and the tools to meditate the effects are very scarcely taught or acquired by parents who are often stressed out themselves.
The more you can feel into how your nervous system is doing the more you can support and steer it towards a sense of harmony. Two of the branches of the nervous system are the sympathetic (stress response) and the parasympathetic (peaceful response). Both of these work as partners, taking it in turn to take the lead when needed. The main vehicle for our parasympathetic nervous system is the travelling vagus nerve that works like a river flowing throughout the body. This river exists independently of the sympathetic nervous system and is strengthened when the necessary signals of a calm state are sent to it from the brain. One of the main markers, or waves, which the vagus nerve is responsive to is changes in our breathing pattern. If the breath is short or fast the sympathetic is stimulated and the vagus nerve is switched off until the breath slows back down again. The slow, deep breathing practices of yoga and meditation, on the other hand, support and tone the fluidity of the vagus nerve, helping to keep our parasympathetic nervous system healthy and ideally more frequently dominant. This nurturing of vagal tone through yoga and meditation practices are so important in vagal health that yoga teachers have even been described as Parasympathetic Doctors!
Frequently feeling a state of harmony within your nervous system will create a memory of it in your body which can quickly be drawn on whenever it’s needed. I am a strong believer that yoga and meditation are the very best tools to learn a powerful, tried and tested method to keep your body and mind calm, balanced and ultimately healthy. Together, yoga and meditation can train your body and mind to recognise stress and nip it in the bud before it becomes a problem. Did you know that just 5 minutes sitting quietly in meditation 5 times a week has a proven beneficial impact on our nervous system? But don’t just take my word for it, or the word of the scientists and ancient meditation masters, go find yourself a good meditation or yoga class and feel it for yourself! I teach a Meditation – Pure & Simple class at Flow Tunbridge Wells on a Monday evening at 6 – 7pm and weave meditation, mindfulness and conscious breathing into all the yoga classes I teach.
At Flow we run yoga for kids as well as adults and run regular yoga classes, workshops, courses and well as yoga retreats at home and abroad.
Short Quote from Lucy
“Yoga & meditation are ideal practices to reduce stress. Both do this through a focus on the breath and calming the nervous system, allowing us to drop away from our sympathetic (stress response) nervous system and move more towards the much more nurturing parasympathetic (peaceful response) nervous system. The main vehicle for this is the travelling vagus nerve which both receives signals from the brain and scans the body, transmitting information back to the brain. Yoga focuses on finding ease and comfort in the body and meditation does the same for the mind. If we can link our breath with a calm body and mind we can escape our stress patterns and develop a happier and more relaxed life for ourselves.”
Practical Advice for 5 minutes silence just 5 times a week!
• Find somewhere that you can call your own, even if for just 10 minutes. If you’re a new mother this might have to mean locking yourself into the bathroom whilst a friend holds the baby. Otherwise, it could be a living room, bedroom or spare room. Remember to turn your phone to silent.
• Make sure you’re warm, really wrapped up warm and cosy with socks, shawl and blanket.
• Make an effort to make it nice, light a lovely scented candle, dim the lights and switch off any electrical gadgets.
• Sit down in a way you feel comfortable, on the floor or on chair. Have both feet touching the ground if you are on a chair and rest your hands on your thighs.
• If by now you already feel that time is running out and it’s making you anxious then set a timer so you know that you will be notified when times up, your mobile phone can be a great timer and you can choose a good calm chime. Set the timer for just 5 minutes at first.
• Now, close your eyes
• Notice your breathing, make a mental note of everything and anything you feel with your breath. Don’t change it unless you want to.
• After a while of noticing see if you can take a longer breath in and then a long sighing breath out. A real arhhhhh…..Like the sound you make when you finally take a pair of tight shoes off after a long day. Take as many of these sighing breaths that feel good. Then stop and notice your regular breath again. Don’t change it unless you want to.
• Notice the sounds around you, the smells and the touch of your hands and feet. Notice your breath and how it feels. Keep softly moving your attention around everything you are aware of. The sounds, the feelings, the smells and your breath.
• When your timer goes off gently open your eyes and softly look around you noticing the room and the things within it.
• That’s it, give it a go and tell me how you get on. Remember 5 minutes, 5 times a week that’s all it takes and it just might be the best thing you have ever done for yourself!
Or simply get dressed up in your woolly hat, scarf, coat and gloves and take a walk out in nature. When you’re surrounded by the trees, what’s stopping you from sneaking in a bit of yoga whilst you soak up some healthy influences from nature!
If you would like to go even deeper into your Meditation practice why not consider joining our Meditation Teacher Training with internally recognised and respected meditation teacher, author and mentor Alexander Filmer-Lorch. See this link for more information – FOR YOUR LOVE OF MEDITATION AND PHILOSOPHY.
By Lucy Parker