Simple strategies to drain the stress out of your life. By Sally Parkes
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For as long as I can remember there has always been a strong dialogue around ‘starting over’ and finding the ‘new you’ each January. And whilst in recent decades this has often led to a great deal of focus around detox regimes and weight-loss diets, people are now becoming much more aware of other areas of their life that need regular attention and nurturing, such as mental wellbeing, and the interrelation between this and our physical body.
I believe this shift of awareness comes from knowing, intuitively or otherwise, that when we prioritise our brain health, it allows the body to shift towards functioning at a more optimal level, which helps us feel less tension overall. So it makes sense then, that if we would like to enjoy improved all-round wellbeing in the year ahead, that we make reducing stress levels our main focus.
Becoming ‘less stressed’ is not something that tends to happen overnight, however, as in my experience a routine is required to create the rituals that become the habits, which ultimately lead us to reprogramming ourselves. But where do we begin? Well, let’s look firstly at why so many of us are feeling more stressed than ever.
Recent changes to the way we live due to so called ‘technological advances’ have led to an expanded business day, shrunk our leisure time, our meals are often rushed and processed due to time constraints and sleep is less abundant. We are now drip-fed stress in such a way that it is our normal way of being, often leading us to become so desensitised to it so that we often don’t even acknowledge it. That is, of course, until our mind and body begin to show us acute signs of stress. These can include shallow and erratic breathing patterns, increased heart rate, headaches, skin and digestive disorders, insomnia, weight gain or loss, cognitive impairment, hyperactivity and/or exhaustion, anxiety and depression.
We can, however, empower ourselves to reverse many of these acute symptoms before they become chronic by creating simple new habits. They could include limiting screen time, decreasing your availability to others, saying ‘no’ more often, eating more whole foods and staying hydrated, and of course practicing slow and steady yoga and pranayama on a regular basis. And the good new is that it doesn’t have to be all at once.
In fact, it is more effective to gradually bring in new habits to your lifestyle, so maybe a new one every fortnight, as opposed to making several all at once. This can be helpful in avoiding overwhelm and will improve your chances of sticking to new behaviours.
Ideal calming yoga asana include:
- For quietening a busy mind — supported head to knee pose: By closing down the front of the body in this way we are able to minimise external stimulation and calm the mind. This asana can also relieve an achy lower back. Relax here for 2 minutes.
- For improved digestion — supported side twist: By rotating the lower back and pelvis in this way, blood flow is restricted, so when the asana is released, fresh blood flushes through the lower abdominal and digestive organs, thus enhancing the body’s natural ability to detox itself. Do this for 2 minutes either side.
- For better breathing — supported reclined cobbler’s pose: A heartopening yoga asana which also helps to stretch the diaphragm allowing for increased lung expansion and therefore increased oxygen uptake. Try this for 2-3 minutes.
- For improved blood flow — legs up the wall pose: Known for its grounding effects, this asana also encourages blood flow to the major organs within the pelvis and lower abdomen, helping them function more effectively. Stay here for 3-5 minutes.
- For complete relaxation — supported corpse pose: Support the body with props, so the body feels safe enough to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing for deep rest. Remain here for 5-10 minutes.
Sally Parkes is founder of women’s wellbeing platform sallyparkesyogaclub.com