by Laura M. Turner, M.S., CHHP
Let's face it, stress is everywhere. It lurks in every corner and around every bend, just waiting to "get" us. And study after study concludes that although some stress can be productive, prolonged stress can lead to chronic illness.
Yet, stress can only "get us" if we let it. If we can agree that the mind and body are interconnected, than I believe you can actually decide to manage stress, take control of it and instantly over-come the negative influences brought to you by your environment.
Now, stay with me for the "clinical" stuff. Scientific evidence supports that the stress of the body comes from the nervous system's "fight or flight response." If you haven't heard this term before, it's when the body suspects trauma and instantly shifts into "survival mode" based on the stimulus of an oncoming stress factor. This "survival mode" response, does terrible things to the body including increasing heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, muscle tension. These are the bad boys that can lead to harmful changes over time.
Now for the good news: you can teach your body not to make the shift into survival mode. Do this by retraining your body to create its own relaxation response. How? Begin by incorporating these three proven relaxation rescue techniques into your own life:
Meditation provides an escape from stress as it refocuses the mind on something else - most often the breath. The benefits of meditation counteract the negative stress-responses by creating a mode of deep inner peace and physical health. It does this by slowing the heart rate and lowering the blood pressure. It also includes many other benefits including those of anti-aging.
As I've so often told readers: there really is no one right way to meditate. For our purposes however, I will give you a meditative grounding exercise that can help you on your way.
Grounding Exercise: Sit with your legs crossed in a comfortable Indian style position with your hands relaxed on your lap. If you like you can also sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and posture tall. Close your eyes and imagine a beam of light dropping from the base of your spine through the earth, connecting you to its center. Allow this beam of light to expand in width until it is wider than your own body and envelopes it. This is your personal space.
This exercise places you totally in you body and reminds you that you are anchored to the earth. Remember, the more grounded you are the more aware you are. During your 10-20 minute meditation session, aim to sense the presence of your higher self.
Practicing to breathe through your nose and breathing from the diaphragm can also help your body relax and de-stress. In the same way that meditation calms the body, mindful deep breathing from the diaphragm can elicit a relaxation response that can calm the body and help you refocus in times of perceived stress. It will also work to counteract the negative effects of the dangerous flight or flight response.
Here's an exercise in deep breathing you can work on daily to help train your body for relaxation. This exercise will help you better utilize the diaphragm and help you retrain your body to intake oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide more effectively:
First take in three maximum breaths inhaling from the nose and exhaling from the nose.
Next as you take in your next three maximum breaths, focus on contracting your stomach muscles and increase the size of breath with each inspiration. Focus on feeling the expansion of your diaphragm as you exhale and deflation as you exhale.
Walking is an exercise that can put you into a relaxation state almost immediately. I walk for fitness and have walked my way to weight loss (more on this later), but I believe the best quality of walking is that it creates a sense of balance and flow with the body. It has also been scientifically linked to cardiovascular endurance, as well as noted for its ability to counteract many of the damaging fight or flight responses we have mentioned above. For myself, I've invested in a walking pedometer and have made every effort to stay close to 10,000 steps each day.
To de-stress, try to find 1/2 hour each day to walk. Your body will thank you for it.
When we become stressed and need a relaxation rescue, this is most often the time when the least opportunity for a full relaxation overhaul exists. Yet, if we spend time nurturing our relaxation response using the exercises above, we can draw from the relaxation experience.
Therefore, by practicing the three aforementioned exercises in your daily life, you can learn to draw from the relaxation response when you feel the threat of oncoming stress. For example, when you feel stress coming at you, take a deep relaxing breath, close your eyes and draw from the calming energy of your meditative space or take a quick walk to bring your body back into balance.
I think you will find, the more you practice these relaxation techniques each day, the more often your body will involuntarily shift from fight or flight mode directly into that of relaxation rescue!
Laura M. Turner is a health journalist, author and net-preneur. She hosts Beauty & Body Online - Your Home For Natural Health, Wellness & Creative Abundance
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