Yoga and Stress

Eighty percent of doctor visits are for stress-related problems. Seriously, I think we can all agree that statistic is staggering and scary! So many of us live in a constant state of stress. This week Dr. Catherine Spann lectured on self-regulation.  Spann explained that self-regulation includes skills like focusing and maintaining attention on a particular object, regulating emotions, reflecting on experiences, and engaging in positive social interactions. It also involves regulating our stress. The bad news is that self-regulation is one of the first things to go when we are stressed. Stress hijacks the brain and puts us in a state of imbalance. Without self-regulation, we have little control over our actions and responses to stressors (which basically turns into a vicious cycle).

But what does all this have to do with yoga? 

Yoga and meditation heighten our awareness of body sensations and feelings. Once we realize something is out of balance (shortened breath cycles, tension throughout body, increased heart rate, etc.), we can use breathing techniques to calm the nervous system. Calming the nervous system is our first line of defense to helps us switch from the sympathetic (“fight or flight” emergency response) to the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxed, calm, energy conserving state). Yoga and meditation are mindfulness exercises that help us practice paying attention to what is going on in our body and mind while strengthening our self-regulating abilities.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to suggest a gratitude practice which will help with this process of calming the body and managing stress better. Simply take a minute or two to sit in a quiet place and recall the blessings in your life. I find this especially helpful when I am feeling stressed or frustrated. Focusing on the positive can really put our problems in perspective. A few quotes I’ve read this week on gratitude:

“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” -Eric Hoffer

“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.” -Frank A. Clark

“If you want to change your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.” – Gerald Good

“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you’?” -William Arther Ward



Mindful Eating During the Holidays // part 1

Now that Halloween has passed, the holiday season charges full speed ahead. While some embrace this time with the utmost enthusiasm, others find it synonymous with stress (guilty!).  Increased stress and unraveling of healthy habits are two of the less glamorous products of the holidays. One of the difficulties this time of year is eating mindfully. Mindful eating involves tuning in to understand what our body is truly craving and how to nourish it. I try to follow the guidelines below year around but they are especially helpful in promoting well-being in times of higher stress as they strengthen the mind-body connection.

  1. Before reaching for the party hors d’oeuvres or a platter of cookies, I ask myself “What am I really craving?” Am I experiencing hunger? Or, am I looking for a way to self-soothe or alleviate stress? Do I need connection with others or, conversely, alone time? If tuning in to the mind-body connection is a new experience, answering these questions may not necessarily be easy. Try drinking a glass of water and possibly engage in another form of self-care (i.e. take a walk, give a heartfelt hug, engage in face to face conversation with a friend, read a book, meditate, and so on). Full disclosure: sometimes we just really want the _____ (cookie, pumpkin pie, latte…) and that is okay. Move on to step 2.
  2. Before sitting down for a meal, I make sure I am actually sitting down. Besides meaningful face to face conversation, no multitasking allowed! Turn off the television, put away the computer, and silence your phone. In our fast-paced culture, it is entirely too easy to down a plate of food with the only awareness being an empty plate. We miss out on the eating experience; without savoring each bite, we may eat past our hunger cues and finish a meal feeling dissatisfied rather than nourished.
  3. Take 3 deep breaths before eating. This helps us slow down. In our family, we begin meals with a prayer of gratitude, thanking God for his provisions. Both of these practices helps us become more present and aware.
  4. As we eat (yes, I’m finally to the actual eating part!), try to chew several times. Chewing each bite twenty times is a nice goal but not always realistic. Just do your best here. To facilitate this better, I set my fork down between every single bite. Possibly take a sip of water between bites. Small sips of room temperature or hot water can aid in digestion. If eating alone, savor each bite. Involve the senses: notice the visual appeal, the smell, the warmth of the plate, the flavors, and the textures. If eating with others, engage fully. Stop eating when you are around 75% full. mindful eating.jpg