Stress's Negative Impact on Health
It is well documented that stress increases your risk of depression, heart disease, and infectious diseases, and increases inflammation throughout the body. When we're stressed, we're also less likely to eat right, get enough sleep, or stick with our exercise routines. The way you respond to stressful situations can have a major impact on your health, so finding ways to counteract its effects is critical to your overall well-being.
Restorative yoga, meditation, and deep breathing are three techniques which stimulate the relaxation response and promote relaxation and stress reduction.
"I have been practicing yoga for almost twenty five years and have seen a profound change in how I feel, not only physically but emotionally and psychologically too. But more impressive are the hundreds of patients I've seen over the years who have used yoga as a way to better health." — Dr. Frank Lipman
Restorative yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, a universally recognized expert on yoga, author of the classic book, "Light on Yoga" and one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people of our time.
By adapting classic yoga postures and using "props" to help support the body, restorative yoga maintains the correct position without straining. You get the benefits of the poses, but without any energy loss because you are being actively supported by props and aren't losing energy while straining to hold the pose.
It's particularly helpful when you feel rundown, burned out, stressed or just plain tired. Restorative yoga is a powerful tool that supports the healing process during and after an illness or injury because during these times, energy must be conserved for the body to restore itself.
Everyone can benefit from these remarkable exercises ...these are some of our favorites:
In this video, I demonstrate an easy-to-do restorative yoga poses that helps to elevate your mood and energize you when you are tired. When we support the back in this way and open the chest, we tend to feel more emotionally buoyant and physically energized.
- Roll up one blanket into a long, tight Tootsie Roll shape (like the one in the photograph under the model's chest).
- Take a second blanket and fold it in half (like the one under the model's head).
- Adjust the rolled blanket's position so that when you lie back, it comes to rest in the center of the upper back, just under the shoulder blades.
- Then lie back so that your head rests comfortably on the second folded blanket. Your head and neck should feel easy.
- Your throat should be relaxed and not overstretched or closed.
- Open and lift your chest.
- Stay in the pose, relaxing for 5 to 10 minutes.
After about five minutes, this pose has a strong, beneficial, effect calming the breathing and soothing the emotional center of the chest. It releases stress and the frustrations of the day.
It can be practiced before going to bed – it’s also good after meals if indigestion is a problem since it relaxes the abdominal organs.
A yoga bolster comes in handy because it makes the set up much easier, but if you don’t have a bolster, you can also use a sofa cushion or neatly folded blankets for the set up.
- Sit down on the floor with your bolster and blanket near by.
- Place the bolster behind you so that it is snuggled up against your sacrum and butt flesh.
- Take an easy cross-legged position. Don’t fold the legs too tightly.
- Notice in the photograph how the blankets are used to support the head.
- Grab your yoga blanket, fold it in half and then in thirds so that when you lie back, your head is higher than your heart and your chin is parallel to the floor – not tipping up to the ceiling or down toward your chest.
- If the blanket feels too bulky, take a fold out until you find a way for your head to feel easy with the head above the heart and the heart above your groins. As you see in the picture, there should be a natural slope from your forehead down to your feet.
- When going into the pose, allow the lower back to relax over the bolster. Let your face and throat relax as you completely rest onto the support of the bolster. Any stiffness usually fades after a minute or two. Do not resist the pose – completely release into the position.
- When you finally find the right position, you will feel an inner “aahh.” Stay with this, watching your breath move in and out of your body. Not forcing or controlling it. Just noticing that you are breathing in. Noticing that you are breathing out.
- Occasionally, extend the length of your exhalation and allow yourself to be more supported by the bolster.
- Stay in the pose for 10 minutes, relaxed with your eyes closed.
If you have tight hips and need to support your knees so that the cross legged position is not pulling on your groins, then put a cushion under each thigh.
Don’t worry if it takes you a while to get used to setting up your props for the pose. It becomes easier and easier the more you do it
Another of my all time favorites is especially restful and rejuvenating. If I had to choose any one restorative yoga pose to recommend, this would be the one. It takes a bit of setting up, but anyone who has practiced this pose correctly for ten minutes will tell you that there is nothing like it. It is my 'go to pose' when my body is tired and my mind is racing. There is something about this pose that facilitates a deep relaxation.
If you have practiced the previous exercise,modified Supta Baddha Konasana, a couple of times, this will come easily. This pose is excellent for combatting stress and exhaustion and the best pose to do for menstrual discomfort and indigestion.
- A yoga bolster or large, thick sofa cushion.
- Three pillows, (or rolled blankets) one to support your head, the other two to support your thighs
- A belt (or two joined together) long enough to reach around your waist and feet, while in the position.
To do the pose
Study the photographs to see how the belt supports the legs.
It loops around the back of your hips – not your waist – it sits low across the sacrum and then in between your knees and then around the outer edges of your feet.
Set up the belt around your feet in this way and have your legs supported before you lean back centrally onto the bolster.
When going into the pose, allow the lower back to relax over the bolster. Let your face and throat relax as you completely rest onto the support of the bolster. Any stiffness usually fades after a minute or two. Do not resist the pose – completely release into the position.
Make sure that a folded blanket or pillow supports your head properly as in the photographs.
Make sure that there is no strain on your hips and knees and that your legs are fully supported. If your hips are tight and you need to support your knees so that the cross legged position is not pulling on your groins, then put a cushion or blanket under each thigh.
The soles of your feet are pressed together and the belt can be tightened to pull the heels closer to your groins.
When you finally find the right position, you will feel an inner “aahh.” Stay with this, watching your breath move in and out of your body. Not forcing or controlling it. Just noticing that you are breathing in. Noticing that you are breathing out.
Occasionally, extend the length of your exhalation and allow yourself to be more supported by the bolster.
Stay in the pose for 10 minutes, relaxed with your eyes closed.
Then come up, undo the belt and stretch out your legs.
Meditation is one of the most beneficial practices one can engage in, and it is indisputably worth the effort and time. With a wonderfully calming effect on the body and mind, meditation encourages the release of mood-boosting endorphins into the bloodstream, which in turn increases feelings of well-being. Those biochemically induced good feelings spill over into other areas of your emotional life, helping make regular meditators calmer, more empathetic, slower to anger, and less likely to sweat the small stuff. According to the Journal of Neuroscience, meditation also delivers powerful pain-relieving chemicals to the brain — making the practice a DIY pain-buster.
- Check out our blog posts, read a book, take a class, or visit one of the many websites dedicated to meditation.
- Download a guided meditation app such as Headspace, Buddhify or Calm.
- Start by focusing your attention on the inhale and exhale of your breath, while sitting or lying in a comfortable position. Close your eyes if it helps you to focus on the sensation of the air in your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest.
- Try counting your breaths to help hold your concentration, increase your oxygen intake and relax your body: inhale deeply for 3 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds, and then exhale slowly for 4 seconds.
- Be patient and don't worry about getting it "wrong". In our busy overstimulated lives, simply spending 10 to 20 minutes sitting still and paying attention to your breath is tremendously beneficial.
One of the most common questions I get asked in my practice is: How can I stay calm and centered with everything going on?
The short answer is by bringing awareness to the breath. Becoming aware of the breath or learning to breath consciously seems to be consistently helpful with myself and almost all my patients. Standing back and becoming more aware of the quality of our breathing brings us into the present moment - and helps us not get swept away by our thoughts and feelings. This helps to calm the body and mind. Mindful breathing helps to relieve tension and restore energy. It's the perfect antidote to stress.
Most of us take our breath for granted, usually breathing 12-16 times every minute without being aware of it. The only two times we usually start noticing it are when something happens to prevent us from breathing normally or when we start meditating or being mindful.
Notice how the rhythm of your breathing varies continuously. When we are upset, anxious or exercising our breathing speeds up, and when we are relaxed or sleeping, it slows down. To get a sense of this, try this now: Breathe shallowly and see how you feel Ð then breath deeply and feel the difference. Breathing consciously is easy and convenient. It can be learned and practiced easily.
Use the coming and going of your breath to reflect on the coming and going of the events in your life, on letting go and going with the flow. Nothing stays constant. Everything is changing. It is not possible to control everything and be perfect.
- Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed.
- Get into a relaxed position whether lying down (better) or sitting up.
- Put your hands on your abdomen
- Close your mouth gently and touch your tongue to your upper palate and breath through your nose. If your nose is blocked for any particular reason it is fine to breath through your mouth.
- Inhale deeply and slowly, being aware of your diaphragm moving downward and your abdomen expanding. Your hands on your abdomen will feel the expansion like a balloon filling.
- At the end of the inhalation, don’t hold the breath – let your abdomen fall automatically as you exhale.
- Try get all the breath out of your lungs on the expiration. The expiration should normally be about twice as long as the inhalation when you are relaxed.
- Keep repeating this, keeping your focus on your hands rising on the abdomen with inhalation and falling with expiration.
- Find a comfortable position.
- Do 10 abdominal breaths.
- Then with your next inhalation, think of a tense area of your body eg a tight neck or lower back, your head or your buttocks – wherever you may feel pain or tension - and breath into it by imagining your breath expanding into and nourishing that area.
- Then, with the exhalation, release the tension from that area, by purposefully, intentionally, letting it go – out your nose – with the air.
- Keep repeating this until the pain or tension starts to ease.