In this modern, fast paced world, most of us are living a very yang lifestyle. We are constantly busy, rushing around trying to get things done with endless to-do lists and no time to pause and rest. We live in a speed addicted culture where we want everything to be done as quickly as possible and where working at a fast pace is rewarded and praised.
This yang type of activity creates a high level of stress on our bodies. To a certain extent, stress can be good for us. It motivates us and pushes us into action enabling us to get things done. However, if we put our body under constant stress eventually it will not be able to continue working at this speed, and this results in exhaustion, burn out and even illness. Most of us can probably think of someone we know who has lived a very fast and busy life (maybe a boss or a friend in a high-profile job) who has eventually become ill and been forced to slow down and take time off. This is our body’s way of telling us we are doing too much and putting too much stress on our body.
On the other hand, if we had no stress in our lives and lived a solely ‘yin’ lifestyle we would also be imbalanced. Without some yang activity we begin to stagnate. Think of someone who has been hospitalised for a long time, unable to walk or move around. Their body literally starts to seize up and become stiff from the lack of activity.
This is why finding a balance between yin and yang activity is important and as our life’s are predominately yang we need to consciously bring more yin into our day. By doing this we can prevent exhaustion and illness as well as create a sense of calm and centering. When we pause to slow down and just be, we start to enjoy life more and worry less. Do you feel that you spend each day rushing around more and more but you never actually accomplish anything extra? Instead, you just feel more stressed and tired and take it out on those around you. Well, by taking time in our day to pause and rest we can experience many immediate benefits:
We think more clearly and can see things with ‘fresh eyes’
If we are feeling stressed from a particular situation, maybe about solving a problem or completing an assignment, our natural response is to work faster and stay up later to get more done but usually this just results in feeling more confused. If instead, we took as little as 5 minutes to just sit with our breath with no distractions, just watching and lengthening the breath, this could be enough to help us see things with more clarity.
We find more energy
A short meditation or a few restorative yoga poses can help us to recharge our energy and find motivation to continue with our day without the stress we were carrying before.
We prevent/cure tension headaches
When our bodies are under constant stress our muscles become tense and are unable to relax. This can lead to those very common tension headaches we get when we are under pressure. Slow breathing sends a message to our brain that we are safe and not in danger which then signals to our muscles to relax. This process switches us from the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘fight or flight’ mode to the parasympathetic nervous system, the ‘rest and digest’ mode.
We lower our heart rate and blood pressure
When we switch from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system our bodies secrete hormones to decrease our blood pressure and heart rate, inducing a relaxation response, Breathing deeply and mindfully helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger this response.
So what can we do to help us slow down and de-stress?
Meditating for as little as 5 minutes can be enough to help us feel more calm and relaxed and there are many different types of meditations. Using a meditation app can be a good way to start and build your practice. My favourite app is ‘Insight Timer’ which allows you to choose how long you want to meditate for and offers many different types of meditations for whatever your need.
Yin yoga involves holding yoga postures from 3 to 20 minutes each. This slow, meditative practice focuses on breathing and meditation and helps us switch over to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode). Attending a yin yoga or a flow & restore class once a week is a great way to bring you back into balance.
The 6:6 breathing is a breathing technique where you inhale for the count of 6 and exhale for the count of 6. Five minutes of this breathing has been proven to be enough to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system triggering the relaxation response.
Mindfulness is about doing one thing at a time and focusing on the task at hand. So regularly, we are doing one thing whilst thinking about something else and never give our full attention to anything. This lack of concentration means we are not actually in the present moment which can result in making mistakes or missing vital or useful information. We can practice being in the moment with small everyday tasks such as brushing our teeth, washing up or making a cup of tea. Choose one or two of your small daily activities and make a conscious effort to only think about this task at hand, paying attention to the details of what you are doing without letting you mind wander onto the next thing. The key is to develop a habit of mindfulness. It has been proven that 21 days is the length of time required to form a new habit, so challenge yourself to practice mindfulness for the next 21 days and see how your focus and concentration improves.
Gemma teaches at Unity on Wednesdays; a Flow and Restore class from 12.30 – 1.30pm and Uplifting Flow from 5.15pm – 6.15pm. For full details visit the Teachers’ page here