Long before recorded time, when our ancestors were created....or evolved..... depending on your preference.....they were hard-wired for survival...which is ultimately the reason why you and I are here today. Clearly, it was a big issue just to stay alive...sabre-toothed tigers and all. Our predecessors were issued a set of physiological and psychological responses to situations where they were threatened. This system is called the Stress Response. Today, there are not many prehistoric animals roaming about, but we are left with this process as part of our legacy. To simplify, when frightening situations are perceived,whether real or imagined, our thoughts are relayed throughout the physical body by way of specific hormones which act on the Autonomic Nervous System. As its name implies, the ANS is an automatic system that controls the heart, lungs, stomach, blood vessels and glands. Due to its action we do not need to make any conscious effort to regulate our breathing or heartbeat. Somehow, the Universe continues to breathe us, our stomachs digest the food that we take in, the intestines release what we don't need, and the cells of our body continue to communicate with each other in an amazingly complex fashion...without our having to give any of this even one thought. Truly, a miracle upon miracle.
The ANS differentiates into different systems: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and theParasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). When all is well, the PNS conserves energy levels. It increases bodily secretions such as tears, gastric acids, mucus and saliva which help to balance bodily systems ofthe body. It essentially aids relaxation and a feeling of calm and harmony.
The SNS, however, prepares the body for action. In a stressful situation, it quickly does the following: Increases heart rate (palpitations/heart racing/irregularities in heart beat) Increases sugar and fat levels(diabetes/weight gain) Reduces intestinal movement (constipation and/or diarrhea) Inhibits tears, digestive secretions (difficulty digesting food, heartburn) Relaxes the bladder (difficulty in retaining urine) Dilates pupils (dry eyes, twitching, blinking, eye-rolling) Increases perspiration (sweat a lot!/hot flashes) Increases mental activity (to a point where ability to focus is hampered dramatically) Constricts most blood vessels but dilates those in heart/leg/arm muscles (vital organs deprived of valuable blood supply resultingin decrease in function)
The bracketed bits above become a reality when chronic stress is present.
In short, when the Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, we initially feel alert and responsive.....But,the deal is that the SNS is programmed to be active for only a few moments at a time. If periods of time -day/weeks/years of chronic SNS occur, disastrous results follow.
Many in today's society perceive every day of their life as being stressful. They live in chronic states of anxiety. Increasing work loads (or no work), the speed of our lives, and financial concerns are with everyone of us. Although we have most everything that we will ever need, we feel dissatisfied, disillusioned and defeated. Never before has life been so fast and so furious. According to current research, the prevalence of anxiety disorders is greater than previously thought to be the case. Many of these individuals fail to obtain professional treatment and choose (or rather, do not choose) to do nothing about it. These results argue for the importance of more out reach and more research on barriers to professional help-seeking. Anxiety, although as common as depression, has received less attention and is often undetected and undertreated. Unfortunately, the prolonged effect of the elevated stress is that the body's immune system is lowered and blood pressure is raised which may lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more. There are many, many symptoms of chronic stress.
Do you find yourself or your family with symptoms of tiredness, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, restlessness, aggressive behaviour, tics and tremors, alcohol/drug abuse, depression, anger, heartpalpitations, nausea, feelings of helplessness and isolation?
Stress is the #1 reason for visits to the family doctor....and the long-lasting, medicine cannot be found in a bottle of pills. Change is in order...and knowing this, for most intelligent individuals are fully aware of the reasons behind their stress loads, the thought of change creates even more stress! Better the devil we know, than the one we don't...that's how the saying goes, isn't it?
Fortuitously, we have already within us, the tools that we need to bring about calming and healing. These tools have always been there, and they always will be. The first thing that we did when we came into this life was to take a breath, and we will exit this life with our last breath. In between, there are many breaths of course....and it is these seemingly innocuous breaths that are the key to calm. Breath is, for the most part, unconscious.....we don't need to think about it. But, and this is a big BUT, when we bring our minds to attending to the breath, magical change begins within the body mind. Yoga offers many varying breath techniques that are most effective in reducing and eliminating elevated levels of stress.
Try this: Set aside 5 minutes where you will be uninterrupted. Sit quietly, with a straight spine. It's fine to sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Be at ease in your body. Close your eyes.
Mentally scan through your body for obvious areas where stress might be hiding. Make a mental note of these areas, and then let this list go. See yourself releasing this list of stress-ridden areas like you would a helium- filled balloon.
Bring your mind to your breath now. And without changing anything at all about your breath, let your breath be your breath. Notice the short breaths, the longer breaths, the pauses between the breaths. Just let it be. Take some time to do this.
Now, when you are ready, notice the feeling of your breath as it comes in through both nostrils. What does this feel like? What is the sensation in your nostrils as you breathe in? As you breathe out? What is it that you breathe? Where does it come from? Where does it go when you let the breath out? Take some time to consider all this. Try not to change anything about the breath. Let it alone. Let everything just BE.
Now, when you are ready, even out the breath. Have both nostrils be taking in and letting out the same volume of breath. Have the length of time of the inhales and the exhales be the same. Let the breath be continuous without pausing between the in and the out breaths.
Notice now what happens to the breath. The breath takes on a life of its own .... It slows....and lengthens....and calms. Practice watching your breath for a minute or two...or longer. Then, when you are ready, quietly open your eyes and let the light in. Sit quietly for a few more minutes. Notice how you feel.