Everyone seems stressed out these days. Stress can contribute to an increase in cortisol levels (stress hormone) impacting heart disease, blood pressure, blood sugar and stress can be detrimental to your health.
In this month’s issue of The Oprah Magazine, Dr. Mehmet Oz reports a new study shows the impact stress can have on your brain. He says “Researchers tracked women for nearly 40 years and found that those who experienced a greater number of stressors (work problems, divorce, family illness) in middle age were more likely to develop dementia later in life. Chronic stress may trigger the production of inflammatory compounds and damage areas of the brain.”
Ooh, ooh, ooh, stress is not fun.
In honor of February American Heart Month, I interviewed my yoga teacher Nancy Davis, E-RYT (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance) to find out about her secret to stress relief. When I started practicing yoga, Nancy’s classes were the first yoga classes I attended. I found and continue to find my yoga practice to be helpful in relaxing my mind and my body.
Here’s what Nancy had to say:
J: How does stress manifest?
N: How often have you found yourself losing your temper at the most inane things? Or do you ever get so frustrated that you just want to cry or instead reach for a bag of pretzels or chips or cookies? Yep, admit it.
Many issues cause stress in our daily lives. It can be intense traffic during a normally simple drive to work that multiplies into intense stress. Because of the traffic jam you are late for work or late for an appointment, skip lunch or stay late at work or both. Now you are tired, disappointed since you originally planned to go to the gym or maybe a yoga class and now you end up missing it.
On the weekend or evening there are so many household chores to attend to — grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, and other activities. Or, maybe you are dealing with aging parents and their health issues. Whatever your situation, the stress begins to build up.
J: Is stress more emotional or physical?
N: Stress is an emotional situation that can manifest into a physical state. Think about the last time you were angry. Did your body react too — hands clench, eyes narrow, stomach churn, or head hurt? Anger is an emotion but the reactions are physical. The body tightens, the blood doesn’t flow as freely as when you are calm, and the physical body systems (nervous, circulatory, etc) take over.
J: There are many retirees in your yoga classes. Do you find that retirees are less stressed?
N: I often hear people say, “When I retire, I will be stress free.” After spending time with retirees, I can tell you that people who are retired from their full time jobs face their own stresses, including those impacted by physical and mental aging, financial pressures, and sometimes loneliness.
J: As a yogi, what do you recommend people do to better deal with stress?
N: The answer is generations old: breathe….just breathe.
If you can take time to stop, breathe and just be present in each moment, these small actions will help you remain calm. Breathing deeply and slowly is the key to tranquility and relaxation. It doesn’t mean you need to sit in lotus pose with your legs crossed and our eyes closed for hours. It means finding time to let go of the issues in your life that you tend to obsess over and over in your mind. Most of the time these are issues you cannot control. Which is just about everything!
J: Any final words of wisdom?
N: Let go of the need to always manage everything perfectly. Just breathe into the blessings of your life. Stress relief is within us all — just breathe.
You can find more wellness tips from Nancy along with copies of her yoga book and DVD for purchase on her website at neverstopmovingyoga.com.