Friday, March 29, 2013

A Perspective on Stress and Tension

We all live with varying degrees of stress and tension.  Reducing stress is useful, if we are finding there is an over abundance of stress in our life.  Eliminating it completely however is futile and likely not what any of us want!  We choose stress all the time.  It is involved in many different areas of our life and often, the payoff feels worth the exertion because tension keeps us alive, it keeps us walking the tightrope, it is an essential part of the dance! Our world is one of yin and yang, night and day, darkness and light, earth and sky, joy and sadness and a world of stress and rest.  Stress itself is neither good nor bad but rather a reality of our existence which will affect us differently based on its quality and quantity.

What are the elements in my life which are causing stress?

From the perspective of our nervous system, any sort of stimulation counts as a form of stress.  Examples of this can range from a tiger attack, the sound of a car horn, a surprise poke from a friend, a bright flash of light and yes, of course, a vigorous yoga practice. So, contrary to what we might think on the surface, yoga really is not always a relaxing stress eliminating practice.

I'm not advocating for a blanket acceptance of all the stress that is present in our lives.  Our current western urban lifestyle often includes a great deal of extraneous and unnecessary stress.  Much of the constant stresses we experience become unconscious or less noticeable.  The same way we cease to hear the low-level hum of a refrigerator, we may also get used to a certain way of holding our body, of dealing with a challenging friend or colleague, of living on too little sleep, etc.  We don't notice anymore the tension which gets added to our life when we spend time in traffic or in crowded uncomfortable spaces.  We get used to all this holding and gripping which can create chronic patterns of stress and tension.  This in no way is a good thing.

What of the stress I experience is important, healthy and useful?

An over adbundance of stress will, in the long run tax our bodies and is at the source of most disease.  There are some signs that we're experiencing too much stress.  An inability to cope with even a small stressor may be one.  Feeling sick or tired all the time may be another. If we find ourself having seemingly uncontrollable cravings or moving towards an addictive behavior, it may also be a sign that some assessment of our stress levels are in order.

This process of identifying stressors is really important.  Not only can we start to identify stressors that we are willing to let go of, but we may also begin to notice where we choose unhealthy stress out of habit or out of fear for what we don't know.  This is where the unraveling process may get a bit more complicated or tricky... what is the fear that is driving us towards more and more stress in our life?  

How can I become more aware of the stress I carry and get better at dealing with it?

Enter, a balanced approach to yoga! A balanced practice includes at least two elements in varying degrees depending on what we need, what time of the day it is, how old, young, fit, relaxed, stressed we are.

Positive and healthy stress
We practice stressing and taxing the body with demanding physical postures and sequences in order to practice the ability to respond to stress in an efficient way.  If the body is healthy, a vigorous practice should feel hard without wiping you out completely.  If much of our time is spent being sedentary, this positive form of stress can not only help to keep us healthy and limber but it can be a way to move stagnation and to learn some great techniques and tools to help us deal with stress in a healthier way.

Learning to rest
Sometimes enough is enough and we just need to rest!  Our yoga practice can do this also.  Often the most challenging part of restorative and passive forms of yoga is giving ourselves permission to switch gears.  We practice deep rest.  Taking away all or as many of the stressors as possible, we take time to rest deeply and get the body habituated and sensitive to all the conscious and unconscious forms and patterns of stress that we hold in our body.

Recognizing what we need or practice to be is key! If stress has taken over, we may tend to want to keep pushing in that direction with more fire, movement and tension.  Can we instead allow for space, quiet and stillness?  I don't know about you but I want it all!  I want to experience all the subtleties of what a diverse approach to my practice can bring.  I would never choose to eat only one food for the rest of my life...why on earth would I choose only to move through my practice in the same way all the time?

Spending some time evaluating how much and what kind of stress is present in our life is almost always a useful way to spend some time.  Sometimes we need to experience the extremes to learn what feels balanced, normal, healthy.  So start the conversation with yourself. Ask some questions and most importantly, stay open to where some of the answers may lead you.

No comments:

Post a Comment