Stress is a part of life, and there is no escaping its effects. Even positive life changes, like marriage, babies, new jobs and houses create stress in our lives. In ancient times, stress was shorter lived. The "fight or flight" response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) was designed to help us flee from danger. When faced with a real or perceived threat, the body produces adrenaline and cortisol to increase heart rate, blood pressure, mental alertness and muscle tension in order to deal with the threat. At the same time, the body shuts down digestion, elimination, growth, repair, and reproduction systems until the threat has passed.
The human body has not changed much over the years. The sympathetic nervous system treats current day stressors the same as running from a sabor toothed tiger; however, the stressors we experience in our fast-paced, information-based society are more long term and ongoing. Whereas our ancestors' stressors were resolved after the threat of danger passed, now the constant barrage of stressors creates a state of chronic stress, and our adrenals are overworked and shutting down as a result. Consequently, the "rest and digest" process is disturbed, we lack the ability to benefit from nutrition and sleep, and the body's natural healing processes are disrupted.
Restorative yoga provides deep rest and relaxation to combat the effects of stress and help restore our body's optimal functioning and its natural ability to heal. Placing the body in nurturing physical postures which require no effort allows the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to take over and bring on the "relaxation response", defined by Herbert Benson, M.D., as "a physiological state characterized by a slower heart rate, metabolism, rate of breathing, lower blood pressure, and slower brain wave patterns." This relaxation response allows the SNS to take a break, and lets the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) take over so the body can "rest and digest". The PNS calms and restores the body by lowering breathing rates, heart rates, and blood pressure, and increasing blood flow to internal organs.
In Relax and Renew, Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, Judith Lasater, Ph.D., calls restorative yoga "active relaxation." Comfortable positions are held with the use of props, allowing the body to rest deeply. A sense of being cradled and nurtured, and a feeling of receptivity is encouraged. Attention is gently focused on the breath, helping to quiet the brain as well.
Restorative yoga is recommended during stressful periods (even good stress, like holidays and vacations) and when the body is fatigued, ill, or recovering from illness or injury. Taking time to nurture ourselves with restorative yoga can help combat the negative effects of stress on our body and minds.
Nurture Yoga (nurture-yoga.com) is offering several restorative yoga workshops during the holidays and throughout the year. Each workshop is comprised of two hours of restful poses that will leave you feeling more calm and ready to handle the stresses of everyday life. Come find a peaceful place in a stressful world. Let us nurture you.