by Morgan Webert
In the past week my meditation teacher dropped a number of lovely gems into my bag of memorable quotes, a number of which all relate and brought some simplicity and clarity to my understanding of stress.
First he said, “Stress is when a demand for change or adaptation is put upon us and we don’t have the energy to meet that demand for change or adaptation.”
In other words, we get stressed out when our energy levels are low because we just don’t have it in us to deal with the demands being asked of us. When we have sufficient energy the same demands very easily could be fun and exciting, or at least not stressful.
He then went to define, “Suffering is when we put energy into resisting a change that needs to be made.”
I’m beginning to see a cycle!
Putting our energy into resisting a change that needs to be made depletes our energy reserves, and less energy means that demand for change becomes even more stressful, leading to more resistance and more suffering.
So how do we get out of this cycle? If the change can’t be avoided then the only thing to do is put more energy into the system.
We do this intuitively, but sometimes not always sustainably. We grab a cup of coffee or afternoon sweet treat to get an energy hit to deal with the demands of the day (and when I say we I mean it, I’m no stranger to this habit). But, the sugar and caffeine buzz wears off quickly, often leading to poor sleep and is physiologically taxing on the body, ultimately depleting our energy reserves more and creating more stress.
And this my friends is where yoga comes in! Yoga is all about capitalizing on our natural energy, our Prana. In fact, most mind body breath practices do. This is why we feel less stressed after a beautiful yoga session or meditation, it fills up our cup of internal energy in a natural, sustainable way. Have you ever felt stressed about something, gone to a yoga class, and afterwards thought, “What was I worrying about, I know exactly what to do now.”
So how does yoga refill our energy reserves?
1. Deep Breathing.
The name for breathing practices in yoga is pranayama. Prana refers to life force energy and is synonymous with breath. Yoga teaches us to open our breath channels and in doing so oxygenate our brain and body and draw in lifeforce. When we breath deeply throughout the day we think clearly and feel alert. When our breath is restricted so is our energy. Try this practice, it will only take one minute, no excuses not to do it! Close your eyes, take 30 very deep breaths (Billows Breaths, or Bastrika in Sankrit) and then sit with your eyes closed for the following 30 seconds and feel the effects of oxygenating your system. Better than a shot of espresso. Try it now! Do it often!
2. Conscious Relaxation and Meditation.
Many studies have shown that mediation and conscious relaxation can be more restorative to our body than sleep. If we watch a child or partner fall asleep we’ll notice their breath become very soft, the body very still and heart rate really low, but then when they fully fall asleep the breath rate increases, the body twitches slightly and the heart rate lifts again. This is an evolutionary defense mechanism. When the mind checks out to the unconscious state of sleep the body metabolism increases so that we can physically respond quickly to any potential danger. When we practice conscious relaxation and meditation the mind is alert to any potential dangers so the body is sent signals that it’s safe to deeply relax and release. This is also why energy work like Reiki or a massage can be so rejuvenating.
3. Movement and Rest Pulsation.
While an hour of meditation and conscious relaxation can be more restorative than an hour of sleep, nothing fills the cup of energy like a proper nights sleep. But, so many people in our culture struggle with sleeping, deprive themselves of it or simply don’t get quality sleep. New parents aside, this often has to do with either having too many stimulants in the system (as mentioned above) or having too much physical stagnation. Good exercise and good movement leads to good sound rest, whereas stagnation in the system and sitting all day leaves us physiologically restless.
4. Eating energy filled foods.
Finally, we all know we are what we eat, and yogi’s focus on eating sattvic foods. That means fresh, wholesome, nourishing foods that will make us feel light, energetic and clean. Anything that is too heavy requires a lot of energy to digest and therefor depletes the system even more. Anything too stimulating and spice can cause us to burn up our energy reserves faster than we can refill them. Sattvic food keeps us balances and full of energy.
Share with us how you bring these yogi practices into your daily life to refill your energy cup?