Friday I actually had to really be aware of my stress response. I’m fine, but something happened where I had to notice how stress was affecting my body. Since I was able to recognize my response to the stress, I was able to manage it. Because I managed it, I was able to think clearly and act.
Has that ever happened to you? Ever get nervous or anxious because of a particular situation and didn’t know what to do next? Have you been in an argument and it got so elevated that you couldn’t even think about what was being said?
In some cases stress can actually shut down parts of your brain that remembers and thinks. So, managing your stress can actually keep your brain working, even in extreme stress. You may notice what happens in your body when a stressful situation occurs. For example, on Friday, I noticed that my breathe quickened, my heart rate increased, I was in a state of freeze. I didn’t know what to do next.
I believe that by regularly practicing yoga and mindfulness I am getting better at being aware those sensations. I was able to recognize I was feeling stressed and then do something to calm myself down so I could do something about the situation.
Here is a practice you can use to notice sensations that come up in your body*:
- Start by closing your eyes or softening your gaze, exhale and let all the air out of your lungs.
- Now breathe in and breathe out. Continue this breath 4 or 5 times.
- Sit with a straight back and your feet on the floor.
- Press your hands together at your chest.
- When you breathe in, take the palms out in front of you and then apart to the sides.
- When you breathe out, bring the hands back together, then to the chest.
- As you bring your hands out try stretch your fingers out wide.
- Do this a few more times to find a rhythm.
- Now sync the movement with your breath, inhale for 4 counts and bring the arms out, exhale for 8 counts and bring the arms in.
- Do this for 4 more rounds.
- After your rounds, relax your arms down to your lap and just sit. See if you can notice sensations. Notice how your arms feel. Take a few breaths here just to notice.
- Stand on mountain pose (feet parallel and hip distance apart, standing up straight, shoulders down, tall spine).
- Press your hands together at the center of your chest and close your eyes or look down towards your hands.
- Breathe in and out for 4 rounds.
- On your next breath in, tense your whole body from the bottom of the feet to the top of your head. Breathe in and tense all the muscles you can – your toes and feet, legs, stomach, arms and shoulders, hands and fingers, even your face. Hold!
- Breathe out and release and relax the muscles.
- Repeat tensing the muscles again on an inhale and hold.
- Breath out and release and relax the muscles.
- One more round, tense the muscles from the feet to the head. Hold.
- Breathe out, release, and relax.
- Shake out your arms and legs.
- Come back to stillness after a few breaths.
Standing Crescent Moon
- Begin in Mountain Pose
- On your next breath in reach your arms up above your head and clasp your hands
- On your exhale, keeping your arms straight and hands together lean to the right just enough to feel a stretch on the side of your body
- Inhale, come back to center, arms still straight above your head, and hands clasped.
- Breathe out, and lean to the left
- Continue the sync the movement with your breath
- Do a few more rounds
- Next time you exhale relax the arms down at your sides
- Now do the same movement, but hold the pose 3 breaths per side.
- Notice if you start to feel more sensations, or have an urge to come out of the pose early.
- Notice small and big sensations
- Use your breath to keep you call, even if it’s uncomfortable. Knowing that you’ll come out of the pose any time if you need to.
- After 3 rounds of holding Standing Crescent Moon release your arms down to your sides relax.
- Stand in mountain pose and just notice if you feel anything.
- Sit down in your chair once more. Straight back.
- On an exhale let your right ear fall towards your right shoulder
- Inhale and bring your head back to center
- Exhale, and let your left ear fall towards your left shoulder
- Repeat and sync this movement with your breath for a few more rounds
- Bring your head back to center
- Exhale look right
- Inhale back to center
- Exhale look left
- Inhale back to center
- Repeat this movement with your breath a few more rounds
- Back to center
- Inhale, lift your chest up an look up slightly, be careful not to strain your neck
- Exhale, tuck your chin and roll your head forward towards your chest
- Repeat a few more rounds
- Notice the rhythm of your breath right now.
- After noticing, deepen your breath.
- Close your eyes or just soften your gaze.
- Continue to make full and complete breaths.
- Notice if you are sitting up straight, or if your posture has changed.
- Place your hand on your chest. Notice how your chest moves as you breathe.
- Now place your hand on your belly. Notice how your belly moves as you breathe.
- Place both hand in your lap, and now see if you can notice the belly and the lungs move as you breathe.
- Notice your ribs expanding and contracting.
- Notice the small movement in your shoulders as you breathe.
- Just notice, no judgement.
- Open your eyes and notice how you feel.
- Sit silently for one minute and just notice how you feel.
- Close your eyes or just look down and focus on yourself.
- Notice your feet resting on the floor.
- Notice your legs relaxed on the chair.
- Notice your arms and shoulders, a bit more relaxed.
- Notice your breathe and notice the muscles in your face may feel more relaxed.
How do you feel? When you notice sensations that mean stress in the body, what can you do next time?
*(Remember that you are your own best judge of what feels good for yourself or for your students. This is how I usually sequence a practice for myself and for students.)