Once you have decided that the state of emergency and alarm is not something that you want to live with, there are things that you can to manage and take your stress reaction under control. This begins from within, because the only thing that we can ever truly control is how we react to a situation or a person, and how we behave and in turn how we feel about it. All other things in life are beyond our control to varying degrees.
This is a very useful way of seeing things, and potentially everything in life. It is neither too dismissive of the world around us, nor too engaging that we get lost in it. I think it encourages us to carefully identify that fine border between ourselves (which we can control) and the rest of the world (which we cannot control). If stress is unmanaged for too long, this border gets blurred, and then we lose sight of what we can and cannot control in our lives. The longer we live like this, the more difficult it gets to undo our confusion and straighten things out.
It is that time in the semester! As the exams and deadlines for hand-ins approach, many have already started to feel the pressure.
Stress is pressure. It is neither good nor bad. It is just that: pressure. How we feel under stress/pressure depends on our expectations regarding the consequences of the origin of stress. Stress is anything that influences our homeostasis, that is our balanced and content state. This could be as insignificant as a quick summer drizzle that cools your skin down for a minute or as significant as the death of a loved one, a loud noise in the middle of the night, an exam at the end of the semester, falling in love, a youtube video of very cute kittens, exercising, watching a favourite programme on the telly etc… anything that gets your heart beating up and creates even a quantum of excitement or surprise.
In my classes I use stretching cues to get parts of the body going. I use it as a pseudonym for turning the students’ attention to their bodies or like in the first downward dog of the day, I tell them to move around a little and get the juices start flowing and body heat up and prepare for the practice ahead. Apart from that I have never found stretching particularly useful or meaningful, to be honest. I don’t stretch before my run or after it. I don’t think my muscles need to stretch to cool down or warm up. The funny thing is that I’ve always felt guilty about it. I ‘knew’ I had to do some stretches but I was resisting it. Turns out, my hunch (in this case!) wasn’t wrong.
You know by now that I am more the physical practice type of yoga person that the spiritual, mantra chanting type. Therefore, I read a lot about anatomy, exercise and biomechanics. There are articles, posts, etc. that make sense; that might make sense, that are clueless but full of assumptions of any kind. So, I read with great caution and scepticism. I tend to seek some empirical results quoted or cited. So, here are a few articles that can recommend about the issue of to stretch or not to stretch.
Pandiculation – The Safe Alternative To Stretching: The last is an interesting one. It suggests an alternative to stretching. It makes sense to me as I used to teach (as a psychologists) a similar method to relax a tense part of the body in my stress and anxiety management trainings.
Above is a master of pandiculation performing her art. 🙂
As there are more studies conducted on biomechanics, movement, exercise and evolution. our understanding changes. And this is the beauty of relying on science instead of some personal experience: that one can replace an old method, technique with a brand new one instead of following some 2000 year old manual written by unknown person.
There is actually another blog post inside this one and that is about how so many people are trying to make yoga a ‘better’ exercise but still keeping the same assumptions but I have to think about it a little as I don’t like ranting for the sake of ranting.
*I couldn’t skip the opportunity for this title, especially given that it was Shakespeare Day yesterday. 🙂
After I posted the article on adho mukha svanasana, I came across a Facebook status update by Diane Bruni that she called The Hand Rant. In the rant Diane Bruni challenges the generally accepted alignment principles of the yoga hand. She first explains how she was taught to align her hands in Iyengar yoga, which is how we normally teach: press down all four corners of the hands and later argues that this may not really be the best alignment to protect the wrists. Bruni suggests, instead that one should release the knuckles and let them form the natural dome of the hand. Here is what she means:
As someone with very fragile wrists and generally very rigid joints, I am always aware of my hands and wrists during my practice. I get the occasional wrist pain in upward facing dog and other arm balances. The alignment of the hands when the hands are to bear weight, of course, has a lot to do with how the weight of the body is distributed. General tendency amongst new beginners is, to lift the hand off the floor and leave the wrist to carry the entire weight. This is no good for the wrists. So, we tell them to press the entire hand down. This i.e. turning the palm down also pronates the forearm and directs the weight from shoulders down through the wrist to the hands. Bruni’s suggestion makes sense because it leaves enough room for shock absorption when more weight is loaded upon the hand.
“Mindfulness therapies – based on ancient practices of meditation – are increasingly being taken up as the means of dealing with the pressures of modern living. Supporters believe they provide an evidence-based therapy for dealing with some of the most intractable conditions of mental illness, but some critics say they are a commodification of ancient practices. Mike Greenwood investigates.”
In a study that will appear in the Jan. 30 issue ofPsychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter…It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany.
I believe respecting yoga tradition and conventions is usually a good thing but sometimes the conventions that we are supposed to follow have no foundation in modern science. That’s when someone like me gets a mind-bend. Should I ignore my rational side and go with the flow or is it OK to question and be critical, maybe in the end reject what I am asked to do?