We all talk about stress as if we know what we are talking about and as if we are talking about the same thing. I have been saying, “I’m stressed!” for years now without really knowing what I mean. “I’m stressed, you’re stressed, we’re all stressed, and now we all fall down.” Sounds like an adult version of Ring Around the Rosie. So, in our brilliant, scientific, know it all culture we address this problem of not really knowing what we are talking about by studying it, analyzing it, and naming it. So – according to this approach, stress is when your adrenals are pumping out adrenaline and your cortisol is high, and your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. And while this may all be true, does it really help us to understand stress from the inside-out? For me personally, the answer in a resounding “No.”
Here is what I have discovered about stress on the yoga mat and on my meditation cushion. Stress is dysregulated energy in my entire mind-body system. Let me explain. Every cell, every organ system, every nerve impulse and life function in our body is dictated by the rhythm of contraction and release. Contraction and expansion. In and out, back and forth, up and down. When we feel good, and when we are in parasympathetic nervous system dominance, our cells and organs are moving together in a harmonized rhythm of contraction and release. The beating of our hearts, the undulation of our lungs, healthy digestion and releasing of waste, let alone the building tension and release of orgasm, all feel good because the body is in a harmonized synchronicity of contraction and release. Good sleep is the same – steady, deep breathing and a body that is rhythmically moving in a restful, intelligent wave. Stress is the opposite of this. Heart beating wildly, limbs flailing, mind racing, energy pulsating around the body in frantic fits that have no organizing rhythm or intelligence. It’s a bad way to live and it takes over the mind and body in a self-perpetuating, helpless chaotic overload. And then what do we do? Well, we reach for our addictive hammer and hit ourselves over the head with – high carb/fat food, alcohol or compulsive sex to artificially create rhythm and soothing. And then we’re fat, drunk, guilty, and shamed and pass out and wake up to do it again. Madness!
Yoga can help. As a stress junkie in recovery, I have lived to tell the tale. And I can assure you that you don’t have to live this way. The body can remember primordial intelligence. After all, we all lived in a womb once and floated blissfully in amniotic fluid as our cells coalesced to form life. We are all borne of this loving intelligence. It waits dormant in our body. Just step onto the mat and breath, move, and find your way back to this harmony. It’s a better way to live.