The Good and the Bad
Elements of stress are good for us. The fight or flight mechanism hard-wired into our nervous system can save our lives. The knee jerk response to jumping out of the way of a moving vehicle, the sharp intake of breath, our hearts racing, the rush of adrenaline - this is the rush many who love rollercoasters, bungee jumping or other such intense activities chase after. This is good stress. Our bodies have a chance to process the increased cortisol released into our systems, and we will often feel a bit of a high afterwards. This same stress can be a great motivator to try new things, to push our boundaries. The butterflies we feel when we are about to step in front of a class for the first time and the rush we feel when we know we have taught an amazing class.
When this same chemical reaction in our bodies turns against us, it is almost simultaneous to when we turn against it. When our fight or flight mechanism kicks in to situations we have no outlet for e.g. cancelled appointments, traffic jams, unexpected work projects and looming deadlines, we feel ourselves seething. Our blood is boiling or we turn inwards and feel helpless. Living in modern society, escaping these life elements is probably impossible. However, controlling our immediate response will make the difference between our day being ruined or a small bump in the road of life.
Regular exercise, including yoga, eating well and getting enough sleep are the first modes of defense against bad stress. As fitness professionals, let’s make sure we are practicing and teaching other good habits to help in this defense.
3-5 minutes of deep, full belly breathing before and after our workouts to bring a deeper mind/body connection to any workout.
Listening to our bodies: it doesn’t always have to be no pain no gain. Perhaps going easier on yourself every now and then will teach you to be easier on yourself outside of the gym as well.
STRETCH! Take time at the end of any workout to stretch out your hard working muscles, especially through the upper back and neck area where most of our stress sits in our bodies. Try putting on slower music, closing your eyes and relaxing into your stretch rather than pushing or pulling.
Incorporate Yoga and meditation 1-2x’s/week for a complete mind-body workout. The essence of YogaFit teaches us to breathe, feel, listen to our bodies, let go of judgment, competition and expectation and stay present. All important elements to help us reduce stress and become happier in our own bodies.
Avoiding stress is probably impossible, and more probably boring. Good stress can create the richness in our lives, create growth and keep us trying new things. Bad stress will make us sick – literally. It will age us and make us feel incompetent. Being aware of how our stress is affecting us and where our stress is coming from is where our attention should be placed. The next time you find yourself in a situation causing stress, take a moment and be aware of your response - is it helping or harming?
Lisa Greenbaum, E-RYT 500 is a YogaFit Senior Master Trainer, International Presenter and avid writer. She is the Director of YogaFit Canada, the leader in Mind-Body Education, www.yogafitcanada.com she currently teaches Yoga in Toronto.