This Is How to Self-Regulate Your Nervous System, According to a Yoga Teacher
It's a new year and we've never had more pressure on us to maintain a thriving social life, stay in shape, and pursue a successful career. On their own, these aspects of our lives are all really important and can bring us happiness, but often in our chaotic modern world things can begin to feel out of hand quickly. We're yoga fanatics here at Bed Threads, so we decided to sit down with yoga teacher and mental health worker Rosie Jean to learn more about the natural ways we respond to stress and how we can take ownership and control of our mind and body when faced with trying times.
We asked Rosie whether stress was a common complaint amongst the people who attend her yoga classes, and she was quick to respond with a 'yes'. She goes as far as saying that it's the number one thing that people struggle with in her inner-city area of Melbourne where she teaches. While we're not surprised, it's definitely eye-opening to hear from someone who deals with this problem first-hand that so many people are struggling with excess stress in their lives. There's no way of eliminating stress completely, and we wouldn't want to anyway. As Rosie mentions, stress is completely normal and even healthy—"it's our body’s way of protecting us and helping us cope with life’s challenges". When you're going through a breakup or you're in the middle of moving house, you'll automatically feel a rise in your levels of stress and they'll naturally settle when the obstacle or situation has eased. The problem arises when stress levels become chronic and affect your day-to-day life. Rosie explains, "this is when our stress levels don’t get the opportunity to lower, so they stay consistently high and leave us feeling physically and psychologically exhausted". The answer? Yoga and self-regulating practises.
So, how exactly are stress and yoga related? According to Rosie, "yoga helps us build self-awareness and self-regulate our stress levels, so we can take on life’s challenges with greater ease". The best way to prevent vicious cycles of stress and potential spirals is to know yourself deeply and the ways to take care of yourself when you're feeling the pressure. We've got both a parasympathetic (calming) nervous system and a sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system in our bodies and they work alongside each other to keep us feeling alive and connected. "However, sometimes one system dominates more than the other, leaving us feeling overstimulated or lethargic", Rosie adds. This is where we can incorporate yoga to bring balance back to the mind and body.
By regularly practising yoga, you'll naturally learn to control your breath and use movement and meditation to give you perspective and clarity. One of the main ways yoga can help to relieve stress-related symptoms is by "allowing us to release pent up energy and learn to soften our muscles". Rosie also tells us that yoga is a fantastic tool for reigniting social connection on an interpersonal connection. As humans, we crave connection and a sense of community which yoga classes can offer. It's called neural synchronisation, whereby social and emotional parts of your brain light up when you breathe and move together in a shared space. Breathing is such an important part of self-regulating your nervous system and is a huge part of Rosie's teachings. She explains that when we take deeper, longer breaths "the stretch receptors on your lungs stimulate the Vagus Nerve, which encourages the parasympathetic nervous system to release calming hormones throughout our body". When we inhale our heart rate increases and when we exhale it lowers again. The next time you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, try to calm your mind with a couple of minutes of deep breathing.
As well as yoga and deep breathing exercises, Rosie has listed a few other methods that are helpful in times of stress that can pull you out of a spiral and ground you in your body again.
Use a journal to write down everything that is on your mind, everything that is worrying you. If your mind is racing, or you’re having repetitive thoughts or worries, this is really helpful to acknowledge everything you are thinking. If it’s written down, you won’t forget it, and maybe it will give your mind some more space by letting it go on the page. This is a great way to validate what you’re feeling, rather than suppressing it.
Our hands are a really useful resource to self-regulate our physiology. A fancy name for it is interpalmal self-regulation. Simply place your hands somewhere on your body, perhaps your stomach and your chest. You can close your eyes or soften your gaze, then apply gentle pressure to ground into these points. Notice the temperature beneath your palms and soften the areas beneath. See if you can notice how sensation changes or moves beneath your hands.
A beautiful pose you can do in bed is legs up the wall (exactly as it sounds). This pose uses gravity to lower your heart beat as pressure from your legs sinks down towards your chest and head. You can even feel gravity here to ground through your head, chest and back body as you sink into bed. A great one right before sleep. Take some deeper, long breaths to slow right down.
If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, your first port of call should be your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.
For more ways to keep yourself feeling calm and connected, read about the benefits of doing a decade detox.