Yoga, Meditation and more.............
Herbert Benson is a world-renowned medical doctor associated with Harvard University and Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. In his book, The Relaxation Response, he presents well-documented evidence of the body-mind connection in controlling and preventing high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. The following is a brief synopsis of his findings and instructions for learning the relaxation response.
Stress is a word that we are all too familiar with in todays fast past world. Studies have shown that life-changing events can be statistically calculated as to their impact on our stress levels. Death of a spouse, divorce, injury and even marriage are listed in the top seven. What has also been shown is that it is how people deal with stress that can determine its impact on their general health and well being.
The “fight or flight” response describes an adaptive physiological reaction to stress. It is the body’s way of reacting to a perceived threat. Part of this response includes the secretion of hormones that increase the blood pressure, heart rate and body metabolism. It is very useful in certain circumstances- such as running from a burning house. When this response is overused or becomes a chronic reaction, it can be very detrimental to one’s health.
The relaxation response can lead to a quieting of the same nervous system that produces the fight or flight response. There is conclusive evidence that hypertensive subjects can lower their B/P by regularly eliciting this response. It is based upon techniques that have existed in the context of religious teachings such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and others, for many centuries. Its application can be widespread and therefore incorporated into both a secular and religious practice. There are four basic components necessary to bring forth the response:
4) Breathe through your nose. As you breathe, say the word “one”, or your own sound, word or phrase, silently to yourself. Breathe easily and naturally.
5) Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes open. Do not stand for a few minutes.
6) Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and returning to repeating “one” or your sound, word or phrase. With practice, the response should come with little or no effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after a meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the relaxation response.
A common cue that you will here in my classes is, "Soften the knees" and "hinge forward from the hips". Both of these cues line up with cultures who experience less back pain than ours (80% of Americans will experience back pain in their lifetime). NPR, in the short audio link above, explains why.
One thing I've noticed in the past few months is how our lives are increasingly impacted by the now "ordinary" busyness of life as well as tragic & heartbreaking events in the rapidly changing world around us.
Yoga invites us to have a first hand experience of the quiet and stillness that underlies all of these changes. Without trying to "fix", we notice what impacts the body/mind and recognize what we are beyond the body/mind. Paradoxically, things can begin to change. New muscle patterns emerge, we have more energy and we may begin to sense our innate wholeness & peacefulness. And those changes may be the start of sustained change in the world around us.
I love the poems below as reminders the peace is not found only in calm circumstances or inactivity. But it can emerge from those moments of pause that we weave into our lives.
The Theme this month is nourishing a sense of safety and ease through our practices of gentle movement, body sensing and iRest®/YogaNidra. Enjoy these practices and poems!
(5 minute practices to weave into everyday life)
Poems & Prose
John O'Donohue: "For the Senses"
May the touch of your skin
Register the beauty
Of the otherness
That surrounds you.
May your listening be attuned
To the deeper silence
Where sound is honed
To bring distance home.
May the fragrance
Of a breathing meadow
Refresh your heart
And remind you you are
A child of the earth.
And when you partake
Of food and drink,
May your taste quicken
To the gift and sweetness
That flows from the earth.
May your inner eye
See through the surfaces
And glean the real presence
Of everything that meets you.
May your soul beautify
The desire of your eyes
That you might glimpse
The infinity that hides
In the simple sights
That seem worn
To your usual eyes.
GRATITUDE by David Whyte
is not a passive response to something given to us, gratitude is being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life. Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is privilege, that we are part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape. To see the full miraculous essentiality of the color blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks.
Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative simply means we are not paying attention.
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."
Ancient Rythyms by John O’Donohue
“The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigor and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes its time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here.”