Have you ever considered relaxation practices as one of the most important things you could do to improve your health? If not, it's time to start. New studies reveal what the ancient practitioners of yoga and qigong/tai chi have known for a long time. Relaxation, and meditation, both still or moving changes the body in many beneficial ways. A regular practice of meditation can decrease stress, improve performance in parts of the brain, support proper digestive function and overall sense of well-being. The breath is the component that brings it all into harmony. Mind and body, united through the awareness of the breath is a great way to promote relaxation. Meditation in conjunction with a well planned yoga or qigong series designed to support or strengthen specific areas of the body is a powerful ally on your journey of empowerment and health.
To understand the importance of calming the mind, it may be helpful to look at how stress affects the body. When the body is stressed the reptilian part of the brain signals our fight or flight(sympathetic nervous system) response, turning off the parasympathetic nervous system, (governing digestion, rest and repair). Our reptilian brain, can't differentiate between the stress of being stuck in traffic, financial difficulties, or being chased by a tiger. So the body responds in the same way with fight or flight regardless of the “stressor”. In a perfect scenario, the fight or flight response would shortly turn off, and the body would return to it's NORMAL relaxed state. However, without any way to discharge the stress and depending upon how many times in a day we experience some form of stress, its likely that we begin to accumulate the hormone adrenaline in our bodies. Basically the body thinks that it is in survival mode and all the energy gets dumped into the blood stream to the extremities of the body, so we can run fast to catch our food, or to avoid being another animals meal. The energy is directed away from the internal organs and glands whose job it is to keep you running in an optimum state. Increased Adrenaline leads to elevated levels of cortisol in the body, contributing to irregular insulin levels(eventually diabetes or insulin resistance), fat stored around the abdomen, brain fog, digestive disorders, anxiety and depression.
Conscious breathing, is an incredible way to settle the mind and body. Giving merit to the resting cycles of our body is equally important as the activity for maintained sustained health. Breathing can be utilised in a formal class setting, through a physical practice like yoga, or a moving meditation like qigong/tai chi. These practices can also be done in stillness with focus being directed into the breath. Postures can be sitting, standing or lying down. Autumn is the season of the lungs and large intestine, with the energy moving out of the body. Our respiratory system is one of the main ways this happens. Because more energy is moving down and out of the body, there is a tendency for more congestion through the respiratory, skin/nerve problems and stagnation in the colon. Similar to the trees dropping their leaves, think about what you are letting go of this time of the year, keep that in mind as you exhale completely. Taking time to focus on the breath, even for 5 minutes or short intervals throughout the day helps to keep the system balanced and functioning optimally.
Having a daily meditation practice helps to reset the nervous system, and re-wire the brain. Learning to sit and observe the body/breath creates neuroplasticity in the brain, meaning that it can adapt and learn new ways of firing information through the nerve network. It has been shown that your meditation practice can help the body to reset itself to normal relaxed state faster after a stress response has been triggered. It also decreases things like depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia and increases general sense of well being. When relaxed, the internal systems of the body are working their best, thus promoting an even flow of chi throughout the body and overall vitality. The mind of a person with a regular meditation practices shows improvement or enhanced ability to stay focused on task. Studies have shown increased brain matter in the pre-frontal cortex which is used for executive decision making and memory as well as hippocampus which assists memory, learning, and emotion regulation.
In today's fast paced lifestyle, full of distractions(amazing as they can be), technologies, competition, and disconnection from nature, it is common to experience compromised health and living. Not all solutions are easy, but in this case it is in. If you want improve your health, decrease stress, increase brain function and generally boost your quality of life just RELAX. Relaxation and meditation practice, either still or moving, coupled with good diet, and plenty of rest, is the best cure-all we could ask for.
For those of you in the Sydney area, you can experience these healing practices with some of our recommended practitioners and schools. Our very own Brenda, along with many other incredible beings is a practitioner at Dharma Shala Yoga School in North Bondi, and Anahata Yoga Space in Maroubra, also recommended is Triveda Therapies (Justine Rintoul) triveda.com.au in Bondi, and Bassam Younes bassamyounes.com, and The Living Room in Coogee.