Running From Tigers!

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
                                                    ~Mahatma Gandhi

When life get very hectic and busy it sometimes feels as though we are not able to take the time out for meditation, yoga asana (poses) or pranayama (breath work). But it is when life is so busy that we need them the most. The very things that help us to relax are also the things that will increase our energy and productivity, allowing us to take on more, to accomplish more and to keep our minds clear.
When we feel stress the adrenal cortex releases stress hormones as the fight-or-flight response has been triggered. Although in our normal day there is no immediate threat to our lives the brain reacts as if there is. Increases in blood sugar and oxygen flow to large muscles enabling us to run faster and to fight harder.  We are able to focus completely on the threat to the exclusion of everything else. The only problem is, we aren’t running from a tiger, we’re feeling stressed about how much we have to do or an argument with a spouse or the numerous other events throughout our day. stress, 'fight or flight,' yoga All of these events tend to trigger the same response in our brains as if we were actually running from a tiger.
A very simple technique to calm yourself when feeling stress build is to make your exhalation longer than your inhalation. Perhaps you will breath in for three seconds and breath out for six (we all have our own breath rhythm; the point is try to double the length of your exhalation). When we do this we send a message to the brain to relax. Think about it, when being chased by a tiger and in full flight would your exhalation be longer than your inhalation? Of course not, your breath would be shortened and rapid. The next time you notice that you are feeling stress observe your breath for a moment. What is the quality of your breath? Are you getting a full breath? Does it feel smooth? Probably not. Take several purposeful breaths with a long exhalation and see how the breath changes. Maybe you can slow your mind enough and slow the release of stress hormones enough to realize that everything will get done, to figure out a solution for your problem and perhaps to know that you really do have the time to do a short meditation or a few sun salutations. Remember that it doesn’t have to be long to be effective. Do what you can and don’t be stressed that you are not able to do more!

12 Comments on “Running From Tigers!

  1. this is a great reminder. over the weekend I was having a conversation about stress and the effect cortisol has on the brain. And even when some one us are aware of these facts, we forget how important it is to relax. Thank you for starting the day off right!

    • That’s so true! I wrote this because yesterday I was feeling so stressed at work and said to my coworker “I can’t even get a full breath”. A yoga teacher who can’t get a full breath?? Can’t have that. I slowed myself down and reminded myself of what I know works and felt much better!

      • that’s great that you were able to put that into practice. those are the kinds of triumphs that really matter.

  2. we’re easily getting caught into the tredmill of stress. As you mention observing the breath and making the exhalation longer than the inhalation helps calming down.

  3. We were talking in a group a couple of nights ago about what can be done when we’re feeling frantic and frazzled and stressed. And coming to the breath was raised as a technique for dealing. Just the simple act of paying attention to the breath has the effect of bringing us to the present moment and calming the mind. And then… if we worked with the breath as you suggest, that gives the mind something nice and concrete to do which will help us to hold our attention on breath while our physiology does good things for us. Excellent tip. Thank you.

    • That’s true. Sometimes when we’re really frazzled it’s difficult to put your mind on the breath. Adding the counts and some purpose helps us to concentrate. Thanks for visiting! Namaste ~

  4. The breath is so important to life. It occurred to me recently that modern science does not know what we are made of, our building blocks seem to be just space, we keep getting deeper and deeper into complexity. The formless breath permeates all and fills us with the pure essence of being. Like you, in times of stress in the modern world, I return to the breath to find truth and the joy of being. I wish you much clean air and happiness, lee

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