Health in Motion By Cheryl Van Demark, PT Cheryl Van Demark is a registered Yoga teacher, Yoga therapist and physical therapist with a Masterís degree in physical education and exercise science. She has enjoyed over 25 years of helping individuals optimize alignment, restore movement, build strength and cultivate a balance in body mind and spirit to pursue joyful living.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Our 2013 journey in this Health In Motion blog has presented pathways to reduce your risk of heart disease and to improve our well-being by sensing how to integrate your mind and body. Improving your stress coping skills reduces your risk of high blood pressure and tames your tension. Most recently, we discussed the value of tuning into your physical body and noticing the sensations offered from your chest and belly throughout the day. Tension in these areas constrains your energy by restricting your breath, slowing your digestion and constraining your elimination.
Recall your mind engages in habitual thought patterns and subsequent emotions that your muscles "act out" when you experience the fight, flight and freeze qualities of your stress response...even when the stress event is not presently happening! Remember also the value of nurturing yourself regularly with natural foods, plenty of water, adequate rest and frequent doses of FUN and JOY. Such self-nurturing may raise your threshold for having your stress response triggered. It also builds your reserves so you may return to a balanced state more quickly.
It may surprise you to learn that you can nurture yourself deeply by focusing on gratitude. Consciousness around gratitude has long been a basic mindfulness practice. Since mindfulness based stress reduction programs are proving to be so successful in prevention and treatment of our culture's many stress mediated illnesses, it is no surprise the scientific community is investigating why it works. See the related links at bottom of the page to read about a $5.6 million co- investigation in process through U.C. Berkeley and U.C Davis entitled Expanding The Practice and Science of Gratitude.
Practicing feeling gratitude has been shown to increase our sense of happiness and life satisfaction by boosting a whole host of positive emotions. Practicing gratitude has been reported to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, raise our sense of self -worth and reduce feelings of isolation. This is especially important over the holiday season.
A simple therapeutic practice I share with my yoga students is to notice all the little things each day that we can easily feel gratitude for. Noticing brings us into the present moment, another benefit of gratitude. In the moment, we focus on feeling the pleasant sensations of gratitude. Then, we attune to where in your body we sense your gratitude flowing. We also pay attention to what effect it has on the fullness of our breath and on our facial expression. Try it. It's fun!
Like everything else that you practice, you can get better at gratitude! With a higher awareness of gratitude, you may come into a higher experience of the abundance of life's blessings. Since gratitude is a social emotion, you may experience side effects of motivation to give back to your community, as gratitude has also been shown to inspire altruism! I hope you will consider a donation to the Chino Valley Food Bank. They are greatly in need of turkeys this year.
Even if you practice with gratitude, holiday demands may still momentarily overwhelm you, so it is always prudent to have a back-up plan for additional stress management! Here too, the practice is a simple one: help others. Our central nervous system functions such that our emotions are accompanied by instantaneous psycho-neuroendocrine responses. You are likely familiar with the saying "When we do good, we feel good." We feel good in part because reaching out to others releases the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates us to "tend and befriend". Read more about this in the Science Daily related link, or visit my Body Language Studio.net resource page and watch a wonderful TED talk on this topic by Stanford University's Kelly Mac Gonigal PhD, a yoga therapist. If you like what you read in this blog, you may consider joining me for yoga practice. Yoga is a life science that builds unity within the individual and the community.
In conclusion, a delicious stress reducing stimulation of your amazing inner pharmacy this holiday season is to mix a strong splash of gratitude with reaching out to others. Use this inner hormonal concoction to wash down the relaxing serotonin released from digesting your Thanksgiving turkey dinner. May you enjoy a serene holiday.