I like to push myself. I not only like to, but I often feel (especially living in NYC) that I need to. I've written about how I can be like the energizer bunny - working really hard until my next vacation when I can finally stop. Finally relax. I've written about the struggle of finding the balance. Old habits can come swirling back just when you think they have vanished for good. For me, that habit is the need to keep do-ing. To keep super busy in the fear that if I don't, if I stop, everything will stop and my goals will never be achieved.
When I was working my corporate job, I became sick with evil stomach aches. They would appear like clockwork every work day afternoon. I thought I had diet issues, I was bloated, uncomfortable, and in pain. My doctor made sure I was checked out for Ovarian cancer which really scared me. When it was clear that it wasn't diet or cancer- thank goodness!-I wasn't sure what it was or what to do. I started my yoga teacher training while still at my job, and I learned about the Sympathetic and Para-sympathetic nervous systems. In other words, the Fight or Flight and Rest-and -Digest systems. A bell went off in my head. I was in Fight or Flight mode for over 3 years at my job. Red flags were everywhere, surrounding me, and I neither fought or fled. I froze. I kept working, I kept running on the treadmill of that life. I couldn't imagine what would be next for me. I needed my paycheck, my benefits. But the stomach aches were getting worse. My body was telling me, rather screaming at me, to stop. If not, I would get sick for real. My body was in fight or flight response. This response is great when there is immediate danger- a bear in the woods! The heart pumps blood to your arms and legs so you can get out of harms way or fight your way through it. Digestion is not a priority. In modern society, the bear in the woods is replaced with work pressures, being treated unfairly in the workplace but having expensive rent or debt, road rage, insecurities, feeling stuck and uncared for. We don't even notice that we are in the fight/flight response because we have allowed ourselves to take it on as the way life is.
Yoga helps us redirect the nervous system toward the relaxation response. It activates the para-sympathetic nervous system that causes the blood pressure to lower and reroutes blood flow to saturate the muscles of digestion. We then can get the nutrients we need and eliminate what is not useful. We then start to feel that we are taking care of ourselves and as we go deeper in our practice we will eliminate all that is no longer useful to us and find peace. Any yoga or mindful practice will help you achieve this. But we still live in a world where we want results and we rush to get there and get them. During my yoga teacher training I amped up my practice. I gained so much from it. So much self-care, that I could then fight. I could stand up for myself at work and I even finally had the courage to decide what to do next and do it (read my article I Am A Full Time Soul for more on that). However, I wasn't feeling better, not immediately. I was getting stronger from my practice, but I wasn't losing weight. I still had digestive issues. It took me awhile to realize, that I was still stressing myself out. I had over 3 years of being in that Fight or Flight response at my job, I had a lot of repairing and healing to do.
What did I do? I started doing Restorative Yoga on a regular basis. I allowed myself to stop. And through that process I learned that I am supported. I can stop and my world will be okay. I lost weight by doing less, because the weight I gained was not from eating the wrong foods, or from a sedentary lifestyle. It was from stress. I had to stop the stress, including the stress of working out everyday with the hope of losing weight. The stomach aches are gone and I've learned a valuable lesson. Our lives are worth so much more than what we often think we should be doing.
A Restorative Yoga practice is about allowing yourself to really relax. It is conscious relaxation which is different than sleeping. We release the muscles on props that support us and take the time to enhance our breathing. We then can fully calm the body, deepen the breath, and quiet the mind. We then can let go of the constant stress response state our bodies have gotten used to being in. This further helps balance our nervous system. It will aid our digestion, which affects our long term health.
I hope you can join me this Sunday for my first Restorative Yoga workshop! For my friends not in NYC- I will be working on some virtual classes this winter during my break from teaching in the studio. Stay tuned!