As most, if not all, humans can attest, life can be stressful sometimes. It could be one small event that triggers the stress response, or a series of events. Some of us are habitually stressed- perhaps with good reason, but for many, stress is just a way of life and we often just react without considering the acual event to see if stress is even warranted. In addition, our culture rewards stress. Everyone talks about how busy they are, how many things they have going on, and almost brag about not having any time for relaxation, reflection and nourishing activities. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” is a common phrase of our time, and I often think to myself: You’ll be dead a lot sooner if you don’t sleep, but that’s a whole other topic.
Everyone has to come to grips with their own stress, decide if it’s worth it, and make changes based on their own desires and circumstances. We all have different situations, responsibilities, and needs. For many, however, these situations, responsibilities and needs are taken for granted, or are assumed, so they are never questioned or challenged. For example, do you really need to lead the girl scout troup (insert any number of groups/organizations/events here) again this year, or is someone else wanting to step up. Why do you feel the need to do that activity anyway? Deep down, is it more about social standing or the feeling that you are expected to do it? These are important things to consider. You may not have the answers, you may not even want to think about the answer…and that’s ok. It’s your life, you have the tools to assess these sorts of things if and when you want to. Sometimes taking a moment to assess our motivations can reveal powerful truths about our existence and the lives we are choosing to live. Is there a way to reduce stress in our everyday lives? That is the root of the question here. While many of the activities already discussed come from turning inward to make outward changes or reducing the areas of life that contribute to stress, there are also many healing modalities that help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the area responsible for lowered heart rate, increased digestion, and the feelings of rest and relaxation. One such modality is yoga. Certain yoga postures, or asanas, activate the parasympathetic nervous system and with practice, can help the practitioner find feelings of peacefulness, calm and relaxation, in addition to physiological responses, such as breathing more slowly, reduced heart rate, decreased muscle tension and less pain.
How to do Pascimottanasana
One pose that is especially helpful for lowering stress and the associated effects is Paschimottanasana, a seated forward fold. Begin seated, with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Your feet should be about hip-bone distance apart, or one fist should fit between your knees. Actively engage your legs, pressing into the floor with your upper legs (hamstrings) and pulling your toes back toward your torso. Pull back equally through your big toe and pinky toe side. Be sure you are sitting on your sitting bones, with your pelvis slightly tipping forward. Think about it as if you are almost pointing your tailbone behind you. It may be helpful to tip side-to-side and pull some of the flesh from your bum out and back so that you can feel your sitting bones. Now, on a slow, conscious inhale, raise your arms up overhead, getting length through your entire spine. Exhale slowly fold forward, hinging at the hips and keeping a flat back reaching your fingertips and collarbones toward your toes. If you can comfortably reach your toes, hold on there and gently deepen the stretch. Be careful not to grab and pull or introduce any tension in your body. If you can’t reach your toes, reach as far as you can, then drop your hands to your thighs, shins or the floor outside of your legs. Take another inhale to lengthen your spine, then exhale and allow your head to rest comfortably, slightely rounding your upper back, but continuing to reach your collarbones toward your toes. Attempt to hold the pose with comfort and ease, although you are keeping your legs active and potentially feeling an intense stretch throughout your entire backside. Be sure to keep your legs straight, your spine long and most, most importantly, continue to breathe. Feel your body move slightly as you inhale and exhale to deepen the pose. Stay here for several breaths to several minutes, whatever your body is telling you to do.
Any alignment questions, let me know. Good luck and I hope you can find some peace and relaxation through this posture.