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Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Cortisol Connundrum

Stress takes it’s toll on our bodies. 
Even when we don't think it does. 
I tend to be a person who "gets things done". I tend to push myself sometimes beyond where balance can be maintained. I like to think of my "go getter" attitude as a positive thing. My body, however, has often stopped me in my tracks way before I even consciously realize that I may be overwhelmed. Interestingly, I think that is true for all of's just a matter of learning to listen to the signals our bodies give us when we have bitten off more than we can chew, so to speak.

This last year for me was indeed a little stressful. After finding what I thought was the PERFECT space for my new yoga studio I was forced to wait for an ENTIRE YEAR to actually get the keys to the space as the former tenants experienced legal difficulties with their own business which delayed them vacating my new studio. So - for literally most of this last 10 months I waited....and waited....and waited....unable to move forward with renovations and unsure whether this was really going to happen or not. I kept advertising and preparing what I could but there were numerous problems that arose. Finally when keys were in hand, renovations began one full year after I had initially paid my first deposit on the building. That, in and of itself, was a whole other adventure. Between faulty electrical, numerous leaks, unhelpful landlords, unreliable workers (one of which who was retained a couple thousand dollars to begin work and then....disappeared....literally), and a VERY old building that needed ALOT of work...Things were challenging. Exciting, yes. But very challenging, and very expensive.

During all of this my body started to show interesting signs of stress overload. I experienced significant weight gain even though nothing much changed in my diet. Plus - weird aches & pains that, at times, were quite debilitating. Not to mention significant digestive and abdominal discomfort that often has made eating not so much fun. 

When we are stressed our body produces an abundance of Cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced when our natural ‘Fight or Flight’ response is triggered. Small amounts of cortisol can be helpful in helping us deal with stresses that arise in life. However, for true balance and healing our body’s Relaxation Response also has to have a chance to kick-in following a stressful event so that the body’s functions can return to normal. Unfortunately in our fast paced society, this isn’t always happening. Especially if you are in a time where your stress is happening over a longer term. As we become busier and busier and try harder to just 'get things done' we spend less and less time allowing our bodies to relax and reset. This often results in states of chronic stress which leads to a host of physiological problems including the ones mentioned above as well as: diminished thyroid function, increased inflammation in the body, digestive disturbances, anxiety, weight gain, sleep problems, hormonal imbalances, increase in “bad” cholesterol, blood sugar imbalances and a real decrease in immune function and sometimes even bone density…among other things. Prolonged periods of stress may also cause the body to react differently to those things which you would normally not even give a second thought to. Injuries may pop out of nowhere as your body continues to show signs of depletion and try to get you to slow down or relax.

Stress really is at the root of many health problems!

In order to keep cortisol levels healthy and in control the relaxation response needs to be activated regularly. A regular yoga practice can help tremendously with this. So can learning relaxation and meditation techniques to help slow yourself down and consciously begin to take time to allow your body to rest and heal.

As a Yoga Teacher...I know all of this. But as a Yoga Studio Owner who is now in the public eye every day, and managing the growing pains of a brand new business,  it becomes interesting to go through my own process in front of everyone. It's humbling. Yet, as Yoga Teachers it is soooo  important to practice what we teach. We are human, just like everyone else. And - the body never lies. It's incapable of doing so. 

So if you, too, are working through a challenging period in your life. It's important to try to balance things by incorporating simple routines that help to balance your nervous system. Here's a few simple suggestions: 
-Take a walk each day and focus on breathing deeply some fresh air into your lungs.
-Enroll in a yoga class and use that time to relax and focus on something other than your stress. 
-Start a nap practice. Seriously. Even if you don't feel "tired", take 20-30 minutes every single day to lie down, turn off your phone, and rest. Even if you don't fall asleep - your body will sense that it is now being given some time to rebalance. And that is exactly what it will do. Try to maintain this for 21 days and see how much better you feel after!
-Go easy on the caffeine and the alcohol. Even though it seems like a good idea at the time it is just a "quick fix" that can actually do much more harm than good.
-When you catch yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed: start to slow your breathing down to a steady count of 4 or 5 for each breath. Mentally suggest to yourself "All is well. Out of this situation only good will come." Repeat this for about 10 breaths.

And finally - count your blessings. Even in the bleakest moments there is always, always, always something to be grateful for.

Heather's Guided Relaxation Meditation Cd: Click here to purchase...