Although prenatal yoga may not be amongst your first thoughts when road-mapping your pregnancy, you’re about to learn why it should be. What happens now, when that body, full of stress hormones, masked by sugar and possibly caffeine, is now attempting to grow a baby? Researchers at the University of Denver are studying the effects of stress on infants. They are finding that it all begins in the womb.
How Stress Affects Baby
A study tested 116 pregnant women over the course of their pregnancy, with monthly cortisol blood-draws. Cortisol is the hormone most commonly associated with stress. The higher the cortisol levels of the mother throughout pregnancy, the higher the cortisol level, at birth, of the newborn infant. What does this mean? Higher cortisol levels are associated with anxiety, emotional imbalance, and can even negatively impact the immune system. Stressors are an inevitable ingredient to life, however, our reaction to those stressors is completely dependent on us!
Understanding The Stress Response
When our mind perceives stress, it activates the sympathetic nervous system. This system prepares our body for the stressor. When we have a lion staring us in the face, our heart rate increases, mouth becomes dry, digestion slows, breathing becomes rapid, muscles tense, and we are ready to fight. This powerful system is the reason you hear stories of super-human strength. The mom who lifts a car to save her dying child. The 50-year old woman who strangled a mountain lion on her morning walk. These are miracles, yes, but contributing to these are a powerful release of chemicals to the brain that signal the word “FIGHT.” Now, what happens when the body perceives that same lion in the face of taxes, finances, marital stressors, struggling children, deadlines, traffic, and the list goes on?
An over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This over-stimulation leads to anxiety, trouble sleeping, digestive disorders, night sweats, restlessness, rumination of thoughts, lowered immunity, decreased libido, and inflammation of the body (to name only a few). All of this provides the perfect storm for the onset of disease. Well, what can we do about it? Are we doomed? If that were so, I would be on a beach somewhere, preparing for my final days. There is hope!
Ways To Reduce Stress
There are many practical ways to reduce the stress response. The same way that the body knows to fight or flee, we also know how to rest and decompress. However, what happens when we walk through tall grass on the same pathway, over and over? We create a road. This road is easy to navigate and it is where traffic flows. To walk off the beaten path will take more time and energy, but before you know it, new pathways are formed.
It is the same for the brain. The more we practice the relaxation response, the stronger this response becomes. What we practice, we strengthen. If we consistently “practice” stress, by choosing not to pause, breathe, slow-down, we strengthen the sympathetic nervous system. By learning to incorporate the following techniques, you can change the trajectory of your life.. and that of your children.
Have you ever watched a dog or a baby breathe? Their cute little bellies flow up and down. Ask any adult to try it and we awkwardly fumble through it. At some point, it becomes unnatural and we resort to shallow breathing, confined to the chest. This shallow breathing reinforces the fight or flight response.
Diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. When we belly breathe, we expand the diaphragm, stimulate the vagus nerve, which now activates the rest-and-digest response. Dry mouth is replenished with saliva, digestion resumes, muscles relax, sleep takes course, and even sexual arousal can resume at the appropriate time.
Learning to incorporate this technique into your daily life can bring about powerful results, that cost nothing more than your time and focused attention.
Is a tax deadline an actual threat? No, it’s not (I promise). But, the limitless thought process that takes us down a scary path, leads us to believe so. What happens if I do not have the money to pay my taxes? Will I get charged interest? Could I lose my house? Am I going to need a new job? Will I be able to pay my daughters school tuition? Is she going to have to start public school? Will she make friends that lead her down a troubling road? Could she turn to alcohol? Ever get into college? Get a job? You see where this is taking us? The activation of the stress response is already in place, ready to attack the lion that does not exist.
Mindfulness is choosing to view a situation, without judgment. It is to learning to observe a situation. In essence, it is recognizing the mental chatter, and choosing to walk right around it. Mindfulness is simply choosing to “mono-focus.” When you are focusing on paying your taxes, you cannot do that if you are taking yourself down an unrealistic and futuristic scenario that will unlikely ever occur. Focus on the physical task of paying the taxes, instead.
Putting it Into Action
My yoga instructor led us through a rather simple pose, yet requested that we hold this pose for, what felt like, an incredible amount of time. As we held onto this burn in our muscles, she explained the difference between a cow and a bull in response to a storm. A cow is fearful of a storm and instead of facing it, the cow tries to think of ways to out-run it. So, it turns away from the storm and attempts to run faster than the storm, in effort to escape. The cow cannot muster enough speed and ends up running WITH the storm, for longer than it has to. The bull, on the other hand, turns and faces the storm and runs right into it. With all it’s strength, it runs right through the storm and quickly surfaces on the other side. Sometimes, we can lessen our load if we face our challenges, head-on.
This is what mindfulness allows us to do. Focus on where you are, when you are, and your body will begin to change HOW you are. Yoga is a powerful technique that allows us to focus on the present moment at hand. If we are balancing on one leg, we cannot possibly be thinking about dinner plans, or we will fall over. If we are focusing on breathing in and out, through each pose, we cannot be thinking about anything else. When our mind wanders, we simply bring it back, without judgement. The sympathetic nervous system becomes stronger than the stress response and before you know it, the relaxation that occurs on the mat, filters into the workplace, the home-place, and the brain-space.
Yoga Is Not For Me
In all fairness, yoga has a bad rap, and it can be quite intimidating to begin. If you do not have access to gentle, relaxation, or beginners yoga, consider practicing at home! There are many apps which have 5-60 minute yoga videos!
What Do I Need To Start?
Nothing, but a comfortable surface. However, if you are in need of some great deals on comfortable and affordable tools to strengthen your practice, visit Here. ProSource has partnered with Fit & Fierce to provide our readers with discounts on fantastic products. We love them because there is no middle man! They manufacture the products and sell directly to you, the consumer. Because of that, we can skip the inflated prices and get right down to business! Or, mindfulness!
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