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The Need to Unwind, for Health’s Sake

Jayne Robertson

mental health relaxingThe holidays are behind us and we’ve just turned the corner into the New Year. Now it’s time to get ourselves back on track for more balanced living. But how easy is that in this extremely social valley with galas, fundraisers and a seemingly endless calendar of events? We move from the holiday season into our own local high season and the tendency to overcommit is as abundant as ever.

Do you ever find yourself running from appointment to appointment, from one sport or social event/gathering to another? How is this any different from the hectic holiday season? Same stress, different outfit. Human beings evolved with a basic and primal need to unplug, unwind and rest. Yet our culture encourages us to stay engaged, look busy and be more productive. The idea of giving ourselves a “time out” is aimed at naughty children, not grown adults. However, if we actually slowed down enough and listened to what our deep inner voice is telling us, we’d probably hear it say…”slow down, sit down, take a deep breath and put your feet up for a while.”

When we ignore our need to find quiet down time, our bodies begin to react. If we are over-stimulated, over-stressed and over-committed, real physical reactions occur. Our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate elevate. Our stress hormones rise, our sleep is disrupted, our digestion is affected and our muscles don’t recognize chronic tension. Our bodies are in a perpetual state of flight or fight, which means that we perceive our everyday life as being a basic threat and therefore stressful. We didn’t evolve to remain in this state, although it is necessary when a real threat is present. It can mean the difference between running a red light, pulling our hand out of the fire or yanking someone away from a wayward car.

When we are in a restful state, our bodies and minds heal. The stress responses of higher heart rate, blood pressure, rapid breathing and stress hormones subside, and we are better able to digest, rest and recover. It’s an interesting reflection that we actually have to learn how to relax without using drugs, food or alcohol. Simple strategies include deep breathing, easy stretches, seated contemplation and meditation, soaking in the tub or sitting outside in sunshine with a cup of herbal tea. If you’re looking for more guidance try a gentle or restorative yoga class, a meditation class or tai chi.

But here’s one thing you can do right now. Stop. Sit up straight. Relax your shoulders and jaw. Take a gentle yet full inhale and as you exhale slowly, let your eyes close. Repeat. Now…doesn’t that feel better?

Jayne Robertson is a yoga teacher, yoga therapist and personal fitness trainer. She can be reached at 760-333-2339 or for more information visit www.desertyogatherapy.com.

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