Birmingham area residents, are you stressed? Do you want to find a healthy way of de-stressing? Do you want to change your body’s reaction to stress so that you can increase your chances of seeing your grandchildren graduate from high school and college one day? You know stress is a killer, but what are you doing about it?
Stress is one of the main causes of disease and ill health, yet most of us can never really get away from it. People say that they want to relax, but that requires learning new techniques, or altering one’s way of life (which most people do not want to do). It is because people enjoy their lives of stress that they often turn to drinking or otherwise self-medicating—because of stress! (Seems silly that people would intentionally cause more damage to the body trying to compensate for the damage one does to the body because it is always stressed, huh?)
Our bodies and minds tend to repeat patterns. For example, a person works in a high stress job where he or she has deadlines, has multiple planes to catch, is always in a hurry, with meetings to prepare for and attend, all of these while putting out virtual fires of all kinds within said company. The rush of the accelerated heart rate and blood pressure might work for that person in the midst of the demands of the job, but the body doesn’t automatically cease the dumping of endorphins and adrenaline just because the person is at home. This person is likely to either fill his or her free time with adrenaline driven activities to keep up with the elevated levels in the body, or will attempt to unwind when that behavior is not needed. Well, here’s the problem: our bodies want to do what they have been doing, but we know they need rest. So, what do we do? Many people don’t know how to rest and relax, so they self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Others believe that sitting in front of the computer or television is relaxing, but that does nothing for the brain that also needs to disconnect. Over time, stress will definitely get the better of most people.
There are many activities that are naturally de-stressors like gardening, painting, fishing, motorcycle riding, drawing, singing, and the like. But most who are driven to work in those super-high stress level jobs, simply aren’t drawn to those activities; they don’t mesh well usually, but for those who can do both, often there’s a need for perfection within the activity—also not healthy.
So what are people doing today to de-stress in a healthy way?
Many join gyms and simply redirect their same personality type toward more adrenaline-laden activities. Yes, it’s better than drinking a bottle of bourbon in a night, but how is this really helping the body and brain to slow down?
Yoga has benefits that are so great and varied that there is not enough room here to explain it all. It’s more than just stretching. It’s more than balance. It’s more than strength building. It’s all of those and more. There are multiple styles from varied traditions, and surely one to fit your physical needs, but there’s another style that has almost NOTHING to do with physical movement. Yes, that means that even the overweight and physically unhealthy person can participate in this style!
Yoga Nidra is “yogic sleep” and is basically a guided meditation where the participant is asked to visualize items, landscapes, and colors as the teacher directs him or her to the very edge of sleep. All the person has to do is to stay awake for the journey.
This is how it works: You arrive with pillows and blankets or whatever you want to ensure a relaxed position for over an hour. The teacher (and we only have two around town that I know of) then leads the class through a few minutes of gentle poses just to make sure each person is present in his or her body. She talks for a few minutes then asks everyone to lie back. She asks that you remind yourself that you are not going to sleep, and that your mind is alert and present. She also tells you that if you do fall asleep, it’s okay because so many are in desperate need of sleep. She asks you to hold in your mind an intention or sankalpa, and that you will refer to it later in the guided meditation. (for more on sankalpa see http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2005/ajan05/sanknat.shtml )
As she talks through, she is reading from a script. These are words that have been used around the world countless times to coax people into relaxed stages. Her voice is steady and soothing as she speaks, lulling most people right to the edge, then her voice will say, “You are not asleep, you are awake and alert and participating in Yoga Nidra.” (or something like that.)
What you actually get out of Yoga Nidra is always a surprise.
I found Yoga Nidra about five years ago at Heartwood Yoga in Hoover led by Kate Tremblay, co-owner. I was surprised at what the exercise revealed to me. I have returned to Heartwood multiple times since then for Yoga Nidra or Meditation Workshops (www.HeartwoodYoga.com). The class offerings and therapies there are varied and dynamic. Check them out.
I then found Suzanne Graham of Studio Genevieve to lead my sisters and me in a small group Yoga Nidra workshop as we were processing through the grief of the loss of our father, which left my three sisters and me parentless at ages 38, 42, 47, and 49. Again, incredible healing took place. Suzanne has been leading open classes of Yoga Nidra about every four to six weeks on a Friday night at one of the many fine yoga studios around the Birmingham area. Sometimes when I go, I am moved to tears as something inside me shifts as a result of her words combined with what’s going on in my life. Often, I hear people say they relaxed for the first time in a while. Others admit having fallen asleep, but revel in the fact that the sleep was the best they’d had in a while. I see people wiping tears, but doing so in silence, and other times I see people asking Suzanne to help them process through what just happened: they came to the class to learn a new technique of relaxation and what they uncovered deep within themselves is something much greater.
Suzanne’s next class will be Friday night, June 17, at The Yoga Circle from 6-7:30. It’s important that you call her before you come so she will know how many to expect at 205-223-7281. There is a $20 charge for the class. (See www.TheYogaCircle.net for other classes and workshops at their studio)
Suzanne is an area yoga teacher dedicated to her practice. She offers various workshops around town, as well as her regular classes at Studio Genevieve in SoHo.
Laurie M. Knight, author of Journal to the Center of the Soul, is dedicated to spiritual growth. She is an ordained Interfaith Minister, a Reiki practitioner, a writer, a student of mediation, a seeker and learner, and holds a special interest in the spirituality of death and dying. Laurie can be reached through her writing site at www.WritingbyKnight.com.