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Feeling Tense about the Holidays?

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a blog by Beth and Tami of Pulling Down the Moon

“When I sit down to do my yoga breathing or meditation my mind immediately fills with crazy thoughts . . . It’s impossible to relax!”

This is a common complaint from fertility patients who come to us in hopes of managing their stress. And they have a point! Moving from a highly stressed state to a state of relaxation can be very challenging.

When our thoughts are racing, our stomach is turning and our pulse is pounding we feel more like a caged animal than a contemplative Buddha. And there, right in the heart of the problem, rests the solution. On a basic physiological level, we are animals.

When you walk in the doors of our studio you notice that you’ve entered a different environment. The scent of aromatherapy fills the air. Soft, sacred music is playing. The lights are warm and soft. The sofa is really, really comfy. While all this is nice, it’s not just for show. This environment is designed to signal that upon walking through the door, you are entering a place of sanctuary and healing.

And the signal is transmitted through the sense organs. Why? Because our physiological “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” responses are largely governed by a part of our brain called the limbic system. The limbic system processes sensory input and produces an appropriate emotional and physical response, i.e., growl of a bear = fear and panic, smell of food = desire and hunger, smell of baking cookies = homesickness.

This limbic system is a part of the human brain that is very similar to the structure of lower animals. It‘s also pre-cognitive, which means it processes sensory input and formulates a response before our “thinking” brain gets involved.

So what does this mean for relaxation? Well, it means that we can use sensory input to elicit a profound physiological response, like relaxation. We encourage our students to create a “relaxation ritual” that engages as many senses as possible and use it at the start of their relaxation sessions. Implemented daily, the ritual signals to the “primitive brain” that it is time to relax, even when the thinking brain is filled with doomsday scenarios.

A relaxation ritual can be very simple. For example:

    1. Light a candle and dim the lights to signal the eyes that it’s time to relax

    2. Spritz some flower essence around the room or place some pure essential oil on your pulse points to engage the sense of smell

    3. Engage in 2-3 minutes of simple stretches, neck rolls and scalp massage to engage the sense of touch

    4. Play soft music or simply “open your ears” and listen to the sounds around you for a moment.

    5. Once these four steps are in place, begin your relaxation technique (deep breathing, mindful listening or affirmations).

So basically, it’s all about training our bodies to relax on command. If that sounds like puppy school to you, try not to take it too personally. While it may not be particularly flattering to ponder our connection with lower animals, it is incredibly comforting to find mastery over the stresses that ravage our body and our thoughts.

Be present, be positive, be ritualized,


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