Today we did a quick 40 minute “lunchtime stress workshop” for the students at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising downtown. Of course, the irony of when you pick the busiest and most stressful time of year to hold a wellness workshop, most people are too busy and stressed out to even come. But I had about 10 students and staff attend the little workshop, and we had a ton of fun, eventually really bonding with each other while we shared our experiences with stress and how we cope.
We began the workshop with about 10 minutes of lecture and some diagrams about what exactly is happening to the body when we get stressed:
“The sympathetic nervous system mobilizes the body’s resources under stress; induces the flight-or-fight response. Think about when you observe an animal like a deer grazing calmly then they see that they are stalked by a lion and kick into high gear. The limbic portion in the brain (close to yhe brain stem) deals with emotions, the fight or flight response and releases stress hormones like adrenalin and norepinephrine. The side effects: increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, anxiety, panic. Chronic stress can lead to continuously high levels of cortisol. Excessive amounts of cortisol can suppress the immune system and cause sleep disturbances, loss of sex drive and appetite. Interestingly, byproducts of cortisol act as sedatives, which can lead to drops in mood, depression.”
One student, Andre, was hilarious and remarked that after feeling stressed for periods of time, a downswing in energy and mood would hit later–thus the effects of the cortisol byproducts.
I mentioned that we can “rescue ourselves” from being overwhelmed by activating the PARAsympathetic nervous system. “The parasympthatetic nervous system can counteract the fight or flight response. We can activate it by deepening the breath and by relaxing the skeletal muscles. This is where yoga comes in. Yoga helps calm you by pairing movement with rhythmic breathing. Any kind of movement, like yoga, circulates the lympha thru the lymphatic system for detoxifaction. Couple this with rhythmic breathing and we shift our neurological function from using the limbic portion of the brain to the front of the brain, where executive/creative functions are.”
We ran through a simple third eye meditation coupled with Ujayi breath, then extended into a 15 minute seated yoga sequence of spinal warm ups, seated twists, forward folds and mermaid pose on each side–all poses coupled with that deep, rhythmic breath. I really could feel myself calming down as I taught, and I tried my best to guide the students through having that subtle conversation with their bodies: were they feeling stiffness or emotional issues stored deeply in places in their body they didn’t even know about? Could they feel the calming of the nervous system and the slowing of the heartbeat as they sat quietly, lengthening each inhale and exhale in Ujayi breath?
I stressed that it is important to know that our bodies are machines to some extent, and they will go through a range of reactions to stress. Knowing more about what happens in your body is empowering and comforting. You know when you get stressed out what sequence of events happen in your brain and body, then you let it happen, then you let it go …
We finished the class with a fun little aromatherapy experiment. I explained the emotional link to smell, and the fact that in my classes, I like using a certain scent sometimes to create an association or link in the mind to a state of relaxation. Sometimes inhaling that scent will bring back that memory of calm, that state of relaxation. I had lemongrass, red grapefruit and cinnamon/sandalwood as the essential oil choices and little 1 oz plastic spray bottles half full of filtered water. Everyone had fun choosing a scent (or two) and putting some drops in the water and inhaling the scent.
A really fun experience overall! I could have talked with the students for hours. 🙂 I was showing them all kinds of different poses upon request to deal with different types of stiffness or inflexibility in the body. It’s a little scary sometimes throwing myself into these situations where I have to lecture or try to compress many hours of study into a half hour experience that will make any sense to anyone, but it’s always worth ten times more in reward than I could have imagined. This will be a great workshop to offer on a regular basis at my future studio, or upon request with anyone who needs it anytime. 🙂