Your stress levels are high and you can feel it. Your body and mind are suffering from stress effects, and initially they can be as indiscernible as interrupted sleep, a bad mood, or maybe physically a cold, constipation or feeling run down. Long-term stress can have horrendous consequences on the body, that is a well documented fact. The WHO calls stress a health epidemic, and much like a now well known pandemic, this stress epidemic causes millions of pounds of loss for people and businesses. It also really sucks being stressed and can make you ill long term.
Let's have a look at some de-stress strategies that we use at the studio, and we know first hand, work very well. You don't have to come to a class to do some of these, you can do them at home, at work, in your car, waiting for the kids to finish swim lessons.....
What is breathwork?
Anyone can breathe, right?! Sure, and that's the beauty of it - you have the tools for this thing called breathwork already within you. But learning the technique can make this simple tool into a powerful one to relief stress, anxiety and even panic attacks. Breathwork has an immediate and undeniable effect on the body and brain.
Consciously changing your breathing pattern, to land yourself in the present moment, results - quite magically - in calmness.
Long term, your physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing benefit from formal breathwork.
Breathwork and stress levels
Breathing in deeper and exhaling longer, results in our fight or flight response and symptoms of anxiety and stress being reduced. This is because when we breathe deeper and longer, the sympathetic nervous system which functions when we are stressed switches over to the parasympathetic nervous system which reduces stress.
Breathwork enhances your physical health as stress symptoms such as raised blood pressure, decrease, and the brain fog lifts.
Through deep breathing you induce deep muscle relaxation which can improve sleep, and restlessness.
More complex breathing techniques, such as holotropic breathwork, even help the release of trauma and stress trapped in the body.
Is it worth getting a breath work instructor?
Some of the breathing techniques will require an instructor to teach you safely how to perform a certain breath technique such as holotropic breathwork. And for some techniques it's just a great idea to learn how to do them "right", ie most effectively. You can now download a whole host of apps, too to guide you through breathwork exercises, and there is always the option of joining a yoga class and learn breathwork alongside the yoga, as there will always be some breathwork in each class.
Which brings us to: Yoga
Every yoga class at Unwind includes physical moving and stretching, holding poses and focused breathing and meditation - a whole body and mind practice with numerous benefits for both. Improving your body and your mind in unison leads to one thing: an improved quality of life, and more happiness!
But how can yoga help with stress?
Have you ever wondered why yoga teachers seem so stress free and light? Yep, it is true! Granted, not all the time, they are humans after all..I think.
People who regularly practice yoga are better at regulating and dealing with their mental, physical, and physiological stress.
Having LOWER stress levels directly impacts the immune system by giving it a BOOST! I think we all need this, don’t you?
A study was done on individuals who worked as caregivers for people with dementia, which you can all imagine is highly stressful! The caregivers took part in a yoga and meditation practice, and researchers found that by doing this the caregivers had an increase in activity in 19 genes that benefitted the immune systems functioning, and a decrease in activity of 48 genes that negatively impacted the immune system!
So, yoga and meditation not only help manage stress but also improve the functioning of tiny tiny molecules in our bodies! How amazing is that?!
Have a look at this video from the research team at Yoga Alliance: The Immune System and Yoga
Unwind Yoga Studio specialises in the slower yoga styles and there is a fine reason for that: not only can you build muscle, get strong and flexible with slow moving yoga, you also lower your stress response every time. To have a look at what class types we offer check this out: Classes at Unwind
Can't talk about feeling less stressed without talking about meditation. More and more research supports the fact that meditation is extremely powerful at reducing stress. The thing that holds a lot of people back is that it's not a quick fix. It requires consistency and patience. But it also is very easy to do. You need: absolutely nothing other than yourself and your breath.
What is meditation?
So, the general gist of it is a practice where you sit in a relaxing position, and try to focus your mind on one thought or sensation, like your breathe, your favourite mantra, or nothing at all.
In fact, any technique where you attempt to focus your attention on something (breath, an object, a mantra), or nothing (ie Zen meditation) without judging what your mind does, is meditation.
Complicated? Let's simplify: Meditation is re-training your attention.
There, that's better!
How does meditation help de-stress?
Once you’ve been doing meditation for a bit, you start experiencing detachment from arising thoughts. Instead of continuing to think about them, you just observe them with no reaction (Sharma, 2015).
This leads to a relaxed state, and due to a reduction in prolonged stress and the stressful thoughts that arise with that negative state, you feel better.
In response to this the immune system can also start to repair worn down parts of your body, which helps improve your health. Some are the following:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced number of deaths related to heart problems
- Experience lower levels of stress
- Improved outcomes in people with heart failure
- Immune system improvements
- Ageing rate of the mind slows down
This is a great video on meditation and its effects on stress: https://www.verywellmind.com/meditation-4157199
Colouring is a fabulous and popular way to reduce stress. "But I am an adult!" you cry? Getting your inner child out may be the best thing you have done on a long time, and science agrees.
Studies show that the part of your brain that is in charge of your fear response (the amygdala) is relaxed by the act of colouring. Your mind which is constantly thinking about this, that, and the other, is put into a meditative state, where your thoughts reduce, creating an inner quiet.vAlongside this quiet you may also start to experience mindfulness, which is when you are aware and paying attention to the present moment, on purpose with no judgment towards it. This quality can also be developed from practicing meditation. So, mindful colouring is being in the moment in a non-judgmental way while colouring.
A recent study at the Birmingham City University showed that:
Colouring trains your focus by engaging the frontal lobe of your brain, which is associated with problem solving, organising, and focusing the mind.
Being in the moment reduces anxiety and stress, because you are not worrying about the 100 things you have to do in the future, or what you could be doing instead. You focus on the now, and your worries melt away.
Colouring can help reduce the feeling of overwhelm, it is a great break from the responsibilities you have or the revision your children are doing. So, taking time to be creative now and then is important (especially on those stressful days)!
Creativity and colouring helps unlock your imagination, and will only improve your problem-solving skills, because your brain will be more open to creative solutions and possibilities!
Now that you know this, why not invest in yourself, and get an adult mindful colouring book? I got mine from Amazon! We also have some cute doodle diaries and positive planners at the Unwind Yoga Studio Shop (we call it the Unwind Room!). So come on in and have a browse!
To sum it up
So, there you have it! 4 techniques/practices you can start infiltrating into your life.
Within both yoga and meditation, breathwork is a key aspect, and is accessible to you whenever you need it.
Whether you decide you want to have a break with some colouring or start practicing yoga, meditation, or breathwork, it is totally up to you!
Remember to be patient with yourself as you learn these techniques. The more you practice them, the more natural they will feel, and the more tools you will have to help you reduce and deal with stress and its effects on your being and quality of life. Give it a try and see what happens!
We run regular yoga for beginners courses that can be a start to a life where you deal with stress through yoga, breathwork and meditation: https://www.unwindyogastudio.com/beginners-yoga-course
Aggarwal, M., Bozkurt, B., Panjrath, G., Aggarwal, B., Ostfeld, R. J., Barnard, N. D. et al. (2018). Lifestyle modifications for preventing and treating heart failure. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 72(19), 2391-2405. URL: https://www.jacc.org/doi/10.1016/j.jacc.2018.08.2160
Beaumont (2016). URL: https://www.beaumont.org/health-wellness/blogs/health-benefits-of-coloring-for-adults
Birmingham City University (2022). URL: https://www.bcu.ac.uk/exams-and-revision/wellbeing/colouring
Healthline (2019). What is Breathwork? URL: https://www.healthline.com/health/breathwork
Madeson, M. (2021). 12 Breathing exercises for managing stress, anxiety, and panic attacks. https://positivepsychology.com/breathing-exercises/
Toussaint, L., Nguyen, Q. A., Roettger, C., Dixon, K., Offenbächer, M., Kohls, N., ... & Sirois, F. (2021). Effectiveness of progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery in promoting psychological and physiological states of relaxation. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/5924040
Schultz, J. (2021). 5 Differences between mindfulness and meditation. Positive Psychology: https://positivepsychology.com/differences-between-mindfulness-meditation/
Sharma, H. (2015). Meditation: Process and effects. Ayu, 36(3), 233-237. DOI: 10.4103/0974-8520.182756. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4895748/
Tulloch, A., Bombell, H., Dean, C., & Tiedemann, A. (2018). Yoga-based exercise improves health-related quality of life and mental well-being in older people: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Age and ageing, 47(4), 537-544. URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afy044
Very Well Mind (2020). URL: https://www.verywellmind.com/meditation-4157199
Yoga Alliance (2020). URL: https://youtu.be/29JADDCD5T8
Youkhana, S., Dean, C. M., Wolff, M., Sherrington, C., & Tiedemann, A. (2016). Yoga-based exercise improves balance and mobility in people aged 60 and over: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Age and ageing, 45(1), 21-29.URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afv175