Press Pause. How to manage your stress levels with one VERY simple technique
A guest blog about techniques to help with managing stress as an entrepreneur by Brenda Ward, founder of Brenda Ward Yoga.
Stress and multi-tasking
Many of us who run our own business spend our entire day multi-tasking and we all know just how stressful this can be. The research bears this out showing that, on a continued basis, multi-tasking can release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which are implicated in a variety of nasty health problems. We begin to fatigue more easily, our blood pressure rises and we are more at risk of developing diabetes, ulcers, heart disease and a variety of mental health disorders. It’s obvious that we need to do something to deal with our stress but we don’t have time to fit yet another thing into our busy schedule. We can tell ourselves to relax but we are so wound up that we can’t. And a glass of wine at the end of the day is tempting but we know it’s a quick fix and not dealing with the underlying problem.
Time for the good news...
But what if there was a way to reduce your stress levels without leaving your home or even your desk, something that was right under your nose? The good news is, there is. It’s called mindful breathing.
Going from mind full to mindful
Mindfulness is a bit of a buzz word at the moment. We hear it all the time but what does it actually mean? Well, at its most basic, mindfulness means to be present and in the moment, to be here right now. It’s a way of resting your mind in its natural state of calm and tranquility. With regular practice, it encourages an awareness that whatever else is going on in our life, at work, or in any stressful situation, that there is always a place of peace and calm within us.
Very simple breath-based mindfulness techniques help us to develop the skill of mindfulness and only take a few minutes’ practice a day to reap the rewards. The science backs this up and mindfulness is now being used to treat a wide range of stressrelated symptoms such as chronic anxiety, depression, anger, addiction, insomnia and OCD.
The 10 big benefits of mindfulness
- Effective way to deal with stress
- Enables us to control negative thought patterns
- Restores the mind to a calm and peaceful state
- Lowers levels of anger
- Helps treat addiction
- Reduces levels of the stress hormone, cortisol
- Helps foster a feeling of calm and improves mood
- Teaches techniques to help with insomnia
- Helps manage anxiety and panic attacks
- Can help treat OCD and mild depression
You don’t need to come to a yoga class to start practising mindfulness
As a yoga teacher, I am passionate about using mindfulness as a tool to help people cope with the stresses of everyday life so, at the start of every one of my classes, I’ll introduce a simple breathbased technique to encourage this.
But you don’t actually need to come to a yoga class to start.
The following practice is one that you can do anytime, anywhere. And if you do it for just 5 minutes a day for the next 30 days, you will notice a difference in how you manage your stress.
It really is that simple.
A five-minute mindfulness practice
Begin by finding a quiet place where you will be undisturbed, turn off your phone and take a moment to sit quietly. Rest your hands on your lap, bringing your right hand into your left palm with your thumb tips together. Make any little adjustments that you need to. Feel the connection between your feet and the ground beneath your feet.
Now become aware of your breath. First notice the breath in your nostrils. Observe it with a light touch - don’t concentrate too hard - simply feel the breath coming in and flowing out. Notice that the air is cool as it comes into your body and a little warmer as it leaves your body. When your mind becomes distracted (it will!), just guide it gently back to your breath.
If you struggle to stay focussed on your breath, hear your mind say the word “in” as you breathe in and the word “out” as you breathe out. Stay with this for a little while.
Next become aware of your abdomen and, again, become aware of your breath here. Notice your abdomen gently expanding as you breathe in and releasing back towards your spine as you breathe out. Again, when your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath.
Eventually your mind will begin to settle quietly upon your breath.
Finally, take your right hand and place it over your navel and your left hand over the centre of your chest. Press firmly. Notice the movement of your abdomen under your right hand and the movement of the chest under your left hand. This is called the anchoring breath and it can help us to manage anxiety and panic attacks. Stay with this for a couple of minutes before gently releasing.
Another five minutes?!
Just supposing that this feels really good and you can find just another five minutes to spare. Once you’ve practised mindful breathing, you are ready to try one of the most relaxing poses ever - the supported fish. I often add this to the end of my yoga classes and my students adore it. All you need is a mat (or thick blanket if you don’t have one) and a yoga block (or a padded cushion). It’s easy. Here’s how.
Simply place the block or support towards the top end of your mat, then lie down allowing your shoulders to drape over it (see photo). Take a few moments to get the block/cushion just right so that it’s really comfortable. If you have a back issue, you may prefer to bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, otherwise stretch out your legs and let your feet fall open. Now extend your arms out to the sides a little away from your body and turn over your palms so that they are facing the ceiling. Adjust your chin so that your neck feels very comfortable. Gently close your eyes. Relax your face, your chin and jaw and soften that little space between your eyebrows.
As you breathe in, hear your mind say silently, “I am peaceful” and as you breathe out hear your mind say silently, “I am calm”.
Stay here for at least 5 minutes.
Supported fish pose comes from a group of practices that together make up a body of practices called restorative yoga. These poses gently reset your entire nervous system and offer your body and mind the opportunity to rest very deeply. Restorative yoga differs from other yoga practices you may be familiar with as it involves holding poses for longer. We also use lots of props such as blankets and pillows to support your muscles and bones and, into this mix, I like to add very soft lighting, gentle music and aromatherapy oils to promote complete physical and mental relaxation.
Try to rest your body in the supported fish pose at least once a week. It’s perfect if you feel tired, stressed or are struggling with the menopause or sleep problems.
If you have just another five minutes …
...Suppose you could eke another just another five minutes. Conscious resting or Savasana is an exercise that is unique to yoga and, in my mind, one of its biggest secrets. It is during this deep resting state that we learn how to simply “be”. Even the thought of that sounds good, doesn’t it? Studies have shown that Savasana offers many powerful benefits when practised regularly including reduced blood pressure and an enhanced immune function.
Even if you have never done yoga before, you can practise this pose.
Here’s how. As before, find a comfortable and warm space where you will be undisturbed. Switch off your phone and lie down on a yoga mat or thick towel or blanket. Stretch out and adjust your legs so that they are comfortably wide apart. Allow your little toes to flop out to the sides (again, if you have a back issue, you may be more comfortable with the knees bent and the feet on the floor). Feel your hips gently ease open. Now extend your arms out to the sides a little away from your body and turn over your palms so that they are facing the ceiling. Adjust your chin so that the neck feels very comfortable. Gently close your eyes. Relax your face, chin and jaw and, again, soften that little space between your eyebrows.
Invite your body to be very still and peaceful.
Then take your awareness to the breath in your abdomen. Observe how your abdomen gently rises and falls with the breath. Observe your abdomen rising on the in-breath and falling on the out-breath. When your mind begins to move away from the breath, guide it gently back.
Now imagine that you are lying on a soft velvet cushion and each time you breathe out, feel your body sinking a little deeper into that cushion. Feel that each out -breath softens your body and lets you sink deeper and deeper into that soft velvet cushion. Stay with this very peaceful awareness for a few minutes.
When you are ready, allow this image to float away gently. Begin to deepen your breathing and gently move your body. Have a lovely long stretch or yawn and then gently roll onto your side. Come up to sitting when you are ready.
Practise Savasana often. It is a powerful antidote to stress.
If thinking about doing any of the above makes you feel stressed out, don’t think about it! Just do any of the suggested practices when you can and let the benefits that arise from their practice be your guide. Over time, you will find that you actually begin to look forward to those precious five, ten or fifteen minutes, which, rather than being yet another thing to add to your busy schedule, will instead create time, space and a sense of peace in your day.
For more inspiration on relaxation techniques, check out this post on the most relaxing yoga poses.
Hi I’m Brenda and I qualified with the British Wheel of Yoga in 2004. I’ve now been teaching yoga, mindfulness and meditation for over 16 years having discovered yoga in my late 20s as a way of helping me to manage, and then heal, a chronic back problem. I had originally qualified as a solicitor but, after this experience, I gave up the Law to try to help others in the way that I had been helped.
Over the course of my teaching career, I have welcomed a huge range of ages and abilities into my classes. In addition to my general classes, I also run fabulous retreats on the Amalfi Coast, children’s yoga and mindfulness classes, and regular workshops at historic Lytham Hall. More recently, I have also started running a foundation course in yoga for those who want to deepen their understanding and knowledge of the practice and/or are thinking about teaching themselves.
I am happy to teach yoga and the techniques of mindfulness on either a one-on-one basis or in a small private or corporate group. Please contact me on 07714 419785, via email on [email protected] or my website at brendayoga.co.uk for further details on any of the above.