Stress, the big S that seems to feature in every life, no matter how big or small, no matter how long-lived, or how freshly-sprouted. The demands made on us by our varied interests, our multiple everyday pursuits, and our ever-diminishing quotas of rest and sleep have crossed the boundary from “crazy hectic” to “absolutely unbelievable”!
As a way of compensating, most of us take up some form of exercise (or at least dream of doing so) to offset our mental pressures, and find some reprieve. However, have you ever thought of just how physical activity helps you combat stress?
Endorphins spell the end of stress!
It’s actually true, Exercise IS the perfect medicine for Stress. Every mile we run, every extra rep of workout we grunt through, releases a rush of Endorphins, chemicals that are natural painkillers. By leading us into deeper sleep states, they ensure that our bodies get more rest, and heal from all the strain sufficiently to tackle whatever comes to us next.
Exercise also helps us beat stress in a very physical way. Stress and strain are closely inter-linked, and for those of us who sit long hours at desk jobs, or stand long hours working at repetitive jobs, our muscles get tight, tensed and start undergoing severe strain. When we repeat this day after day, the physical effects of stress make themselves felt as chronic pain. Stretching our muscles to their fullest capacity, lifting weights or doing a brisk cardio workout helps to release muscular tensions and restore our body to form.
Don’t moan, Meditate!
When physical stress isn’t so much of a problem, when worry and high-tension jobs are what wear you out the most, exercise may help you get rest, but may not push away your issues. A Carnegie Mellon study reveals that even a few minutes of Meditation can help reduce stress.
Hormones play a role here too. Cortisol, the body’s principal stress hormone, helps us by pushing our bodies into heightened awareness and activity levels when required (think extra battery power to finish your important business call). In all, Cortisol is a good thing. But imagine if the alarm bell never went off, and the signal for the body to stop producing cortisol never came on. That’s when stress becomes an issue. Meditation helps the body go into peaceful mode and the mind enters a restful state. Cortisol production is halted and the body gets its signal to calm down and enjoy life instead of staying in a state of high alert.
Is YOGA your answer?
Yoga comes from a root Sanskrit word that means both “to control or concentrate”, and “to yoke or join”. The physical dimension of Yoga, often called Hatha (pronounced Hut-ah) calibrates the body to a very high level of precision and performance (think of it as oiling your engine and keeping it at its peak form). The second aspect of Yoga deals with breathing – or controlling of the prana (breath). This helps you sync your body and mind and bring them into the same rhythm of functioning. Once this is done, the Yogi can start meditating, the third and final element of Yoga that yokes the physicality of exercise with the harnessing of intellect. Together, in harmony, the two morph into a miraculous creation, capable of fantastic accomplishments, with the ability to surpass its own successes time and again.
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