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Yoga and meditation in combating the effects of stress. Laura Wilson.

Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Yoga and meditation in combating the effects of stress. Laura Wilson.

I have been teaching corporate yoga or yoga classes within the workplace for more than two years.  My current clients include The Scottish Government, Edinburgh University, Ingeus and Citizens Advice Scotland.  I was recently interviewed by Edinburgh Evening News about my experience of teaching corporate yoga and my thoughts on the benefits a regular yoga and meditation practice may offer to people in high stress environments. Below is a short article in which I hope to address in simplistic terms the issue of stress and the benefits yoga and meditation can offer in combating the effects. Of course like any physical exercise yoga leaves you feeling good – it releases endorphins, builds stamina, strength and flexibility and supports all the major systems to function healthily which inevitably, over time will all have a positive effect.  Alongside these more obvious benefits however, a regular yoga practise offers a more comprehensive, holistic and subtle set of benefits which can greatly enhance mental and physical health and well-being. It is common knowledge that in our modern world stress is a huge factor when considering health and well-being.  Sharing the same physiology as out ancient ancestors but contending with very different daily routines can mean we are all too often stuck in the “fight or flight” mode which thousands of years ago would have saved our lives. When our stress response is triggered the automatic nervous system kicks in, our heart races as we mobilize the body for immediate reaction.  Our body is flooded with hormones and non-essential systems such as the digestive, reproductive or urinary temporarily shut down.  This response to stress is of course essential in certain (but usually rare situations) when our life may be in danger. Our problems begin when the non-life threatening stresses of our daily lives – crossing the road, meeting a deadline, getting the kids to school, writing the presentation, organising the wedding, paying the bills etc. merit the very same physiological reaction.  In order for the body to return to its natural state once this stress response has been triggered it needs activity – it needs us to either stay and fight or fly.  When we do neither (rather ignoring the response nor continuing on with our day) the body is unable to reset itself and continues to produce large amounts of stress hormones.  Prolonged exposure to these hormones, particularly cortisol can have devastating effects on both our mental and physical health and well-being.  The body is not able to recover from one episode before another is actioned, creating a culminate build-up of stress in the body. In very simplistic terms, what yoga and meditation practices offer in combating this dangerous cycle of stress related build up are; a) A tonic to the build-up through calming techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and being present in the body which allow the body to return to a more natural and neutral state of being. b) Increasing the possibility of reducing inappropriate activation of the sympathetic nervous system. A regular yoga practise empowers the practitioner to regulate their own emotional levels and not to get caught in the fight or flight loop unnecessarily. c) By cultivating acceptance and a more mindful approach to life’s challenges yoga promotes self-confidence and self-kindness as well as building resilience which assists in coping with all too common disorders such as stress. The key to keeping on top of your stress levels when you are unable to change the amount of work you are required to do is regularity of practice, little and often.  Whether  this is taking time out to stretch at your desk, starting or ending your day with a ten minute meditation, factoring into your week a regular yoga class or incorporating breathing exercises into your morning routine.  These small changes will, in my experience and over time have enormous benefits to your quality of life. Enjoy!...

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The art of paying attention – Laura Wilson January 2014

Posted by on Jan 21, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

The art of paying attention – Laura Wilson January 2014

It never ceases to amaze me how I continue to discover the absolute relevancy of the practice of yoga within the rest of my life. Reading Vandelli Scaravelli’s wonderful book “Awakening the spine” over New Year she draws reference and influence from mathematics, science, philosophy, nature and art drawing parallels between the world around us and our inner experience in such an unassuming, sensitive and intelligent way. In particular reading Scaravelli re-awoke my interest in the distinction between yoga asana (poses) and other physical exercises. She writes; “Do not kill the instinct of the body of the body for the glory of the pose. Do not look at your body like a stranger, but adopt a friendly approach towards it. Watch it, listen to it, observe its needs, its requests, and even have fun …to be sensitive is to be alive.” As an ex-contemporary dancer and having spent many years enjoying dance, physical theatre and circus performances packed with incomprehensible feats of elegance and poise I am very aware of the extraordinary things the human body can achieve and the heights in which we humans are able to push in order to twist, turn, balance and jump in the name of competition, art or creativity. I have always enjoyed and admired these visual spectacles; I have been touched and awoken as an audience member in a theatre many times. Scaravelli makes the distinction however, between yoga asana and other physical activities. If achieving the most difficult expression of the pose was the only aim then gymnasts and dancers would surely be the best yogis of the world. They, with their ankles wrapped neatly and elegantly around their heads would be the very personification of enlightenment! The difference with yoga is that rather than focusing on the external expression, the practitioner is paying attention to the internal self and in doing so -cultivating a presence within the moment that is unique and therefore very special. The breath, (each breath always being in the present moment) is used as the anchor point to enable the practitioner to stay present and observing. Maintaining a state of heightened sensitivity and being able to pay attention to the experience of the felt senses within the pose is what yoga is looking to cultivate. By definition there for, as long as you are breathing effortlessly, and paying attention you are practicing yoga. Whether in an advanced posture such as vrschikasana balancing on your forearms, toes delicately curving towards the forehead or sitting quietly on your heels in virasana each are equally valid, each yogic in their experience. Of course exploring the limitations of your physicality can be and is, for many (including myself) a huge part of the practice. And as your practice deepens it is inevitable you want to continue to explore the depths of your ability further. Learning to place yourself in challenging poses and to be there and stay in control, to be at ease with the challenge can be very rewarding and can have fascinating implications for learning about your ability to supersede preconceived limitations and fears both on and off the mat. To be at the edge of your physical comfort zone, and to trust in your ability to stay listening and observing within that space is precious time indeed.   Vanda Scaravelli settled in yoga Nidrasana, her grey hair ruffled by the cross of her ankles meeting behind her head here is, in my opinion the epitome of this example. Despite the challenge of the pose, despite the camera lens pointing her way her face remains soft, her breath easy, seemingly totally within the moment, no sense of showmanship or ego.   She reminds her readers “You have to learn to listen to your body, going with it and not against it avoiding all effort and strain…if you are kind to your body, it will respond to you in an incredible way” And so I start 2014 with a renewed passion for challenging my dance school born, ego based attempts to conquer a pose and instead ask myself to...

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