Intensify and relax

Bring a fresh eye to self regulation, wellness and yoga

I just finished another fantastic Kaiut Yoga class (thank you, Kelly and Lori), and was so inspired by what I learned that I decided to postpone my original topic and write this instead.

I’m sure we’ve all heard many phrases like “relax in the midst of crisis,” or “be calm in a storm,” or something similar. This evening I heard, “intensify while relaxing” with fresh ears. And while I heard it on a yoga mat, this simple statement can be generalized and used in so many different areas of life right now.

What does it mean to relax in the midst of the crisis? On the yoga mat it means to hold a standing pose and loosen the neck muscles. It means to stretch the arms and shoulders while relaxing the torso and breathing easily. These descriptions are teaching the body how to do two seemingly opposite things at the same time. The body gets to intensify in one part and relax in another. We are teaching ourselves how to regulate our own system; such an important skill to understand and continue expanding our ability to tolerate more.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the Tiger and Dragon views held by those of us working at the StLWC and I was describing just this sort of thing. Whether on a yoga mat where we learn to regulate our own flight/fright/freeze system, or in therapeutic massage where the therapist directs the body’s attention to the specific area needing to be relaxed while you breathe through the distress, it is all gently teaching and guiding the body and mind at the Tiger level.

Self-regulation in fight/flight/freeze

I also realized this evening with a newness (I’ve only heard this about a gazillion times before), that once I’m striving, out of a calm state and snagged by the desire for MORE, the benefits of regulating the nervous system in the pose are over. This is especially interesting since a great deal of our society is based upon pushing and acquiring more. We aspire to greatness – who cares that we’re actually doing damage to ourselves, our relationships and our society. To be fair, we come from a long line of ancestors who had to strive to stay alive; this is in our DNA. I propose, though it doesn’t make it correct, to continue engaging in behavior that damages ourselves and our world. We need to learn and practice relaxing, and in this way while also intensifying.

Right now, while we are in crisis after crisis, let us aspire to understand and remember to relax at every opportunity. You might try right now: Tighten your right fist and loosen your neck muscles. Hold this pose for a few rounds of breath, maybe 8-10. Do you feel that? That is your body/mind regulating itself. Try another, pull your left toes back toward your shin and relax your shoulders while breathing. Again, notice what you feel in your body. That spaciousness is your body’s innate healing.

If you’re inclined the next time you hear frightening or harsh information, see if you can also let the shoulders drop down, breath into your belly and notice you are safe, you are ok. Over time, this conscious shift can become automatic and begin to make inroads in your system regulation and getting out of fight/flight/freeze. After all, it is a fool’s errand to try to stop all the stress in our lives. Or, as Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live says, “You can spend your time carpeting the world, or just wear houseshoes.”

Have fun playing with these ideas this week and remember always to have a light touch as we reprogram our systems for health and wellness.

Dr. Gwin Stewart founded the St. Louis Wellness Center in 2007. Read more about her HERE.

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