More than two years ago I connected with Dr. Lauren Tober, a clinical psychologist and yoga teacher. When we met there was an instant rapport. I loved her quiet, yet strong commitment to supporting others to be healthier and happier. She’s initiated projects like, Capturing Gratitude, a photographic happiness project and her e-course, a daily dose of bliss. Each one of Lauren’s offerings give solid tools in bringing you back to balance. I asked Lauren if she could share with us her understanding of the relationship between stress and the breath and to offer a mini practice from a daily dose of bliss. I hope you enjoy her perspective and practice as much as I have.
“Being stressed sets off a cascade of reactions in the body and brings us into Sympathetic Nervous System Dominance, otherwise known as the Stress Response, or the Fight-Flight-or-Freeze Response. A number of stress hormones are released, including adrenaline, which signals to the body that our lives are in danger. And when the body believes our life is danger, it slows down any non-essential functions like digestion, resting, healing and reproduction and focuses on responding to what is perceived to be an immediate and physical threat to our lives. Importantly for diabetes, when the Sympathetic Nervous System is dominant, epinephrine and cortisol are released, which raise blood sugar levels in order to boost energy. If our life is in danger, we need to be able to run away or fight to save ourselves, so the rise of blood sugar levels gets more fuel to the cells so we can face whatever challenge we’re presented with.
The function of the Sympathetic Nervous System is to help us to save our life when it is being threatened. It has a very important function, and without it we might not be here today at all. The problem is not that we have a Sympathetic Nervous System, or even that it is activated from time to time. The problem is that we spend far too much time in this stress response.
The Relaxation Response
Ideally we spend the majority of our time in Parasympathetic Nervous System Dominance, otherwise known as the Relaxation Response or the Rest-Digest-Repair-and-Reproduce branch of the nervous system. And when our lives really are in immediate danger, like we’re being attacked or we step out in front of oncoming traffic, our Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in to save our lives. Then once the danger is over we move back into Parasympathetic dominance, and go about leading calm, balanced, happy and healthy lives.
The problem is that these days many of us are feeling stressed about non-life threatening events and are rushing around trying to meet largely self-induced deadlines. Stress has become a part of our daily lives. Our bodies don’t know the difference between the stress resulting from an immediate life threatening situation and the stress of trying to cram too many things into one day. So our body responds with these age-old life saving responses, whether our life is really in danger or not.
So what can we do about it?
Life can be stressful, especially living with diabetes, and telling yourself to ‘just chill out’ doesn’t always work.
Thankfully, there are some wonderful breathing practices that are widely accepted by both the scientific and yogic communities, that can support us to move from Sympathetic to Parasympathetic dominance, or from stressed out to chilled out. Extending the length of the exhalation is my favourite way to calm the nervous system and instigate the relaxation response.
Find yourself a comfortable position to sit in, press play, and I’ll guide you through this simple but very effective practice. It only takes a few minutes.
Dr Lauren Tober is a Clinical Psychologist, Happiness Coach and Yoga Teacher based in Byron Bay, Australia. With a passion for health, healing and happiness, Lauren integrates the best of western psychology with ancient yogic wisdom, both on and off the mat.
Lauren’s work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Australian Yoga Journal, the ABC, Well Being Magazine, Australian Yoga Life Magazine, Elephant Journal, Peppermint Magazine and more.
Lauren believes that happiness is our true nature, and that yoga, self compassion, gratitude, creativity and community help us to cultivate happiness in our lives on an everyday basis.
To join Lauren’s community and download a free gratitude meditation visit www.hello.laurentober.com.