Twist, turn, open, aaahhhh….

Hello readers!  Hello Yogis! Hello world…Wednesday December 28th, 2011

Melinda’s Teaching Schedule Winter 2012 PLUS Christmas/New Years Holiday Week 2011 (please scroll down)

Equinox Columbus Circle – Sundays, 9:30-10:30am Power Vinyasa,

Tuesdays 6:30-7:45pm, Level 2 Vinyasa

Equinox Soho (new class!) – Wednesdays, 7:30-8:30pm, Level 2/3 Vinyasa

Please come to one, two or all 3 classes!  I can always have a guest if you are not a member.

December 26-Jan 1st 2012: 

Tuesday December 27th, 6:30pm Columbus Circle

Wednesday December 28th Soho: NO CLASS

Friday December 30th: Soho, 12:30-1:30pm

Saturday December 31st: 74th and 2nd Avenue, 10:30-11:45am

Sunday January 1st: Columbus Circle  11:30am-1:00pm

Please come to any/all classes!  And Happy Holidays!  This post is not new but seems to still be fitting for any holiday season, so enjoy! In 2012 I will be adding vinyasa sequences to my posts so be sure to check those out!

We are pretty much in the thick of it by now, meaning, its winter time here in NYC and the tourists are taking over!  We miss the carefree, leisurely approach the sweet warm breeze would suggest, we miss the laid back smile and easy going feel of concerts outdoors, picnics, long weekends and flip flops.  But for whatever our reasons, we live here, in the land of seasonal change, and so we dive into winter, knowing we get to experience some different stimulation…some of us are traveling for holidays, some of us have resumed usual work hours, some of us have taken on new projects.  One thing is to be certain, these can be stressful times for all of us.

And what does stress have to do with yoga?  And how does yoga help stress?  Does yoga even help stress, or that just a catch phrase used by yoga folk to get you in the front door and then boom!  your’re hooked?  Well, not exactly…although us yoga folk have been known to list all the myriad of benefits offered via yoga in the hopes that a new practitioner might start to feel just a little better, a little looser, smile a little easier and laugh a little more often.   I have been researching stress for a while now, having recieved a masters degree in Health Education this past May.  Along my way in school I was fortunate enough to have read some of the literature dealing with stress, stressors and what we call the “stress response”  of the body and mind.  I will expose you to some of these ideas, and then see how they are linked to our yoga practice. Some will seem familiar, most will seem logical and hopefully all will serve to validate how and why stress can be such a tricky subject to navigate and manage with a semblance of control.

One of the first and most familair interpretations of the stress response is the “fight or flight” response, observed when lab animals where subjected to extreme conditions, there by producing what came to be termed “stress”.  These animals were seen to respond with either of two extreme reactions: “fight”, becoming confrontational, territorial, hostile or aggressive, or “flight”, becoming withdrawn,shutdown, and /or  incapable of sustaining their normal patterns/habits.

The next idea of stress expanded upon fight or flight to include a stage known as burnout, or fatigue.  This idea comes from a coping model where we experience the stressor, but instead of either fight or flight, we find a way to accomodate the stress, but for a limited time.  This time frame will be different for everyone.  Eventually we will reach the stage where we cannot tolerate the stress anymore, and we will reach burnout – at this point we will be more or less forced towards a fight or flight response.

The last idea of stress deals with the subtleties of stress, specifically the subjective interpretation  of a stressful event. This idea focuses on whether or not we perceive any particular situation as stressful or not. If indeed we deem it to be stressful for us, we also subjectively determine whether we are going to address the event itself, address how we feel about the event, and/or address whether or not we have the resources required to handle the event.  Once we have determined what merits our attention, we proceed to rely on our coping skills – these are general behavioral patterns that we have learned to rely on to alleviate or distract us from our stress.  These coping skills are sometimes productive and healthy, and sometimes destructive and less healthy.  This is where the practice of yoga comes into the picture…

When we are under chronic stress, we often times find ourselves feeling “tight” – this is the result of muscles contracting or shortening because that is how muscles respond to stress.  If we don’t do something to lengthen our muscles, we develop pain, either mild or severe, either localized or widespread.  All of us have felt this when we know are are overdue for a massage or a vacation.  In yoga class we feel this in several ways.  I often cue my students to “relax your shoulders, un-clench your jaw, un-squint your eyes…”.  These cues serve as a reminder to pay attention to the parts of us that might be on auto pilot.  How else does yoga help alleviate stress?  In yoga class we are asked and encouraged to think of one specific thing:  the current asana we are performing. We might be asked to think about how it feels, how we can deepen it, or to modify it for pain or discomfort.  The one thing we are not asked to do is make endless lists of things to do and get done, of things we wish we could do or not do, or the things we wish we were doing instead of what we are doing…in short, we are asked to focus primarily on the present moment, and secondarily of how we feel in that particular moment.  At the same time we are asked to breathe deeply and let our thoughts stay focused on our posture, our practice, our breath.  Once we are able to integrate that level of conscious thinking, we can release stress, because for many of us stress is the opposite phenonema – having multiple things to think about and take care of at the same time.  This is how yoga helps mediate the stress response.  Shivasana is the culmination of all this, where we allow the breath to deepen, the body to slow down and for the stillness and tranquility to engulf us, just long enough that we emerge less frantic, pressured, squeezed than when we came in.

I hope you enjoyed reading about stress, its modern day interpretations and some ways to handle it.  See you in class!

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we recieve that heals us. ” M. Hobart Mowrer (1966)

“Things do not change.  We change.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden