Healing the nervous system with Yoga

Tiina Kivinen Blog

Here is an article that I wrote about yoga for the Greenzine, published in Peterborough, Ontario:

Shoulders are tight and slouched, mind is frazzled and nervous system is on the fritz. Day to day life makes us stressed, whether its challenges in the workplace, at home, in relationship, with health, or just the daily grind of a fast paced culture of go go go and push and pull.

The reality is that stress is a factor in most people’s lives, however it shows up. It’s not just something that rears its head during intense life events or drastic change. It’s something that has become pervasive in our society (Stats Canada says work absenteeism due to stress has increased by over 300% since 1995!). There are also many studies revealing the links between stress, and health in body and in mind, with 75% to 90% of all visits to the doctor being for stress-related complaints, according to the American Institute of Stress. In other words, we have a lot of healing to do individually, and culturally…

So how do we do this healing? There are many paths of healing for the nervous system, including meditation, yoga practices, and other forms of movement and breath work. The common response to stress is a ‘fight or flight’ activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the same response that arises when your life is in danger. Practices of yoga, meditation and breath work help us to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the ‘rest and digest’ response.

If you have ever tried yoga, you may be familiar with that sweet sense of relaxation and ease that you feel when a class is over. It’s that state of relaxation that is transformative because, with practice, we start to carry it out of the studio, off the mat, and into our day to day lives, into those moments of tightening and anxiety that occur within the day to day stresses. We can learn to breathe and relax our awareness in the midst of the sometimes turbulent flow of life just as we learn to flow with awareness in yoga postures.

Yoga teaches us to breathe into sensation and experience, to find a state of equanimity or acceptance in a relaxed and open way. The benefits are immense for stress relief, and as we practice breathing into all those little stresses throughout the day, becoming even just a bit more relaxed and at ease, it prepares us for the big moments: Divorce. Illness or Injury. Losing a job. Death of a loved one. As we cultivate the ability to meet each moment with ease, without pushing or pulling, yoga helps us to lean into the moment, even when the stress response strongly wants us to panic.

Breathing, creating space, cultivating ease and presence. These practices that you may experience in a yoga or meditation class go way beyond the mat or cushion, and the benefits go way beyond the physical. I invite you to open up to the teachings of yoga as a way of opening up to a more stress free life, so you can live fully and meet the challenges with the most ease possible.