This week’s Yoga class was rather more restful that some that we have had recently – and there was a reason for that! I wanted to concentrate on a peaceful practice to promote de-stressing and look after your adrenal glands for you!
The symptoms of poor adrenal function may include the following:
- feeling overwhelmed
- reduced ability to make decisions
- feeling tired despite adequate sleep
- difficulty getting up in the morning on most days
- increased effort required for everyday activities
- low blood pressure, feeling faint when getting up quickly
- mental fog
- alternating diarrhea/constipation
- low blood sugar
- feeling worse after skipping meals
- decreased sex drive
- decreased ability to handle stress
- craving for salty foods (a.k.a. “I just ate a whole bag of chips syndrome”)
- slowed healing
- mild depression,
- less enjoyment in life
- increased PMS, poor concentration
- reduced productivity
- poor memory
You may recognise some or dare I say it, all of these… In which case, it is a sure sign of adrenal fatigue.
Stress is not your friend!
Stress causes our adrenals to pump out extra hormones, and shifts our body from a relaxing, digesting, healing state to a fight or flight state.
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and you probably don’t give them much thought in every day life!
When you are stressed, the body’s energy is shifted from doing “useless” things like growing beautiful hair, metabolizing, making hormones, digesting and repairing itself, and instead, all of the body’s resources are reserved to make cortisol and adrenaline that is pumped through our veins so that we can keep going.
This mechanism comes in really handy when you are chased by a bear, not so much when the mechanism gets triggered by traffic or loud television shows.
There are four types of stress that turn on our fight or flight response;
- mental/emotional stress
- sleep disorders
- metabolic/ glycemic dysregulation
- chronic inflammation
Eventually, we run out of nutrients that are required for proper adrenal function and we get to a state of adrenal fatigue. This is when our body is no longer able to heal itself and we feel drained.
Recovering from adrenal fatigue
Replenishing nutrients and using adaptogens that balance out the adrenals can be helpful for everyone. Stabilizing the blood sugar through diet is also important.
Adrenal saliva testing can also be done to determine which stage of adrenal fatigue the person is in, and supplements can be used accordingly. Those like me with Thyroid dysfunction will often be so long getting the correct treatment within the NHS that they inevitibly end up with adrenal fatigue and it can take years to recover as I found out in my old job as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University in Sheffield.
By far, the most important strategy for combating adrenal fatigue does not involve dieting, supplements, medications or testing. This strategy however, is often the hardest to implement. That strategy is…stress reduction. Your weekly or twice weekly Yoga class is going a long way to help, especially if you can begin to take a few of the strategies home and start your own small practice there using the notes I send each week.
If you find you only have two settings “GO” and “SLEEP”, then you’ll know that you don’t have a strategy to relax, smell the roses, turn-off or unwind. And that is not the same thing as pouring a glass of prossecco and settling down in front of the TV. It needs to be the kind of winding down we do in class, which is equivalent to 4 hours sleep did you know!!!!
I find it helpful to put my Yoga practice in my diary. Each day is different in my week, so I don’t have the same time slot every day, although if you can do this, it is better as it establishes the habit more easily.
On top of your daily Yoga practice and some deep breathing and meditation exercises, you could also try the following to help you begin to heal from adrenal fatigue…
- Cut out toxic people and toxic lifestyle choices … During my training I had to keep a daily journal that was marked!!! That is a good motivator, I can tell you! I was amazed how much I learned about myself in terms of who and what was toxic in my life and was able to grow quickly as I rid myself of habits and people that weren’t working well for my spiritual growth. So I’ve kept the habit to this day and it is very calming, especially when sorting through a period of a lack of self belief or heavy self criticism because when you see things in writing you realise what you are doing to yourself…
- Get tidy and organised as it really is difficult to start your practice or relax properly when your jobs are winking at you. I own 3 ornaments only and have very few possessions. Every time a new item comes into our home, a few go out to be given away or sold. Life is much simpler that way and it is very easy to be tidy if you have everything in it’s place and there isn’t much to organise. Orderliness and predictability are your friends when you are stressed. Schedule times to clean the house and catch up on life, not just big events. At my worst with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, when my adrenals were truly SHOT, I learned to pace myself. Even to this day, I try not to have every single hour of the day packed and will often have time off in the week to recover if my schedule is heavier that I would really like.
- Consume less. Many of you know I don’t own a TV and this really helps to keep me calm and peaceful.. Hubby is practically alergic to noise so our house is silent. Again, a huge help in my healing.
- Get off the Internet! I find it easy to tell my colleagues when I’ll be logged on so that they aren’t trying to get me all hours!
- Stay out of stores or you’ll end up with lots of clutter with the endless pressure to have more and more.
- Have an un-timetabled day each week. Just allow the day to be without restriction or planning. Just like being on holiday! If at all possible, have an untimtabled hour or few hourse EVERY day! It is often the rush from thing to thing that causes stress. Even if the things are lovely…
- Schedule a message/spa day and if possible make it a silent retreat to take in all the delicious sensuous experiences.
- Mindfulness: try pausing, and being present. Be observant of how things are affecting you can be a great way to learn how to relax yourself.
- Avoid getting overtired and/or overexcited (I’m not so good at this ha ha)
- Avoid multi tasking like the plague. Be like a Zen Master and do one thing at once with great mindfulness. You’ll be amazed at how de-stressed you feel!
- Laugh several times a day
- Make breaks between activities just to arrive or to appreciate what you’ve done.
- Automate and Delegate as much as possible. Even better, eliminate!
- Appreciate your pet, your child, your partner. I find if I hold my tounge and get out of any pattern of constant criticism, my adrenal glands love me to bits and funnily enough, it doesn’t breed resentment in the way voicing niggles does. I do this by reminding myself that I’m not perfect… Be more resilient by being more flexible. Bruce Lee once said “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
- Avoid burning the candle at both ends.
- If possible ensure that Yoga Nidra is part of your daily practice (see notes below)
- Make sure you bring your spine into all it’s range of movements in your daily practice (forward bends, back bends, side bends and twists) to keep you healthy in body and mind.
In class this week we practised the hypnayogic state known as Yoga Nidra. Through the practice we achieve a state in which the mind is exceptionally receptive in a place between waking and sleep. It is important to relax yourself but you don’t necessarily have to move at all as you found easily I hope. You keep yourself awake and listen to my voice (in most cases) but you are very near to sleep. You may loose sensations of the body but you will be able to hear and respond according to instructions.
Because Yoga Nidra brings out a state of sensory withdrawal, many people think it is a form of hypnosis. But the truth is that these two are totally different sciences. Although they start from the same point of relaxation and receptivity, yoga nidra proceeds in one direction and hypnosis in another. The idea behind YN is that you are able to transcend the barriers of our personality (Ego) and go to any depth or height. You are relaxed but you do not sleep (in an ideal world). You are not conscious on the sensory level, but you are consciuos of practising yoga nidra as the brain is completely awake (as opposed to hypnosis in which the participant is led into a deep sleep in which the brain is shut down). Your experience of it is independent of the instructor, who doesn’t have to have an especially soothing voice as they are only a guide.
YN usally begins by setting a resolve in the practice, and it comes naturally to mind. Examples of the resolve are:
- I am living a happy, healthy life
- I am getting stronger every day
- I am flexible and free
- I am more peaceful and calm every day
- I am awakening my spiritual potential
The key thing is to put the wish in the present tense…
We then begin the rotation of consciousness in which we bring awareness to different parts of the body. I personally choose the parts first which take up the most room in the cortex, represented by the sensory homunculus.
You can see why I start with hand, lips, tongue! We then draw attention to the breath and there are various ways of doing this that you’ll have experienced in class over the past year or so. Following this period of concentration, we then use our imagination to congure up images which we can engage as much as possible with – visualising the colours, patterns and shapes, imagining the smells and sensual experiences attached to the images. You’ll have noticed I mentioned vivid images, often with colours, sounds and sensations attached, such as a crackling fire, snow capped mountains, a deep blue ocean. As we gently come round from Yoga Nidra we can experience a real sense of peace and harmony throughout the body, mind and emotions.
The importance of the opening the heart centre
In this week’s classes we are concentrating on opening the chest area using a new technique of 3 part breath awareness, known as Dirga Pranayama. It is called the three part breath because you are actively breathing into three parts of your abdomen. The first position is the low belly (on top of or just below the belly button), the second position is the low chest (lower half of the rib cage), and the third position is the low throat (just above the top of the sternum). The breath is continuous, inhaled and exhaled through the nose. The inhalation starts in the first position, the low belly; then moves to the second position, the low chest; then to the third position, the low throat. The exhalation starts in the low throat, moves to the low chest, and finishes in the low belly. We tried mixing things up in class depending on the poses we were doing and this helped us develop concentration ready for Yoga Nidra…
The reason why we were concentrating on extending the breath is because the rib cage is the major limiting factor in all movements of the thoracic spine so if we can extend the mobility of the ribs, we will get a safer and better back bend. As we breathe in, the ribs elevate, deepening the chest from front to back. The breastbone moves forward and the spine moves backwards. As you will have noticed, there is necessarily a slight deepening of the lumbar curve by virtue of the pull of the diaphragm on the front of the lumbar spine as it contracts. However we need to be careful of doing all the work lower down as this defeats the object of trying to mobilise this stiff area in our backs.
Another reason for participating in deepening the breath and mobilising the thoracic spine was to counteract our tendency toward having round shoulders (even developing into the Dowadger’s Hump in later life) which in turn makes us feel “slumped”, depressed and tense. Releasing this area ties into reducing physical tension which in turn helps our adrenal glands function better!
In opening out the chest, the shoulders need to come back and the use of the block in lying position made this instantly possible. In humans, extension movements happen most easily in the lumbar and cervical spine but the thoracic area, because of its attached rib cage and elongated spinal processes has much more difficulty moving into extension and often remains stiff, keeping the heart centre closed off and the breathing necessarily shallow.
As I mentioned in class, we spend very little of our lives in extension, and when we do this work in yoga it requires much more effort than flexion. This is the reason why we did our work on the floor mostly because a standing back bend is often unwise to sustain.
I hope you enjoyed class this week. Any and all feedback is welcome, as always.