Why I like slow boring yoga - How to kick the adrenaline addiction

I like to think people are beginning to realise that employees are more productive when they are not super stressed out. As a school teacher I once worked so hard I got to the point where I just had to say 'fuck it!' and take time off from the crazy, thankless job for my own sanity.

Unfortunately, I was bullied by my 'superiors' who said that I could kiss any career progression goodbye if I did that. They were shocked when I told them that career progression was less important to me than my health & that it was disappointing to me that they were using veiled threats at a time when they should have been considering my health too. I got offered a promotion later on despite this (which I didn't take, as I had decided by then that I was giving up the job). So promotions, etc., will still come along, and are maybe even more likely to come along if you value yourself. If you value yourself, others will do the same.

Valuing the body:  Don't worry about what you can't do.  Celebrate what you can do.

I did fast paced, ashtanga yoga for a few years. I gave it up as I wasn't enjoying it anymore, it felt harsh on my joints. I had previously used yoga to heal the back pain of childhood gymnastics, and in my ashtanga practice I noticed the back pain returning and I was not about to go into that again.  Strangely enough, since giving up the ashtanga, I find I can do many of the the postures I found difficult whilst doing ashtanga with more ease and comfort that I ever could manage as a regular ashtanga practitioner.

My body responds better to gentle, regular, nourishing movement.

Putting my body under stress to do postures just released more adrenaline into my system, and that didn't help my stress levels or negative thought patterns. It made me feel lazy, incompetent, weak and stiff.  This was crazy.  If you asked anyone else apart from me, to label me using those polarities, they would have said I was busy, competent, strong and flexible.  Anyone apart from one well known and popular ashtanga teacher who did actually call me lazy as he tried to force my short limbed body into a posture designed for Mr Tickle.  As I told him he was the only person to have ever called my overly pitta self lazy, and realised that I was justifying myself to someone who cared less for me than his reputation, I decided that ashtanga yoga was not what my pitta body & mind needed to find balance.

Celebrate what you can do...

Celebrate what you can do...

Besides, I should be celebrating what I can do! Too much of my life had already been spent listening to people trying to put me down.  I have an awesomely strong and capable body! It was shouting at me to treat it to some loving, nourishing rest.

Once I let go of those emergency holding patterns around my low back, neck, shoulders & hips, I felt my adrenaline and stress levels reduce as my rest and digest response kicked in. I started getting quality sleep.

My best advice to get the best from yoga is to find a really slow and boring but indulgently nourishing & gentle yoga class to go to regularly. One where you can let go of the hurry. If we take the hurry from everyday life into our yoga, we run the risk of doing every yoga posture by utilising those same old fast twitch emergency muscles whose activation is causing our muscular imbalances in the first place.  Sure, you will get an adrenaline high from the workout, but you can get that from body pump or aerobics with less strain on your joints.  The boring, slow, repetitively nourishing yoga class will give you time to figure out how to engage the slow twitch stabilising muscles that will stabilise our joints and bring us out of fight & flight by allowing the adrenaline fuelling fast twitch muscles to have a rest.

Unfortunately the body does not know the difference between stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system caused by stress of a job and stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) caused by a fast yoga class. All the body reads from both situations is that the SNS is being used, so it must be a fight or flight situation, so lets release more adrenalin.

If we want to bring ourselves out of fight & flight and into rest & digest (parasympathetic nervous system stimulation) we have to let the body know that it is safe to rest by taking things slowly and not rushing around. While the body still thinks it is on the battlefield, it will not take the time to have a rest and heal itself.  

I think its important to remember that the mind is part of the body. It is not the enemy. It is your friend. If you suffer from so called negative thoughts, it might be because the body thinks it is still on the battlefield. The SNS needs you to look for threatening things when you are on a battlefield. Its a really useful survival strategy.  

As you start to slow down, you will notice the thoughts more. The impulse will be to keep busy so you do not have time to focus on the thoughts. Keeping busy is not conducive to resting. Be patient with the mind. Imagine your mind is the mind of a small child. It knows no better than to keep using its basic fight & flight survival strategy of looking for threats. It is as subject to the stimulation of the SNS and the increased systemic adrenaline levels as your body. Be patient. Explain to it that it is safe with your slow, boring yoga actions; they speak louder than words.

The glorification of busy by the media is so common that we think being busy is normal, it makes us feel important, wanted, needed. There is even a stigma around admitting that being so busy is not healthy for you in the workplace, so we all keep on pretending that we are coping, thinking that we are the only one who is falling apart underneath, when really we are all just adrenaline junkies. 

Debbie Farrar 14/08/14

Debbie FarrarComment