Ironically, during mental health week I found myself in crisis. I had neglected my self-care regime at a time I needed it most and my nervous system was critically in need of support. I had reasons that I expect will resonate with you – usual story, when the project is delivered I’ll have time for that – well, my body and mind had other ideas and forced me to take notice! I found myself totally overwhelmed, shaking, crying and barely capable of taking a full breath (yes, at work – what fun that was! A practice in complete vulnerability.)
This episode did not come completely out of the blue, there were earlier signs – nerve pain, forgetfulness, emotional reactivity, anxiety, dry mouth. Despite knowing better, I kept pushing myself. The scenario that led me to feeling this way is precisely the type of situation that led me to invest so much energy in learning self-care regimes in the first place so I feel grateful to have a toolbox full of self-care choices to rely on in times such as these. Hence my weekend of total therapy, thanks to the Yamba Yoga Festival, which I attended solely as a student.
During the Festival I sought out energy giving classes. No Asana for me (OK, 2 poses; Savasana (laying down) & Sukhasana (sitting up cross legged). Yoga Nidra, Meditations and sound therapy including singing crystal bowls, Mantra (chanting) and Mudra (I learnt a simple hand gesture to promote patience).
All of the practices helped restore my energy and balance my nervous systems, and the one I choose to share with you uses Aromatherapy. This is a practice I haven’t previously included in my self-care regime, but one that has been on my curiosity radar for a while now. As with any self-care practice, intention is vitally important. The lovely Anastasia (the Goodness Goddess) reminded us to thank our body for what it allows us to achieve and for the hard work and stress it endures in order for us to engage in our chosen activities. This technique is also used in Yoga relaxation practices but combining with the luscious aroma of essential oils adds a special kind of nurturing that I was clearly in need of. In just 5mins you can nurture your entire body with positive, grateful thoughts and nourishing essential oils, in a form of moving meditation.
Here’s the technique;
Blend your favourite essential oils with a good quality carrier oil (less is more with essential oils, always dilute and never apply undiluted to the skin). A few drops is generally plenty, I use Robert Tisserand’s essential oil dilution chart as a guide . Smother your body, working from the extremities to the centre in small semi-circular movements, expressing gratefulness for all that your body does for you and compassion for any body parts feeling the strain.
Invoking gratefulness has a profoundly positive effect on the brain. Here are some examples of the type of self-talk that can be beneficial:
- I thank my feet for carrying me every day
- ………… my ankles for their flexibility
- ………… calves for their strength and power
- ………… knees for bearing the burden of walking, running, twisting, dancing
- ………… thighs for their strength and stability
- ………… butt for providing a stable base
- ………… my belly for life, digestion and the complex cooperation of internal organs housed within
- ………… my back for strength and support
- ………… my ribs for protecting my heart and lungs
- ………… my heart for the capacity to love and my breasts for their capacity to nourish
- I am grateful to my fingers for their perceptive touch
- …………wrists and elbows for their versatility and tireless action
- …………arms for the ability to embrace
- I send compassion to my shoulders for carrying the burden of my stress
- ………… to my jaw for the tireless assistance in speaking, eating and those times I grind my teeth while I sleep
- ………… to my shoulders where my tension is held and give permission to let go
- ………… to my neck for supporting my head
- ………… to my skull for protecting my brain
- I am grateful to my body for all that it allows me to do, sense and experience.
Choose your own words and address your body personally. Inhale the aromas deeply and allow yourself to be totally present during the experience. When possible linger a little to bask in the bliss. Know that this small action will stay with you throughout your day, not to mention you’ll smell absolutely gorgeous.
Why does stress affect us so profoundly?
Humans are built for short term stress only. We cope very well with change, pressure and conflict provided we have sufficient space to process the situation, rebuild our energy stores and rebalance our hormones. We are not supposed to maintain ‘stress mode’ for long periods of time and when we do we can experience dis-ease.
You don’t need to take my word for it. Scientific enquiry will show you that autonomic nervous systems consists of the sympathetic (fight or flight response) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems. Our sympathetic nervous system is designed to be engaged for brief periods in order to help us escape a stressful situation. Our body cannot function efficiently when it is processing large quantities of cortisol and adrenalin on a regular basis. These hormones are incompatible with digestion and healing. In order to efficiently process our food and to heal our bodies, we must activate our parasympathetic nervous systems.
Therapeutic Yoga and Mindfulness practices can help to switch our nervous systems from fight or flight, to rest and digest. Yoga works best when practices are established prior to having to rely on them in a crisis (and, of course you’re less likely to be in a crisis if you are established in your practice). I hope you enjoy the practice I shared with you today, I look forward to sharing more tips with you soon.