These days we are being reminded of the detrimental effects of stress. There are a myriad of symptoms that indicate stress and there are many consequences of leading a stressful life, like death. Not only should you stop eating gluten but you should stop stressing. Babies born to stressed out mums are put into anger management soon after birth and people are twisting themselves into shapes that resemble pretzels to try to relieve stress. How do you stop yourself from stressing? It’s enough to frazzle the strongest nerve system.
Recently I went to a 10 day Buddhist retreat. Naturally the greatest proportion of the retreat was spent in silence and in meditation. The benefits of meditation as a coping mechanism against stress are widely regarded. So at several points during the day, starting at the spritely hour of 6 am, I attended meditation sessions. The first thing you notice is the cross-legged position one is ask to assume during the meditation. Forget about emptying your mind, try getting past the excruciating pain that slowly becomes more acute like someone practising vocal scales. Sitting like this turned my ankles into dam walls that prevented the flow of blood to my feet. Every time I tried to quietly change position to relieve the pain and without breaking concentration the pain simply moved. The cordoned off blood was sent cascading back into my feet causing the most acute pins and needles I’ve experienced to date. Now, although it wasn’t guaranteed in the brochure I really wanted to experience some form of transcendental meditative experience. One where I’m looking at my body from the outside, reliving my past life or at least shaking hands with Buddha. Every time I got close to a meditative state I tried pushing myself to go further into such a state, which I eventually had to stop doing when I thought I’d had an aneurysm. Another element that disrupted me reaching enlightenment was the retreat containing two breathers. These people treated meditation as an endurance sport that required long, drawn out inhales and loud exhales that according to the chaos theory could be the reason behind the storms in Nicaragua recently. In between my legs hurting, the gusty breathers in the room and my exhausted attempts to reach Nirvana, I found meditation to be an antithesis to relaxation and mildly stressful.
In the same vein, my housemate convinced me to sign up for a month long trial of Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is a style of yoga that is carried out in a 40C heated room and has been used at Guantanamo bay. First of all I am an incredibly inflexible person. My hamstrings could doubles as violin strings. Because of this I found each position either impossible or incredibly painful; add to the mix you are continually drenching yourself in your own bodily fluids and you’ve got a beautiful photo. I soon became a little envious of all the hot, half naked bodies that could put their feet behind their heads with ease. I needed to master these moves. I wanted to be up the front of the class. I wanted to be the least stressed in the whole room. The harder I tried to achieve this the more energy I exerted, the more I sweated and the hotter I got. In a 40C room full of people the air gets pretty thin and my heart started to race. Checking my proximity to all the exits I found myself torn between my sense of pride and having a panic attack. Hardly a calming experience.
Without going down the road of pharmacology, herbal remedies and vitamins are presented as a good way to help you through stressful times. Valerian, passionflower, hops, vitamin B, oats, Californian poppy and opium are all viewed as to aides for relaxation and relieving nervous tension. Dabbling with different remedies and vitamin tablets I only really noticed the colour of my urine change. Speaking it over with a friend studying natural medicine they advised me that I needed to be careful. Interactions between certain substances, my diet and lifestyle habits and the quality of said preparations all played a part in their effectiveness. Was mixing my passionflower with my St. Johns wart actually increasing my unease? Should I buy Blackmores or Natures way? Did I already take my ginseng today or was that my fish oil? It all seemed a bit out of hand and I would advise anyone to see a naturopath before deciding upon alternative therapies.
Many people swear by these techniques as relieving stress and in all honesty the methods I trialled weren’t wholly ineffective; they actually did make me feel calmer in some instances. As I’ve detailed it wasn’t necessarily the activities in themselves that helped, sometimes they hindered. It was the fact that I’d made space for my stress. With the meditation I had consciously set aside 10 days to take time out and contemplate. With yoga I was setting aside an hour and half three times a week to do an activity to improve my overall wellbeing. I had gone out of my way to research and consider my body’s need for extra nutritional support. I had afforded myself something valuable-time. In doing some of these activities I had become focused on doing them to a certain level and I had an expectation of what feeling relaxed should be. To simply create time to just feel and acknowledge how I was feeling and not to keep soldiering on made me feel a lot better.