Tag Archives: stress


On Saturday, I took a break from all the screens, cursors, and endless tidbits of information that filter through to our various in-boxes. I was exhausted and worn out, and my creativity was taking a serious nose dive. I closed my Mac, turned off my phone, and collapsed in a heap on my yoga mat. My brain was so full that I couldn’t even think clearly. Everything around me seemed fuzzy.

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Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious

Good reminder as the holiday music starts playing: exercise creates physical, as well as mental, buffers for stress in the brain. Rats who had run for several weeks before stress tests (like swimming in cold water):

  • showed less activation in neurons associated with stress
  • displayed less anxiety and helplessness
  • maintained calmness and curiosity, even when injected with oxidizing chemicals

But of course it’s not instant:

Rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress-induced anxiety, but those that ran for at least six weeks did.

Six weeks ’til New Year’s. Go!

The New York Times: “Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious”

Stress Not, Worriers

The Times had a (long) article on worriers in Sunday’s magazine. Studies have identified a subset of infants/children with “high-reactive” temperaments. They go on to be inhibited adolescents, and anxious adults. So if relaxation techniques don’t seem to do you much good, it could be that you’re naturally wired more tightly. This isn’t all bad, however:

People with a high-reactive temperament — as long as it doesn’t show itself as a clinical disorder — are generally conscientious and almost obsessively well-prepared. Worriers are likely to be the most thorough workers and the most attentive friends. Someone who worries about being late will plan to get to places early. Someone anxious about giving a public lecture will work harder to prepare for it. Test-taking anxiety can lead to better studying; fear of traveling can lead to careful mapping of transit routes.

Kagan told me that in the 40 years he worked at Harvard, he hired at least 200 research assistants, “and I always looked for high-reactives. They’re compulsive, they don’t make errors, they’re careful when they’re coding data.”

…what distinguishes the high-reactives who learn to adapt from those who don’t often comes down to something simple, like finding one or two supportive friends — or, like Mary [a test subject] and her ballet, finding something they’re good at and can feel self-confident about.

No mention of yoga or other treatments for anxiety; the article is more focused on presenting the background research and the corresponding brain anatomy.

Any worriers want to be my intern?

Magic Stress Destroyer

Joe BtfsplkYoga is full of so many tips and new habits that it’s sometimes hard to remember them all, and put them into practice in your actual day-to-day existence. But this is what we mean when we say it’s a lifestyle.

Case in point. I was really really busy a while back, and remember having something close to a panic attack as I raced up Sixth Avenue. My mind was flooded and fixated with all the things I wanted to get done; I can’t even tell you what I was physically feeling because I was so up in my head. I take that back; I was tense as a rock, and ready to cry.

Unconsciously, I started exhaling, with force, through pursed lips. It made a little sighing whisper, and made me feel better as I walked.

Two blocks later, my stress had disappeared like a cloud in the sky. I stopped, in disbelief; I was like a different person. I couldn’t understand how something so paralyzing had just floated away. The only thing I could ascribe it to was the breathing; nothing else had changed in those two blocks.

I’m not saying this is some special technique that you should memorize and practice. I’m saying these kind of practices arise naturally when you think or hear about them more and more. They become part of your person, not some outside list to which you refer.

But it is a great technique, because it’s one of the few yogic breaths you can do on the street without looking like a lunatic :)

Rock Star Mamma?

Yesterday was one of those days when a mom comes close to going crazy and can’t wait for 5 o’clock just to have a glass of wine for sanity purposes.  As I washed off the dog poop that my son stepped in, I thought, “Am I seriously washing off disgusting, wet, dog poop in my kitchen sink?”  I proceed to pick up the rest of the poop in the backyard so that he can run around freely with the garden hose in his diaper (he doesn’t know the difference, and to him, it could be the South of France).  Afterwards, I raked the leaves on the side of the house in the sweltering heat and thought, “How is this fun?”  Then, the plumber bangs on the door just as I got my little man to go down for a nap.  As I opened the door to this this man with a look of rage, I wondered if I had thrown my sanity out the window.  The poor guy didn’t know he was coming to fix the toilet at Miss Hannigan’s.

I felt trapped in this house and in this neighborhood.  I wanted to scream, “Get me out!  Get me back to New York City,” but was this my life now?  Was this my destiny – waiting for plumbers and singing Knick Knack Patty Wack all day?  I wondered if my brain was melting or still intact.

By the time my husband came home to take me to the concert that I had been anticipating for months, I was exhausted and not in the finest of moods.  How could he understand?  He just finished a day of Internet surfing, coffee talk, and engaging business calls, where he actually used his brain.  He must have wondered where his wife went.  He was hoping to take her to see Coldplay, not this crazy girl.

That night as I watched Chris Martin maniacally run across the stage singing, “I know St. Peter won’t call my name,” from the popular song Viva La Vida.  I thought to myself, “The life of a rock star – what fun.  He is not picking up poop and waiting for plumbers all day.”

Then, I had a revelation – my son thinks I’m Coldplay!  We have a daily tradition – I turn on Viva La Vida, he’ll get a big grin on his face and hold out his arms so I’ll pick him up and we dance.  He thinks I’m a rock star as I play my air guitar and sing to him.  He doesn’t know that I’m actually not Chris Martin!  In that moment, I realized the beauty of a child and how my son means everything to me.  I realized that being a mother is the most important role that I will ever have and that there is honor in picking up poop and singing Knick Knack Patty Wack for your biggest fan.

I wondered off yoga talk today, but these are the thoughts of a Yoga Mamma.  I need my practice more than ever today and I am headed to it right now.  I intend to put my hands together, breathe and find the peace and beauty in my current life role as mother.


The Happiest Man in the World

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

The Times has a profile of Tibetan monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, “The Happiest Man in the World.” He’s released a new book called Joyful Wisdom describing his methods.

In his book he recounts being extremely anxious as a child in Nepal, having had what a Manhattan psychiatrist would likely diagnose as panic attacks, and how he cured himself of this chronic anxiety by making his fears the focus of his meditation. He has had to earn his good cheer.

Rinpoche has studied both Western science and Tibetan Buddhist meditation in detail. He’s participated in scientific studies of meditation; since he’s spent over 10,000 hours meditating he’s considered an adept. (That’s the threshold for excellence, according to research.)

One form of meditation that seems particularly conducive to happiness, and stress reduction, is mindfulness meditation. This is generally a practice of observing the thoughts, body, etc, without trying to change anything. A clinical study of beginning meditators at a high-stress office, practicing mindfulness meditation thirty minutes a day for eight weeks, left them “saying that instead of feeling overwhelmed and hassled, they were enjoying their work.”

If you’d like some instruction in this practice, I know that Om Factory and New York Insight offer guided classes appropriate for all levels. Allyson Pimental and Michael Fayne, who teach the class at Om Factory, said that mindfulness meditation has been shown to help heart disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, depression, and many other ailments. My very first class at New York Insight got rid of a clenched jaw I hadn’t been able to close for two weeks. (Yes, I was a little stressed out.) I’ve also heard good things about the Dharma Punx talks at Lila Wellness. But there are many great centers around town, and many classes are by donation. So go try one on!

Chi Gong Yoga?

We just got back from the beautiful state of Colorado and now I need a vacation from my vacation.  Vacationing is not as relaxing as you would like it to be with a 14 month old.  Nevertheless, we were fortunate to be able to take a break from the scorching 100-degree summer days of Dallas and we had a nice time.  I hiked, biked, played tennis and found a place to practice yoga.  I went to a studio called Yoga For the Peaceful in Crested Butte, Colorado.  “What a nice name for a Yoga studio,” I thought.  I looked at the schedule and found a class called “Chi Yoga Flow.”  By definition, it seemed similar to the Vinyasa flow classes, which I’ve always done and I figured that they just added the word “chi.” I was in Crested Butte after all where the force is one of light and positivity.

I walked into class, introduced myself to the teacher and she said, “Have you ever done Chi Gong?”  I thought, “What on earth is Chi Gong and did I just walk into a martial arts class?”  I said, “Not exactly Chi Gong, but I have practiced yoga for years.”  The teacher said to me, “This class integrates Chi Gong movement forms with heart opening yoga postures.”  I thought, “I don’t know what Chi Gong movements are.  I get an hour and a half to myself and I get stuck in a Chi Gong class?  What am I doing?”  No offense to any of those who practice Chi Gong, but time is of the essence when you’re a mom.  You simply don’t have all day.  You have snippets of time and you want to use those snippets wisely.  Can you imagine me talking about not having a lot of time on a vacation?  This statement seems full of irony, but when you have a baby, relaxation usually comes at night, after you put your bundle of love down.

I started off with a bad attitude as the first 10 minutes of this class passed, and then, I thought, “You are defying what yoga is all about.  You’re ridiculous.  Yoga is tranquility, peace and spiritual insight.  Enjoy your time here.”  So, I gave myself a little attitude adjustment and I ended up enjoying the class.  It was not as vigorous a class as what I am used to, but it was good for me mentally, as Chi Gong is a series of movements where you rock back and forth, which helps with energy, balance and coordination.   Chi Gong means “energy cultivation” or “working with the life energy” and it has healing benefits.  I was on vacation to heal and rejuvenate my mind and body from the everyday stress of life and so the Chi Gong class was perfect for me at that time.  There truly is a time and place for everything and you can see this clearly if you open your heart and mind.  It’s amazing what a little attitude adjustment will do for you.


Can I Slow Down?

This Yoga Mamma made it to class today – yippee! I’m always better after yoga. That being said, before class, I got things settled in the house – baby boy fed, played with and still napping. I was racing to class and got there just in time (our teacher locks the door at noon). During class, I was trying to find my equilibrium in tree pose – my left side seemed a bit imbalanced today – and as I was raising my clasped hands to the sky, our teacher said, “If you move rapidly, you will fall.” Those words hit a chord. I thought, “All I do is move rapidly all day long – racing the clock. That can’t be good.” So, I went back to my breath and told myself, “Slow down Rhonda,” and I did not fall. Now, if I can only slow down on a daily basis, but is this possible with a baby?  I’m still working that one out.