As a busy mum and a self-employed yoga teacher, I spend most of my days juggling home life with work. But I am no different to most people – we all have busy lives, families to feed, houses to clean and jobs to do. In fact most people in the UK nowadays lead these incredibly busy lives balancing work and home with social pressure, social media and social lives too.
Busy, busy, busy. Rush, rush, rush… This is certainly how my life (and mind) feels sometimes. It is no surprise that a busy life leads to a busy mind. Personally I am very glad that one of my jobs is being a yoga teacher – it has taught me the importance of slowing down and taking time for self-care and rest. And by self-care I don’t mean having a new hair-cut or treating yourself to a glass of wine, I mean the deeper stuff that nourishes the soul and resets the mind and body. Self-care that starts from the inside, and very often starts from the very simple starting point of slowing down.
The Importance of Slowing Down And why should we slow down? Well, by slowing the body and mind down you trigger what is called the parasympathetic nervous system in the body or the ‘rest and digest’ system. This is the opposite to our ‘fight or flight’ system that is stimulated when we need the body to fire up and become active. The parasympathetic nervous system soothes the body and helps us to reduce many of the stimulating hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that cause us to be in an alert or ready state. The ‘rest and digest’ system literally slows the body down and produces a relaxation response e.g. slowing the heart rate and reducing blood pressure. Activating this system can reduce and ease fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, digestive issues and a whole host of other stress-related conditions.
How Can You Slow Down?
It’s all very easy saying ‘just slow down’ but when we have so much to do and our minds cannot switch off easily, this is sometimes an impossible task, or we feel guilty for doing so. In this case we have to re-train ourselves in the art of slowing down and relaxation. So here are five simple ways that you can re-train your body and mind to slow down.
1. Counted Breathing Exercise Make sure you sit comfortably either on the floor or on a chair with the back supported. The spine needs to be long and tall and the chest open for you to breath fully. Close your eyes and rest your hands on your legs. Start by breathing deeply in and out through the nose. Notice the breath and slow it down to full, long breaths. Then as you inhale count to six in your mind and as you exhale count to six. Make the counts as slow as you can without running out of breath – this should be comfortable, not stressful! Keep going for several minutes. You may even notice that the counts get a little slower. When you have finished open your eyes and slowly start moving noticing any differences in the body and mind.
2. Go to a Yoga / Mindfulness Class Sometimes the only way to slow down and stop the mind is to get someone else to help you. If you can find a slow or gentle yoga class, a yoga nidra session, sound bath, mindfulness course or meditation class then book yourself in. Just try if you can to ensure that the aim is primarily to rest and relax – don’t go to the gym or take a spin class as that will stimulate the ‘fight or flight’ response instead of the ‘rest and digest’ system. Turn off your phone, engage fully with the class and let the teacher guide you into slowing down.
3. Mindful Walking Getting out in the fresh air is one of the best ways to reset. It is also particularly good for boosting creativity, clearing the mind and reducing stress. Simply go outside (ideally where you can see some green stuff) and take yourself for a walk. As you walk, focus on your senses one by one. What can you see, taste, smell, touch and hear. Spend as long as you can on each sense. For example, if your focus is sight – look up, look down, notice colours and textures, go and look at things more closely if you feel drawn to. Take your time on each sense and concentrate on that alone for at least a minute. Wander around – you are not walking anywhere with a purpose. The walking IS the purpose. You will be surprised at how quickly the flies past and how much you slow down.
4. Simple Mantra Meditation Meditation may feel difficult to at first but if you have just five minutes to spare and want to slow down then in fact it can be a very accessible way to do so. Get seated in a comfortable position either cross-legged on the floor or on a chair with support for your back. Relax your shoulders, close your eye and let your hands rest onto your knees. Spend a few moments noticing the breath and on each exhale progressively relaxing every part of the body. Then enter into repeating these words (a mantra) slowly in your head:I am at peaceI am at easeI am relaxed
Keep going for a few minutes just letting the words get slower and slower as you repeat them. When you have finished, pause the mantra, take a few big deep breaths and open the eyes.
5. Listen to a Guided Relaxation My final tip and my favourite by miles, is the use of guided relaxation (yoga nidra) and listening to it on a regular basis. You can use it before bed, when having a cat nap, straight after work, first thing in the morning or even after waking in the middle of the night when the mind is buzzing. Whether you have just ten minutes spare or time for a longer thirty minute guided relaxation, this will truly help the mind relax and unwind. Just lay down, get comfortable and let the words wash over you.
In fact, because I am so passionate about the benefits that you can gain from regular guided relaxation practice, I have created a selection of downloadable Yoga Nidra recordings that you can access from the shop of my website.
I have also created a FREE 10-minute guided relaxation that you can download just to try it out and gain some of the benefits straight away.
Thank you for reading and I hope this helps you to slow down and get a little more rest!
Do feel free to join my free Rest and Replenish Facebook Group for daily tips on how to stress less and sleep more.