One of the most difficult kinds of questions to field as a yoga teacher is “What does yoga do?” Or, “How is it different than …?” The benefits of yoga – the asana, pranayama, meditation – are both permeating & subtle.
“Research shows that reflecting on a personal value controls cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress.” ~October ’08 Self Magazine
So it’s heartening when even such a cursory summary of research throws itself in my path. Cortisol, as you may know, is one of the multitude of compounds our body releases when in “fight or flight” mode – aka, stress. Cortisol impacts vascular health, ability to concentrate as well as appetite and what our bodies do with food. The very compounds our bodies release to deal with the stress also perpetuate it.
We need to break the cycle. And that can be accomplished as simply as “reflecting on a personal value.” And that’s precisely what we’re practicing every time we return to our breath (focus on the present, remain present), find the fulcrum between striving and ease, meditate, read and study and ponder inspiring ideas. When we practice yoga (this is why we refer to it as practice), we’re practicing for that moment when the person assigned to help us is less than helpful & kind, or when we just plain don’t get what we want or think we need. We’re even practicing for when we do get what we think we want. Our personal values are always a breath away.
And as I was in the venipuncture waitng room, reading this quote on the “happiness!” pull out in Self, I wondered “Which personal value will I remember and reflect upon when I feel stress?” Who was I kidding? I’d received run-around answers from everyone I’d dealt with getting into this cramped waiting room where I was perched on an end table because there were so many of us sickies huddling together, and whenever one of us was called prematurely out of order, a rather pressed-looking woman who presumably was not much in front of me cursed and slammed small objects. All this so I could allow a disinterested stranger to poke a sharp stick in my soft vein, and probably I’d faint. I needed to reflect on my personal value, pronto.
Thing is, even when you practice at regularly scheduled times in comfy surrounds and seats, it’s still a stretch to remember in the waiting room. But stretching is what yoga teaches, so I grounded, reached, adjusted my gaze and relaxed into reflecting on my personal value. Glad I knew what it was.