WHY TAKING TIME OUT CAN HELP US GAIN CLARITY AND PURPOSE: A SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION + TIPS FOR YOUR PRACTICE
by Melanie Hilborn
How much of your day do you spend rushing from one task to the next or one place to the next? Do you sometimes feel lost in thought, stressed, overwhelmed, or unsure of your 'purpose'. We often spend so much time trying to get from A to B, that we lose track of why we were trying to get there in the first place. Though this is common in today's busy society, it is a problem that's easy to fix if we take a moment's pause to do so.
When we constantly are immersed in high-stress tasks and rushing around, our sympathetic nervous system takes over. This is often referred to as our 'fight or flight' response. It causes our breath to speed up and our heart rate to increase in order to have the 'energy' needed to get the tasks done (or from an evolutionary perspective, survive). Though evolutionary helpful, for say running away from a predator, in our high-stress society we often can get stuck in the 'fight or flight' state. This can have long term negative effects on the health of our body and mind, leaving us feeling stressed, anxious, and out of touch. Taking a regular 'pause' can help us more than we might think.
When we take a step back from the chaos to actively slow the breath and body, the body realises it is safe and is able to relax. This allows the parasympathetic nervous system to take over. The heart rate slows, the anxious mind quiets down, and a sense of calmness begins to move through us allowing the experience of a moment of peace. If you've ever wondered why you often feel so refreshed, relaxed and clear-headed after a yoga class, this here is one of the many contributing factors. We make the unconscious conscious as we slow down our movements and our breath. When we engage in ujjayi pranayama (the ocean-sounding breath), we constrict the back of our throat which narrows the passage for air flow. This allows the breath to slow down and lengthen, bringing the body into the parasympathetic state of 'rest and digest'.
Similarly, we can help the body find a calmness with a still focussed gaze ('drishti') and slow conscious movements. When the body and gaze move frantically, it signals to the mind that we are on the lookout for potential threats and stressors in our environment. This too sends the body into fight or flight mode. When we keep still in our posture with a steady drishti, the mind understands that we are safe, and the body is able to relax.
By slowing down and pausing in body and mind in our Yoga practice, meditation or in any moment in time, the calmed mind realises nothing needs it's immediate attention in order to 'survive'. The mind is then able to tune into the present moment and relax. We can step back and see the bigger picture. All the little tasks that once felt overwhelming and fully occupied the mind, no longer seem so important and the mind is able sit in a state of quiet stillness and bliss. Though we can start to implement these changes with just a quick minute of pausing and conscious breathing at work, the more time we invest in these pauses through our Yoga and mediation practices, the more benefits we will see filtering into our experience of both body and mind.
See you on the mat!