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For centuries, yoga practitioners have known the profound health benefits of the practice. Now science has caught up to show that stress leads to an inflammation process that is the root cause of heart disease and other chronic illness. In his book The Chronic Stress Crisis: How Stress is Destroying Your Health and What You Can Do To Stop It, Dr. William G. Timmins explains that high levels of the main stress hormone cortisol lead to alterations in the immune system which in turn provokes the inflammation process.

In the Ornish program, we focus on five very powerful stress management techniques that are based on the age-old system of Yoga. These techniques help to lower cortisol and decrease the physical inflammation process. They help us to intervene in the disease process and when practiced all together they create a powerful healing path.

Practicing these healing movements gives us an opportunity to hear what our bodies need from us to be healthy

1. Postures

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These are slow gentle healing movements that, with practice, help us listen to the information our body is offering us about our health. So many participants in our program have said to me, “I knew something wasn’t right. I had symptoms, but I just didn’t listen to them.” Practicing these healing movements gives us an opportunity to hear what our bodies need from us to be healthy. They also can improve blood flow to and from the heart, lower blood pressure, and improve over all circulation.

2. Breathing

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Breath is the link between the body and the mind. How we think affects how we breathe and how we breathe affects how we think and feel. If you make changes to one, you can affect the other. When we slow the breath down, the mind becomes calmer and quieter. When the mind is quiet, the breath slows down. Our breathing patterns are within our conscious control. When we begin to work with our habits of breath, we can elicit powerful changes in our thinking and overall well-being. One of the quickest and easiest ways to affect stress is to relax the rhythm of the breath. This in turn calms the nervous system, lowers the heart rate and quiets the mind.

3. Deep Relaxation

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Relaxation is a learned and conscious “letting go.” It’s different from sleep in that the body and mind are put in a deep state of rest while the mind remains awake, alert and fully relaxed. It can provide rest that is even deeper than sleep. We have all experienced those nights when sleep doesn’t feel that restful; when we wake up feeling tired or even exhausted. Most of us don’t even realize we’re stressed until we are truly relaxed. This practice helps us recognize what it feels like to be deeply relaxed and gives us the rest we need to function more effectively.

 4. Meditation

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Meditation, quite simply, is concentration, or the ability to help the mind focus. There are so many directions the mind can take us. When we multitask, over think, and over do, we become dissipated, scattered and stressed out. Meditation brings us into a state of clarity and focus, which gives the mind an opportunity to focus and rest. Meditation also helps to “lengthen your fuse” by providing perspective and a more spacious reaction time. On the physical level, it can actually lower blood pressure and heart rate.

5. Imagery

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Imagery allows the mind to assist in the process of healing. We all use imagery throughout the day and we often don’t even notice when we use it. Worrying is actually a form of imagery called “awfulizing.” If we can imagine a negative outcome, why couldn’t we imagine a positive outcome? Just like our worrying can have a negative affect on our health by causing physiological symptoms (i.e. dry mouth, sweaty palms, rapid heart rate etc.), positive imagery can have a positive effect on our health and well-being. For example, if we imagine our hearts relaxing, we can actually feel the heart rate slow. If we imagine relaxing the muscles that surround the artery walls, we can improve the blood flow to and from the heart.

These five techniques set the foundation for reducing the body’s stress response and inflammation. With daily practice, the body and mind begin to look forward to the supportive and health-giving benefits they provide.

Do you have a favorite technique to lower your stress level?

 

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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