Where is your ultimate place of calm and serenity? For me there is no place more peaceful than on top of a mountain. Whether I'm hiking or skiing I feel true bliss and inner calm when I'm on top of the world, with nothing but clear fresh air, wide open spaces & breathtaking views.
My husband and I just recently returned from a month long trip in the Canadian Rockies for our honeymoon, where we did nothing but adventure and hike to some of the most incredible places I've ever seen. The highlight was our multi day hike to Mount Assiniboine in the Kooteney National Park, South of Banff (pictured above). A place I will never forget and where I hope to one day visit again.
Now that we are home and back into the full swing of life, I often find myself reminiscing about that incredible place, where I felt so amazingly free and at peace. I immediately feel that sense of calm again, just from revisiting in my thoughts and remembering that I can feel free from stress no matter where in the world I may be.
How amazing it is to climb back into the resolve of my mountain, anywhere, anytime with no hiking required...
It is no doubt that the daily hum of life has us stressed up to our earlobes sometimes, we all feel that way and there's no denying it.
When we're stressed, hormones like cortisol flood our systems, producing the "fight or flight response" in which our heart rate goes up, we breathe more heavily (requiring more oxygen) and our blood vessels constrict. While in the pre-civilization world, the increased blood flow to our heart and muscles helped us escape from predators and dangerous situations, we find ourselves in a very different position now. Our bodies can't tell the difference between an approaching Grizzly Bear and a ticked off spouse or a particularly epic traffic jam, so our stress response is triggered when there's no imminent danger. Instead of helping us to escape, this can contribute to chronic conditions like hypertension and headaches, as well as mental health concerns like depression and anxiety disorders. What's more, stress can make other conditions like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia worse.
Our spinning minds, impossible expectations and run-away lives are fuel for chronic stress, and our pause on our mountain helps us find our way back to a healthy inner ecosystem.
The next time you’re facing a pile of house work, heap of laundry, have a particularly yukky meeting at work or find yourself on the precarious precipice of something new, remember your mountain. As the saying goes, “If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t appreciate the view.”
Here's 10 simple ways to help keep your stress in check, and put you on a path to your "inner Mountain" or calm space.
1. Go for a 10 min walk
While just about any walk will help you to clear your head and boost endorphins (which, in turn, reduce stress hormones), consider walking in a park or close to "nature" (I personally love walking along Merewether Beach with my fur babies each day) which, in turn, can actually put your body into a state of meditation known as "involuntary attention" during which something holds our attention, but simultaneously allows for reflection. Watch the waves (spot a few whales!), breathe in the salty sea air and listen to the seagulls - its amazing.
2. Eat a snack (mindfully)
The connection between the gut and brain is huge - called the 'gut-brain axis' and lots of interesting data supports the idea that the gut is a major mediator of the stress response. After all, stress is a brain and immune system mediated phenomena, and your gut is the largest organ in your immune system. Pick a snack that will fill you up, like half an avocado, a handful of nuts or a hard boiled egg - because nothing is more stressful to the brain, than feeling like you’ve run out of nourishment. Take your snack away from your computer and go sit someplace peaceful. Focus on your food: its texture, the way it tastes, how it makes you feel. Now you’ve turned your snack into a meditation. No wonder they're called "bliss balls".
3. Fill your home or Office with Plants
Houseplants aren’t just beautiful air purifiers - they can actually help calm you down. Researchers have found that simply being around plants can induce your relaxation response. One Washington State University study found that a group of stressed-out people who entered a room full of plants had a four-point drop in their blood pressure, while a comparison group who didn’t see plants dropped only two points, Prevention magazine has reported.
Need some advice on what to buy? Peace Lillies, Rubber plants, Aloe Vera, Snake plant, Bamboo palm, Golden Pothos (devil's Ivy) and Philodendrons are some great plants to start with. I can't seem to help the ever growing collection of greenery in my house lately. I even have plants hanging from the ceiling in my bedroom and a plant in my bathtub!
4. Step away from your computer screen
Uninterrupted computer use has been associated with stress, lost sleep and depression in women, according to a study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. In the same study, late night computer use was also associated with stress in both men and women.
Make sure you take frequent breaks during your day of computer use, and try to shut offline at least an hour before bed time - same goes for your I phone!
Make a cup of herbal tea, light some candles and start to wind down instead.
5. Spend less time on your phone all together!
There's no doubt that our mobile phones stress us out. The constant dinging and ringing, notifications and reminders. Go to your notification settings and adjust them so that you're not getting constant pop ups all the time for unnecessary apps. You'll get to the important stuff in time, you don't need to be reminded every time someone likes your posts or comments on something you commented on and so on and so forth.
Better still, if you can keep your phone on silent then do it! And don't feel like you have to reply to messages straight away - remember the days when we just had landlines and didn't even know what a text message was? ahhh simple times.
Mindless scrolling of Instagram and Facebook fits into this category too...
6. Listen to some music
Classical music has a particularly calming effect, it slows your heart rate and decreases the levels of stress hormones in your body. Personally I love the "Chill out" or "Most Beautiful Songs in the World" playlists on Spotify, we often play them in our Pilates classes. Really any music that you love will flood your brain with feel good chemicals like dopamine.
Or try cranking up your favourite tunes on the drive home!
7. Get into Essential Oils
Essential oils are a great way to de stress and there are so many ways you can incorporate them into your daily life. Try diluting the oils with some fractionated coconut oil and rubbing a small amount on your pulse points, temples or into your palms and taking some slow deep breaths. You can also try adding a few drops into a diffuser, to your bath or on your pillow at night. Lavender, Bergamot, Lemongrass, Orange, Ylang Ylang and Frankincense are some of my favs!
8. Get creative and Crafty
Repetitive motions, such as the fine motor skills used to knit, make jewellry, paint or draw, can sooth anxiety and be a meditation in itself. When I'm feeling like a bit of chill out "me time", I love to make dream catchers for my friends, make soy candles or make beautiful bath salts and body scrubs with my essential oils and even sometimes coffee grinds! Plus the action of then gifting your gorgeous creations to the ones you love is even better! Don't say you're not creative or artistic, if you can make a cup of tea, you can mix some epsom salts, essential oils and coconut oil together in a bowl - voila!
9. Practice Yoga regularly and stand in Mountain Pose!
Exercise is a very useful way to relieve stress, but yoga is different from HIIT class or weight-lifting in that it powerfully combines both physical fitness with an underlying philosophy of self-compassion and awareness. One of the main concepts in yoga is being non-judgmental toward both yourself and others, which is a powerful tool for stress relief since much of our stress comes from us being hard on ourselves or frustrated with others.
I make sure that I get to at least one or two Yin Yoga classes a week, where I am able to really slow down, put my "to do" list aside, focus on my breath and stop "doing" for that hour that I choose to take for myself and my mental health. It really is incredible!
You can also try standing in "Tadasana" or "Mountain Pose". With your feet hip distance apart, your spine elongated, stand nice and tall with your shoulders down and back and your palms open at your sides - feel your feet grounded and connected into the earth as you take long, slow, deep breaths. Allow this to be your moment for pause and reflection. As you stand here, centered and grounded, the outside world continues to buzz and swirl around you. People come and go, clouds pass and the sun creates shadows and light. Yet your mountain remains unwavering in its stillness.
10. Do a Pilates or Barre class
This is where coming along to your regular Pilates or barre classes is so important. Pilates and Barre incorporate both mind and body to build strength, improve flexibility, restore proper alignment, and reduce stress by bringing you into a healthier and more positive emotional and mental state of mind.
Pilates and barre can improve your concentration and minimise distraction within the mind, teach you to breathe more deeply and intentionally, and also help you to practice mindfulness throughout class as you focus your attention on the present movement and moment!
Written by Ellesse Hawkins
The Pilates method is built upon 6 core principles which when applied create the foundation of the Pilates discipline. Once understood and practiced throughout your regular Pilates practice, you can quickly observe them flowing over into every day life becoming part of your lifestyle.
All Pilates exercises radiate from the center. This is a core-strengthening and conditioning program. It also serves to connect the body and give a focal point from which each movement comes forth. By ensuring this center is strong you can also provide good protection for the spine and pass on power to each movement. This is your Pilates ‘powerhouse’.
Joseph Pilates described his program as ‘Contrology’. This central theory is what umbrellas the other Pilates principles. The premise is that controlling your muscles and movements allows for you to better exercise and move in a way to benefit the body. This is basically the opposite of a chaotic approach where you exert lots of energy but don’t control the movements, thus weakening or losing any real benefits. Contrology is not just about the physical body either. It’s also about the mind and how to become body aware and let the mind take the lead.
You might enjoy mindless exercising while you watch a screen or listen to some music at the same time. Pilates however demands your attention. It is not enough to simply go through the motions. Because Pilates is all about how you do exercises it is vital that you keep your mind on each movement to ensure you are performing the proper form. Mindfulness can help relax the body as thoughts and judgements flow away. Joseph Pilates saw his techniques as “coordinating mind, body and spirit.”
Movement precision builds on concentration. Precision is achieved by clearly moving, directing and placing the body and its parts. Realise that every movement has a purpose and every cue or instruction is important to the success of the movement.
Pilates, like yoga, calls for complete, thorough and purposeful inhalation and exhalation. But in Pilates, unlike in yoga, inhalation is through the nose and exhalation through the mouth. Conscious breathing and specific breathing patterns assist movement by focusing the attention and direction of the body and by delivering oxygen to the muscles being used. Full breathing also assists in removing non beneficial chemicals that may be stored in the muscles (Pilates 1945) .
Pilates may have an emphasis on form but the movements are not robotic and there is a flow created which helps to build a workout that challenges the body. The breath sets the rhythm and this is used, alongside the sequence of movements, to flow seamlessly from one position to the next. The connection you feel during sessions and the momentum each movement creates gives Pilates a sense of flowing energy.
So next time you're in class, see if you can being to mind these 6 important principles and enhance your Pilates training!
Written by Ellesse Hawkins
Posts in this blog are written by our instructors here are Fleur Wellbeing to inspire you on your health and wellness journey.