How many of us use the phrase “I’m stressed out” on a regular basis? And how many of us focus on exercise or vigorous yoga as a healthy way to rid ourselves of stress? Thought we can’t exactly explain it, we might feel like “when I work out, I feel better.”
Good news, exercise is a wonderful way to balance our stress levels – it can even be considered “Productive Stress,” when approached holistically.
The key is balancing productive stress with recovery – moving like a pendulum between periods of exertion and periods of rest and relaxation, with proper nutrition across the board.
This dance between these two states is known as pendulation, and it creates strength in the body, supports heart rate variability and improves overall health. Without both sides of the pendulum, the productive stress of exercise can quickly become “unproductive stress.” Our recovery time must consider nutrition, hydration, quieting the mind, flexibility and stretching, breathing deeply, and a way of removing lactic acid from the body such as an epsom salts bath.
The formula doesn’t work without each piece – it really is the sum of all of its parts:
Those not as predisposed to enlivening workouts might wonder – “well what about if I just relax? Isn’t that a better way to reduce stress?” The truth is that a movement practice triggers its own wonderful bio-chemical waterfall (like endorphins – Yay!) that balances out the stress hormones (like cortisol – BOO!) that are swirling through most of our bodies on a regular basis.
But you don’t have to lift weights if that’s not your thing – or become a cardio fiend if it doesn’t call to you. The key is discovering your Right Movement – a practice that feels fun and challenging and gets the heart pumping and the muscles working in a way that is right for you. This might be walking, jogging outside or at the gym, taking a dance class, taking yoga classes, working with a trainer, dancing around your living room to an upbeat playlist for 15 minutes. Whatever it is, as Nike says, Just Do It!
The body needs proper nutrition to fuel productive workouts and to recover and regenerate after them. Crowd out processed and packaged foods with an abundance of fresh produce and a moderate amount of whole grains/legumes. Limit meat. Reduce and maybe eventually remove stimulants/drugs. Shoot for three balanced meals and snacks to support recovery. Nutritional choices account for approximately 60% of unproductive stress in the human body.
By eating consistent meals with high quality nutrition, the body no longer responds by holding onto excess weight. A diet that removes foods that cause unproductive stress in the human body (ironically they are also the foods we crave when stressed) and stimulants (also consumed as a result of stress) creates optimal conditions in the physical body.
Recovery Time Matters
Make a recovery plan and follow it: stretching, hydration, nutrition, relaxation, sleep. Alternate your movement practices to allow for recover – for example cycle one day, take a restorative yoga class the next. It’s not just the big muscles that need stretching and recovery either, it’s also the fascia and nervous system which are addressed by restorative, yin and yoga therapeutics.
Book your favorite masseuse… every week! Take epsom salts baths. Breathe deeply. Head into nature… every day! Surround yourself by flowers, your favorite essential oils, candles, soothing and/or energizing music. Practice meditation, even just 5 minutes a day.