We humans are built to move continually, but our movement patterns can often add into rather than relieve our 21st century stress states. Our one response to stress – ‘fight, flight or freeze’ – has our whole bodies preparing for a tense, physical reaction, but sedentary habits often leave us stewing in our stress hormones and trapped in ‘constant alert’ with no outlet. The result can be tight muscles, jaw and face, often seen in neck and back issues, as well as headaches, anxiety and insomnia.
The trouble is that many of us have work lives that demand we sit for long periods of time, relegating exercise to defined pockets of time. But our bodies are not designed to be inactive; even if you are notching up the exercise hours, if you are sitting on your behind for more than two hours at a time, you are sending signals to body systems that you are essentially sedentary, causing metabolism and energy regulation to slow down accordingly. Staying in one rigid position for any period of time tends to cut out the natural stretch muscles continually need. If this is sitting at a desk, it can involve overstretching the back and shortening the front of the body. This hunched posture can also obstruct the full breath we need to regulate oxygen levels and allow us to cope with stress.
The simple solution is to keep moving – walk whenever you can and even set a reminder to get up for even 30 seconds every hour or two. Standing up fully helps lengthen the front body and open the chest to breathe. Walking around then helps circulation and reduces stress hormones. Movement outdoors and around nature is particularly de-stressing, so 10 minute walks at breaks or lunchtime are an important way to stop stress levels building.
Your yoga practice can create the awareness needed for de-stressing daily movement:
This article was first published in Om Magazine.