Did you know that the body part most often cued in Pilates is the shoulders– not the abs. And why is that? Well of course one reason is that we are at computers all day, but it is also where we tend to hold stress. I was super stressed out about a week ago and I kept noticing that when I would check in with my body, my shoulders would be up in my ears. I would try to relax and then a few hours later they would creep back up.
When you hold on to stress you make your body inefficient. You set your body up to compensate, you lose touch with your body which sets you up for pain and injury. Tension and stress are given as the reason behind many diseases: migranes, neurological problems, digestive issues, etc.
When you are under stress your body elicits a stress response. Your hypothalamus, which is the control center for the autonomic system, has two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the flight or fight response, the parasympathetic is the digest and rest response. When you are under stress, the amygdala sends a trigger to the hypothalamus which sends messages through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands respond by pumping epinephrine (adrenaline) into the body, this causes the heart to beat faster which pushes blood to the muscles and other vital organs causing blood pressure to rise. Airways in the lungs widen, enabling you to take in more air so the breathe gets quicker. It also triggers the release of glucose from fat storage into the blood. These nutrients provide energy for the body. Which is useful if you need to fight or flight, but which can accumulate as tension if you don’t need to. Adrenaline is also linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, blood vessel damage and strokes. As the adrenaline subsides the HPA axis takes over: Hypothalmus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Hormones are released that trigger the production of cortisol. Cortisol is linked to fat gain.
The tension you accumulate in your body is a signal to you that you are under stress, and while some stress my be good (exercise, a new job, etc.) It is important to be able to recognize this stress and calm the body’s street response.
To help counter your body’s stress response, you can elicit the relaxation response. Scientists have found that doing certain things can help calm the nervous system: deep breathing, focusing on a soothing word, visualization, yoga, pilates and taichi. Physical activity also deepens breath and relieves muscle tension, so just being active helps relieve that tension.
Our bodies tell us if we are stressed or if we are carrying tension. We must learn to listen to them and periodically call up this relaxation response. Throughout your day, mentally scan your body for spots of tension and send your breathe their to release it. When you are feeling immense stress can you soften around that stress and find more ease and lightness. Notice the ease with which you move when you release that tension. Notice the sense of calm that comes over you. This is such a powerful tool to have and one of the greatest gifts of Pilates.
What do you do to relieve stress and tension?
Where does tension tend to accumulate in your body?