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Blog : And breathe...


And breathe...

The Hare and the Tortoise provides an interesting moral lesson on the importance of hard work and consistency. This well-known fable is frequently used to reassure characters with tortoise qualities that delivering quickly is not always the optimum outcome.  The tortoise, because of it’s slow and consistent nature is associated with longevity, yet rarely discussed in popular culture, this theory dates back to Chinese and Hindu mythology, whereby the tortoise was believed to hold up a mountain inhabited by Gods, preventing it falling into the sea for an eternity.

This idea has been drawn upon in yoga culture in relation to breathing and stress. According to Guru Tereth Kaul Khalser in her book “Dying into Life”, as humans, we are each born with the same number of breaths – once this quota is reached, our life ends. As such, the more stressed you are, the more breaths you take and therefore the sooner you will use up your quota. The figurative tortoise is used to illustrate this: breathing approximately three to four times per minute, the tortoise is known for its astonishingly long life when compared to man.

Whilst belief in a certain ‘quota’ of breaths is questionable, this cultural idea effectively demonstrates the importance of self-control and removing stress from the body, to ensure longevity and harmony. Regardless of whether we practice yoga or believe in the tortoise-breathing-longevity association, one fact does remain: stress is harmful to the body and our quality of life.

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other demands placed on them”. Symptons vary, dependent on how the stress manifests itself, however they can include: heart palpitations, a dry mouth, pounding headaches or odd aches and pains. 

Figures by the Trade Union Congress have shown that in Britain, 5.4 million employees have put in around £640 million worth of unpaid hours each week. The average amount of unpaid overtime said to be around 7 hours 48 minutes a week, making us the longest working nation in Europe. With long work hours and a heavy workload it is no surprise that work is one of the most common causes of stress in the UK, with over 400,000 people reporting work/stress levels making them ill during the year 2010/2011 (NHS).

Whilst stress can be viewed as a positive attribute in the work place, due to its motivating qualities and also emphasising the employee cares about their work, too much is unhealthy and, if we take Guru Khalser’s viewpoint, could be fatal. So how can we manage stress?

1. Be active
Whilst physical activity won’t alleviate the cause of your stress, it can get you in the right state of mind to be able to identify the causes of your stress and find a solution. Studies have shown that to deal with stress effectively, it is important to feel strong mentally. Exercise both puts stress into perspective whilst also releasing endorphins - your body’s natural happy hormone.

So whether it is an intense 60 minute gym work out, or a brisk 10 minute walk in your lunch break, exercise will reduce some of the emotional intensity that you’re feeling, clearing your thoughts and enabling you to deal with your problems more calmly.

2. Work smarter
Our work load is not decreasing, therefore it is the method and mind-set for tackling this load which needs to alter. The idea of working smarter revolves around effective time management: prioritising what is important and tackling these issues head on. It won’t decrease the work load, but it will make it more manageable and help to restore a more pleasurable work-life balance.

3. Volunteer
One of the main issues with stressed and depressed people is that they become transfixed with looking inwardly and becoming consumed with their problems. By undertaking volunteer work this will help to restore perspective on problems and how to deal with them. Moreover, it will create a rewarding and achievable challenge you can focus on, to take your mind off work.

So whether you are a yoga-tastic bending believer in the tortoise and his breathing, or you see yoga as a bunch of hippies stretching their calf muscles, the tortoise message should resonate regardless: stress is bad for you and it is essential that if you are feeling it, whatever your workload, you can reduce it. Not only for your health, but also for your personal quality of life and happiness. In the words of a yoga lover: Namaste.

Feeling stressed? Pop in for a cuppa with Sally who can recommend expert coaches and mentors in this area.

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