Did you know that over 80% of physical illness may be stress related? We often ignore difficult or conflicted emotions during our day but the body is the repository for these feelings. We also hold stress in the summer heat and need ways of dispersing it. The natural state of the body is one of ease and equilibrium. This is clearly seen in young children, who are curious, excited, and full of energy. If you saw a young child refuse to wake up in the morning to go to the playground you would know something was not right and would ask her what was wrong. In a similar way, you can use your body’s signals to assess how you are managing stress during your day and to then align more closely with your authentic state. When your body does not want to do something, it may indicate emotional stress that needs to be addressed.
One way to gauge your level of stress is to check-in with yourself physically, finding your baseline—your naturally easeful, curious, and energetic state. Knowing your baseline makes it easier to disperse stress and to then return to a relaxed state. A good way to do this is by creating a visual image of yourself in a comfortable and relaxing place. The following is a visual exercise I use with clients to establish a relaxation response:
Sit comfortably and uncross your legs. See yourself walking down a forest trail on a warm summer day. The trees increase in height and meet overhead until you are walking through a green tunnel, the sun pleasantly shaded. You first hear the sounds of cascading water as you approach a curve in the trail, then you can see the tall waterfall in a clearing as you come around the corner. It is not overwhelming in height or volume as it cascades over a rock face into a pool of turquoise water below. The path follows the edge of the pool around and leads behind the waterfall, where you can stand comfortably between the falling water and the solid rock. As you walk behind the waterfall, the temperature drops several degrees in the comfortable, cool mist. Breathe deeply and notice the feeling of the cool air entering your lungs. Notice too how your body responds to the cool mist and clean air. Your back straightens, shoulders relax, and your head and neck come into alignment. Close your eyes and listen to the sound of the water falling; it is a steady, pleasant cascade, cancelling out all other sounds. In this place, stress and anxiety leave your body, flowing away like the water into the pool and the stream below. Note the change in your emotional state as stress disperses. You may feel a comfortable, relaxed alertness. If you feel sleepy this is okay too—it is your body telling you it needs to catch up with the world. When ready, bring your awareness back to the room slowly, noticing the sounds around you, a fan or the ticking of the clock. Gradually opening your eyes.
It is better to adjust to stress in the moment rather than let it build until the end of the day or week. You can use this exercise throughout the day to align your body, release stress, and recharge emotionally. Stress and relaxation cannot coexist. Water is wonderful for disepersing stress, as the body responds to it naturally and emotional restoration follows. Water visualizations can also be a balm for hot summer days, letting your body dissolve the tension it carries in dealing with the heat. In my counselling practice, I use exercises like this one with clients to check-in with themselves about emotional issues—career, relationships, difficult choices. Our response is often very different when we deal with the stress we are carrying, and our body can help us do this.