This took a lot of introspection before I could admit to this. Looking back when I was working in finance in Hong KongI would get a real rush from a volatile day in the markets as a derivatives trader. It was the rush of all that movement, a flurry of emotion, the unpredictability of the day, the irrationality of the price reactions, it made me feel alive. So much so that I began to seek it, looking for high-risk activities, volatile relationships, in total belief that faster is better, more is better, louder is better. I normalized a high-stress environment in my work and personal life and this constant mental chatter just couldn’t get enough. But what happens when you don’t switch off? I lost my ability to switch off, it started to show in my health, chronic stress meant that my sleep quality suffered, I was experiencing acute lower back pain in my mid 20s, my digestion was impaired, and I could see my body breaking down as a result of the mental agitation I was subjecting it to. That was my first lesson in the mind-body connection, we treat them as separate entities, but they are intrinsically attached. The stress we experience is on a mental level, we can easily push through it and continue, but if we don’t address it eventually it catches up to the body, the physical realm will manifest what it is being fed.
Neurologically when we are stressed, brain waves move from the rational thought center of the hippocampus to the fear center at the amygdala, this fear holds us in a survival mode making us behave as though we are in a life-threatening situation. It elicits a biochemical response to ‘fight or flight’ where hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline get pumped into the bloodstream priming the body to take action, the heart rate increases, muscles tighten ready to either run away or attack, both of these are a physical outcome. How often do we react physically when we are stressed? It would be socially dysfunctional to do so in the modern day! So instead the reaction is suppressed causing hypertension and stiffness keeping us in the survival mode.
Can you create a physiological reaction to stress without a physical stimulus? Yes, we aren’t stressed by predators ready to pounce in real life, we are stressed by the emotional reaction to our thoughts. ‘What if I lose my job? What if he finds out? What if I fail?’ These are all thoughts, we imagine the worse case scenarios in our mind, our body thinks this playback is real and our bodies’ react as though we are physically in danger, this is all from neurotransmitters and hormones that get triggered by the brain into the body. Have you ever cried or screamed during a movie? The body cannot distinguish between a real or imagined threat, physically you are experiencing what you are watching causing you to feel sadness in a heartbreaking seen or your heart pounding in a violent scene. This was my second lesson: our thoughts determine our experiences.
Finally, I felt inspired to redirect my experiences, health, and mindset to a practice that is nurturing, positive and wholesome. This is when my journey with personalized yoga solidified. Through the physical movements I systematically released the tension and stiffness I was carrying, breathing techniques to come back to increase my energy levels and remain in the present moment freeing mind from worries of the future or regrets from the past, and finally it illuminated a path where I can choose my thoughts that are positive, calming and harmonious coming to an integrated mind-body solution to relax, switch off the stress trigger and relish in the quietude.