Does driving to work in bad traffic can make you stressed out? Does driving to work wondering what your boss is going to dump on your plate make you even more stressed out?
Well, imagine what it feels like during the first really bad snowstorm of the year.
Protect your health and your peace of mind by getting prepared now.
As strange as it sounds, you can move through the Winter season feeling more calm at work and more healthy by changing how you think about your commute.
Here are some simple techniques that you can use to ease your body and mind.
1) Practice mindfulness in the car. One of the first ways you develop shoulder pain is by allowing yourself to get tense while stuck in traffic. Instead of focusing on how late you might be, try focusing on your breath. Vase breathing is a quick and easy technique that can help you return to your Zen place. The goal of the technique is to focus on your lower dantien (a.k.a. your lower abdomen). This alone can help you start to feel more grounded and relaxed.
Instead of freezing up with frustration when you find yourself at a standstill on the road, transform your commute into something more positive. To start, pay attention to your face, neck, jaw and shoulders. If they are tense, take a moment to soften your upper body. Close your mouth, place the tip of your tongue in gentle contact with the roof of your mouth, right behind the upper front teeth, and start breathing through your nose. Do your best to stay gently focused on the practice, but without creating tension. There’s no rush. Sit upright in your seat, making sure to keep your spine straight; don’t slump into your lower back (There should be a gap between your lower back and the seat).
Gently place your left hand on your abdomen, with your thumb and index finger forming a “C” around your navel. Your palm is now over your lower abdomen, the area called your “lower dantien” or “energetic center” is about 2” deep to your palm. Whenever you practice vase breathing, bring your attention to your lower dantien. To practice “abdominal breathing,” let your belly gently expand to its capacity with each inhalation; and let it relax back to its starting position with each exhalation. That’s all – simple. Inhale, expand. Exhale, relax. Repeat for 5 rounds of breath. You may now release your hand from you abdomen.
Vase breathing is a variation of abdominal breathing with a few extra steps. Like abdominal breathing, gently allow the lower abdomen to expand outward into with each inhalation. As you inhale, imagine that your abdomen (and in fact your entire torso) is like a vase. Visualize that each breath is light, fresh water that is filling the vase with each inhalation. Like water being poured into a vase, feel that the inhalation fills the bottom of the vase; the bottom of your abdomen, then continues to fill up all the way to your nose. Hold the breath in for 1-2 seconds.
As you exhale, allow your abdomen to relax back toward it’s starting-point but instead of letting your belly soften completely to its starting-point, exhale to just 85% or 90%– maintaining, toward the bottom of the exhalation, a gently rounded vase-like shape of the lower abdomen. Before taking the next inhalation, pause and hold the breath for 1-2 seconds. Then return to the inhalation and allow the abdomen to expand and fill with breath. By holding the vase like shape of the lower belly at the end of the inhalation and exhalation with short breath retention, you increase the energy in the lower dantien, and relax the nervous system. Because vase breathing is a bit more advanced than simple abdominal breathing, it’s best to start with just two or three rounds, then return to your natural breathing cycle for minute or so, before starting again. If at any time your breathing feels labored or tense, relax and return to your natural breathing cycle before continuing on. With practice, the vase breathing technique will begin to feel quite comfortable and bring ease to your commute. At that point it is safe to practice for 1-3 minutes at a time.
2) Park your car, but don’t go into work right away – take two minutes to stretch first. Some simple stretches can help prevent chronic pain and leave you feeling energized.
When you get to work, and have parked the car, take a few moments to breathe deeply and stretch your neck and shoulders before you get out of the car. To start, sit up straight and tall, lengthen up through your spine. Then extend your right hand down by your side, in line with your hips to grab either the side of your seat or the bottom edge of the seat. On an inhalation, lengthen up through the crown of your head. On the following exhalation draw the left ear towards the left shoulder, to stretch the right trapezius muscle. While keeping the back straight, hold this pose for 5 breaths, then gently release and repeat on the opposite side.
When you get out of the car, you might find that your lower back and hips are tight. Pyramid pose is a great stretch for bringing some relief. Stand about three feet in front of your car, facing the hood (If it’s freezing outside, go inside and face your desk instead). With an exhalation, step your right foot about 3½ to 4 feet behind your left. Rest your hands on your hips. Turn your right foot out about 45 to 60 degrees to the right and your left toes should be facing the car. Align the feet so that the right heel is in line with the left heel. Gently engage your quadriceps muscles. Exhale and rotate your torso to the left, squaring the front of your pelvis with the front of the car’s hood. On an inhalation, lengthen your tailbone toward the floor, and arch your upper torso back slightly. On an exhale, Press the base of the big toe and the inner heel of the front foot firmly into the floor, bend forward from the hips, and reach forward to support yourself on the hood of the car (or desk). Inhale again to gently lengthen the spine, and exhale to bend deeper forward, stretching the hips away from your shoulders. Once you have found a position that allows you to feel a stretch in the hamstrings (back of legs) and left hip muscles, hold the pose and breathe deeply for 5 breaths. On the 6th inhalation, gently raise the torso up and release the pose. Return to a normal standing position, and repeat on the opposite side.
3) Eat right for a better commute- and a better workday. A well-fueled and serviced car performs better than one that is running on empty. Your body works in the same way! What you put into your body has a significant effect on how you handle stress. Proper nutrition, sleep, and self-care can help you handle the winter much more smoothly. Stress weakens the immune system and will make you feel run down over time. If you feel like life is taking a toll on your body, try increasing your dietary intake of B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc to keep you going at top speed during the darker months.
B vitamins are highly available in foods such as beef liver, beef, lamb, brewer’s yeast, and blue green algae. For vegetarians, and those suffering from extreme stress, a B vitamin complex such as Thorne Methyl Guard may be considered to keep your stress levels down and nervous system in check. Nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia are signs that things are getting out of hand.
Vitamin C enhances the immune system and works a powerful anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants block damage caused by stress and free radicals, thus slowing the aging process. Long-term stress will tax your adrenal glands, which will result in the production of cortisol. Prolonged adrenal stress leads to anxiety, increased blood pressure, and belly fat. None of which you need this year! Foods high in vitamin C are oranges and orange juice, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, and acerola berries.
Zinc assists the body in strengthening immune responses and fighting infection. This mineral also plays a role in maintaining memory, attention span, and mood. Something we all could use some help with! Food sources of zinc are oysters, beef, dark meat of turkey, Swiss chard, and baked potatoes.
These simple additions to your routine can make you feel better about your work and your life. But remember you deserve to feel great, not just a tiny bit better. If you have prolonged symptoms such as numbness in the arms or legs, persistent back pain, sciatica, or headaches, or if you simply want to enhance your overall energy, focus and wellbeing you may need additional support. Don’t hesitate to contact a well-trained natural healing professional to get the support you need and deserve.
© Georgia Carr 2015
Georgia Carr is passionate about helping busy professionals achieve and maintain an optimum level of health so that they can continue to give their best to their jobs, their families and their communities. She also loves to help she loves to help active professionals who have experienced serious injury to return to their favorite activities with less pain and more energy. Georgia is trained in Traditional Chinese Medical Acupuncture, Tuna Massage, Qigong, Chinese Herb ology, and many other healing modalities. Georgia Carr is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) as a Diplomate of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine and is licensed to practice in the state of Colorado. For more information about Georgia, or to learn about how you can achieve a new level of natural health please visit: https://www.denverwellspring.com/georgia-carr-lac/
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