JAWS MEETS YOGI

What do you do when you see a fin coming at you when you are far, far out in the waters trying to catch a big wave? You SWIM!

The other day I was body boarding in Carpinteria. I was quite far out trying to catch the bigger incoming waves. Suddenly two other body boarders (closer to the beach) started shouting. I look to my left and see a FIN coming straight at me in great speed.

IT CAME RIGHT AT ME………FAST………..VERY FAST….

There was no wave to catch to get out of there. Do you know what happens then? You get scared and start swimming like mad.

Then you realize that – especially compared to that fin – you’re not swimming very fast at all. Madly paddling? YES!! Fast? NOPE! Legs and arms where all moving and splashing in the water. I really thought it was a shark. And I really could not outswim this thing.

It was coming closer, and closer and I thought “oh no! this is the end of me”. And just like that, it veered around me and kept going. As it passed me by I saw it was a crazy dolphin that was in a hurry. It was like it was chasing something, never seen them acting this mad.

When I came to the beach I just laughed, legs shaking and laughed a little bit more. It was a crazy experience and even if I got very scared it also made me feel very alive.

Being a yoga teacher you would think that I would be able to stay all calm and serene. The truth is that I did not have time for deep breaths, I was in fight or flight mode.

THE TIGER, THE SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM

The sympathetic nervous system activates the physiological changes occurring during the fight or flight response. This is the way our body reacts to stress and danger. Heart rate goes up, breathing becomes more shallow, blood vessels constrict and muscles tighten.

This is a very good response in situations where you need to react immediately and instinctively. Like, for example, if you have the misfortune to meet a shark.

After your body has gone into “fight or flight” you need to go back to relaxation to keep the body balanced. Normally that is a natural process.

But in today’s society, many of us tend to stay in “fight or flight” mode all the time. And that is not good. In the long run staying in “fight or flight” response depletes your internal organs of the raw materials they need to produce key hormones and transmitters.

WINNIE THE POO, THE PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM

Yoga helps us to activate parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest response. This system activates the more tranquil functions of the body. Those that help us maintain a healthy, long term balance. Heart rate drops, muscles relax, digestive enzymes are released.

When we hear the word yoga we might think of the postures (yoga asanas) and, yes, they do activate the parasympathetic nervous system. But yoga is more than asanas. Breath work (pranayama) and meditation are important parts of yoga as well. If you live an active life you might want to consider skipping a high energy class in favor for a slower yin class to keep balanced.

The rest and digest response is slower than fight or flight and not always automatic. This means that if you live a stressed life you might actively need to work on rest and digest.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Try to come to yoga as often as you can, find a suitable home practice as well. Just 15 minutes a day of breath work and some asanas can be enough.
Try different styles like hot, flow, yin and breath work. This will keep your body balanced and happy and your mind interested with the variety.

And outside your yoga studio, try to find time to do something you really enjoy. It might be paining, making music, a slow walk in the mountain or just lying in the grass looking at the clouds.

Or go surfing. Connect to the ocean and the power of the water element. Breathe with the waves.

That is when you don’t meet sharks.

Then I would suggest you let your fight and flight response kick in.

Juliette Snijders

About Juliette: Juliette has been with evolation for since her graduation in 2015, she has been practicing for 10 years and teaching for 2. She splits her time between Sweden, Holland and Santa Barbara and loves to do photography, body surfing, cooking and yoga when she is not trying to out-swim sharks!