“Habitual repression of emotion leaves a person in a situation of chronic stress, and chronic stress creates an unnatural biochemical milieu in the body, [ ], Disease , in other words, is not a simple result of some external attack but develops in a vulnerable host in whom the internal environment has become disordered.” Gabor Maté, When The Body Says No. The Hidden Cost of Stress
The Descending Line……
Let me explain
Stress can be many things: writing an exam, stubbing your toe, a car accident, tripping on your own shoe laces, being shouted at, shouting at someone, a loud noise that causes you to jump, sunshine glaring into your eyes, your best friend getting sick, you getting sick, and so on.
Stress comes in many guises and disguises. It is an inevitability of life.
The real way to deal with stress is not to delete it from your life, but to learn how to notice how it affects your system and how to effectively process it and bring it down. Completely Down.
This is what The Descending Line is all about.
Take a look at that notecard again:
1. The left hand side – the ascending part – depicts a rise in your body’s stress levels.
2. Then at the top of that curve, the height of the stress response: activated, arousal, hyper.
3. The right hand side – the descending part – is the coming down of the stress response: de-activation and relaxed. “The Descending Line”.
In review: Cells in our body get excited. Cells in our body stop being excited. Activation, de-activation. Up. Down.
The big dilemma today
We rarely experience the stopping. The de-activation. The down piece. The descending line is foreign to us.
All too often we hover at the high point of that curve, or somewhere just below it. We keep our stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and the cells they affect revved up and on guard. We keep our entirety on “on”.
All too often we are told to……
….just relax….take a load off and, “c’ mon, it’s simple – just take a nice deep relaxing breath“.
The “deep breath-thing” doesn’t always work.
What we need to look out for and learn to harness naturally is something called a “spontaneous breath“.
Take a peek at the notecard again. See it?
Now Imagine this: Rather than forcing yourself into relaxation, try this: Simply orient to your surroundings, to the ‘here and now’ and allow your system to fully sink into the present moment. This isn’t about clearing your mind of chatter and thought. It is the act of letting your eyes see your environment and know that all is well and safe. This is juice for our brains. Our brain wants to know that “I am Safe”.
Animals in wild do this orientation-thing ALL THE TIME. They check out their surroundings and make sure no danger is nearby. The difference between us and them is that when wild animals establish safety they go back to grazing and simply being an animal. They don’t keep their alert buttons on in the way we tend to.
When I have my clients practice this idea of “orientation” and have them scan the environment, most notice an instant change in the tone of their muscles. Spontaneous breath returns. The belly softens. Alertness and fixation on the mind and its chatter is lessened.
This is all “Descending Line-Physiology-Biology“. It is real.
Imagine practicing this type of “physiology-biology” for a few minutes (even a few seconds) after a stressful event
Deal with it NOW
Not at the next yoga class. Or next week. Or in 10 years.
It’s much easier to slide down that descending line and experience “de-activation” and “coming down” when the actual event, or stress, has just taken place. When it is fresh. When we feel the charge, that is the perfect moment to notice your biology and take a few moments….and feel yourself come down.
The next time your notice your blood starting to boil over due to stressful event “X”, feel your heart rate go up, then: STOP and look around, FEEL your body and how revved up it is, and WAIT, wait for your heart rate to go down naturally. Let your eyes and your instincts know that the threat is no more. Discover what natural relaxation can be.
Drink in that spontaneous breath. Welcome any sighs. There’s no need to force it. It will come. This is medicine for our cells.
HERE is an Orientation Resource for you to try out. Some gentle sounds of nature to facilitate “The Descending Line”.