There’s an old Zen proverb that says that “you should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you are too busy to do so, in which case you should sit for an hour”. I must admit that despite how good meditation makes me feel, I never seem to find the time to do it. I’ve long been looking for a stress-busting activity that helps me chill out but isn’t another task to add to the to-do list. One of my worst habits is finding things to feel guilty about, or reasons to be cross with myself – and my lack of time to dedicate to yoga, meditation and self-care just feels like another thing I’ve been failing at for a really long time.
It’s probably no secret that I’ve suffered with stress and overwhelm in the past. On days when I’m putting in long hours in the office, getting stuck in traffic on the way home and then have a to-do-list as long as my arm to come home to, I really start to feel things getting on top of me. I’ve not always been great at finding balance in my life and sometimes I look in my diary and realise I’ve made plans every night and weekend for a couple of weeks in a row, and then instantly feel all worked up as to how I’ll possibly keep on top of everything without running myself into the ground. These are, of course, the times when I need a meditation practice or a yoga class the most, but instead I find myself running from place to place with no time for myself, falling into bed exhausted but lying there wide awake thinking of all of the things I ought to be doing.
They say that ‘when the student is ready, the teacher appears’, and one day as I was spending my lunch break organising my Google Calendar and responding to blogging emails, a rather intriguing one popped into my inbox. Enter Katie Brindle – founder of a method of self-care and stress relief called the Hayo-u Method (as well as an expert in acupuncture and Chinese Medicine). I quickly set up a Skype call with Katie to find out more about Hayo-u and how it could help me. Katie had offered to talk through my specific health issues and relationship but stress – but all of the Hayo-u methods, tips and techniques are all available for free on her website and instagram. But wait! Don’t skip over there quite yet – let me tell you a bit more.
Katie quickly explained that hundreds of years ago, when we were all spending our days making fires, hunting and running away from sabre-toothed tigers, our stress hormones would flood our bodies to help our muscles work faster so that we could escape from predators. But in modern times, we don’t have these ‘one off threats’ (no woolly mammoths lurking at the bus stop or the water cooler), and so instead we receive a build-up of smaller stressors all day; through our mobile phones, office politics, emails constantly pinging in and incessant notifications on social media. This means that our stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) are hitting us over and over again in almost a drip feed effect. This constant drip, drip, drip is wearing us down, and inevitably leads to health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, lack of sleep, tiredness through the day, hair loss, indigestion, irregular periods, joint aches and pains and many more complaints, all of which can be tracked back to our relationship with stress.
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Katie explained that, in the health information I shared before the appointment, I mentioned that I had difficulty falling asleep, regularly experienced bloating and indigestion, have irregular periods and previously spent two weeks in hospital with an ulcerated oesophagus (I’m sure many of you can identify with some of these issues). These are all ‘modern day illnesses’ that Western medicine doesn’t traditionally have a fix for, because although I can take sleeping tablets, drink camomile tea, try and avoid white bread and find other solutions for, I’m not dealing with the source of these problems, which is all of the stresses in my life.
Chinese medicine however does have a solution to help us overcome these stresses and eradicate the health issues that are generated from being bombarded and overwhelmed throughout the day. Katie has designed the Hayo-u Method, which is made up of rituals that all of us can do on a daily basis. Just like brushing our teeth, undertaking two one-minute exercises a day can act as a preventative, slowly building up over time to recede these symptoms and help us respond better to stress. The two one-minute rituals that Katie asked me to try were a breathing exercise and a drumming ritual – more on these below.
Katie explained to me that the antidote to stress is ‘the breath’ (which immediately reminded me of a yoga class I went to once where they explained that the breath is our ‘anchor’ to the earth and a way to ground ourselves during difficult moments). Katie pointed me towards her instagram account where you can find a video of the breathing practice she recommends (shared below) and explained that you can practice this daily, as well as enlisting this breathing immediately when you experience a feeling of stress.
The reason this works is that (as I mentioned earlier), stress produces the hormones cortisol and adrenaline – and when these flood our bodies this creates a toxic, acidic environment which is obviously counter-productive for our health. But bringing in oxygen by using this technique immediately alkalises it and stops you from creating that acidic state. This creates the opposite of the ‘fight or flight’ experience, filling you with calm, as well as massaging the key organs, strengthening and nourishing them.
This second exercise is a movement exercise which (just like with the breathing exercise) removes the levels of acidity from your muscles. This exercise moves the build-up of toxicity from our muscles and joints and moves them into the lymphatic system, where it can be eliminated. (This is so much fun – you are literally bashing the negativity and stress out of your body).
I explained to Katie that upon seeing this exercise it really resonated with me, because when I get really stressed and overwhelmed I have this unconscious habit of almost ‘flicking’ my fingers as if I were trying to flick water at someone – I barely even know I’m doing it but it’s clear that it’s my bodies way of trying to break down all of the stress hormones and release the nervous energy! So I couldn’t wait to get started with this ritual, especially knowing that it was what my body had been crying out for for all this time instinctively anyway. Just learning more about these rituals and the reasons behind them began to make so much sense – and I couldn’t wait to swap my current ritual of checking my phone in the morning and answering a few emails, for a practice that was going to set me up for the day and help me find both short-term and long-term health benefits.
So – on Katie’s advice I decided to spend a minute each day on both of these exercises. Always wanting to be the star pupil, I decided to start each day and end each day with both exercises (I could just about spare four minutes!), so when I wake up I will do the breathing exercise, and then when I get out of bed I do the ‘drumming’ exercise (and the same before I get into bed at night). Of course the thing about rituals that only take a minute is, you find yourself doing them more, and so the breathing exercise in particular I have found myself doing constantly. In the car on the way home from work I spend about ten minutes just doing the breathing exercise over and over – and even though I’m probably doing it whilst I’m listening to music, I still ensure I do it ‘mindfully’ – listening to my breath and feeling everything slow down and shift. Katie said that this exercise “brings us inside of our bodies, helping us feel in charge and masterful, and centering us” and this has entirely been my experience. On a stressful day at work I will do this exercise over and over on the way home (I also do it whilst at work, just by breathing mindfully at my desk or nipping into a meeting room and undertaking the full exercise) and I can just feel the stress ebbing away.
As soon as I’m home from work I then do the drumming exercise, usually in the kitchen whilst making dinner. I’m not going to lie – it is so much fun just flinging yourself around, and I can literally feel any energy that’s built up during the day just flowing out of me. It never fails to put a smile on my face, and my body feels really good afterwards, in the same way that I do after a yoga class (but this time just from a ritual that only has to last a minute). I thought I would feel silly doing it, but it feels so good that it’s difficult to worry about ‘looking cool’.
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It probably comes as no surprise given the immediate effects of the rituals, that the longer term benefits have also been astounding. One day a couple of weeks ago I climbed into bed and realised I felt totally different and couldn’t put my finger on why. I subsequently realised that I had reached the end of the day feeling calm, refreshed and settled throughout. Rather than experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the day, from frustration at work to worry about my overflowing inbox, I had just felt stable and serene, flowing from one place to the next. I also realised that I haven’t experienced back or neck pains in some weeks, something that used to be a constant from working in an office and coming home to fire up the laptop. I’ve also become more mindful of what I eat and drink – realising that after a stressful day, coming home to a glass of wine (which is acidic and can add to the toxicity caused by the build-up of stress) and a bar of chocolate isn’t always the best solution. I’ve definitely been trying to listen to my body more; breathing, shaking, drumming, twisting and stretching whenever I think it needs it, as well as trying to build other healthy habits, like reading before bed instead of checking my phone, and having breaks from social media.
It feels so amazing to have found a ritual and a habit that helps me so much and yet takes so little time – how often in life does that happen? I would massively recommend these rituals to everyone – and please let me know if you do start doing them, would love to know how you feel!