We all have stress. According to the American Psychological Association 50 to 90 percent of healthcare professional visits are stress related. As you have probably noticed, stress is often caused by job, relationship and financial challenges. But stress can also be disguised by environmental traps like blue light over-exposure, social media pressure and even non-nutritional foods that provide low-grade stressors to the body and brain.

Despite its bad rap, not all stress is negative. Under some conditions, stress can be beneficial and lead to growth if proper recovery is involved. The problem with stress in our society today is that we tend to get stuck on the stressed-out side of the spectrum for too long. Whether it’s a single dose of acute stress or low-grade stress over a long period, too much time in a stressful state can lead to a systemic downfall.

On the most stressed side of the spectrum, your body experiences a flood of excitatory hormones and reactions that are intended to help you through the threatening event. However, these excitatory reactions come at a costly price of energy — setting you up for depletion and burnout if adequate recovery time never comes.

Take a moment to reflect… where you do live on this stress spectrum right now? And how do you choose to relax?

Photo by Justin Aikin

Do you unwind with a glass of wine after work? Take it easy on a beach vacation? Scratch your pup for a while before bed? Or maybe de-stress with a yoga class? All of those choices have relaxing qualities. But there’s a chance that your body still may not reach what physiologists refer to as the relaxation response.

What is the Relaxation Response?

The relaxation response is a cascade-like event. It triggers many systems and networks within your body and brain to shift gears: They move into a down-regulated or parasympathetic state.

The relaxation response is your recovery apparatus. Your body experiences a flood of calming hormones and physiological reactions that prepare you for sleep, healing and regeneration. So how do you know the relaxation response has come on? These are the signs.

The Physical Signs You Are Truly Relaxed

When truly relaxed, the top 5 physiological affects experienced are:

  1. Decreased local or global muscle tension
  2. Decreased blood pressure
  3. Decreased heart rate
  4. Slower breathing rate
  5. Normalization of hormones and digestive functions

Bonus #6: Relaxation even plays a role in our gene expression. The article “Genomic counter-stress Changes Induced by Relaxation Response published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, suggests that practicing the relaxation response can actually lead to genomic [or DNA] activity changes.

In the study, researchers looked at how the relaxation response affected each of the body’s 40,000 genes. They found that compared with a control group, those who regularly used the relaxation response induced anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that counteracted the effects of stress on the body.

Inducing Your Own Relaxation Response

A self-induced relaxation response is not only the most cost effective choice to down-regulate. Researchers have actually reported it is more effective and more likely to become a sustainable approach to stress and anxiety. Yay for self-care healthcare! 

When one is truly experiencing the relaxed state, the vagus nerve is involved. It is coined the “wandering nerve” because it winds and wanders throughout your body. The vagus innervates your musculature, circulatory mechanisms and organs.

When the vagus nerve is activated, it is as though you’ve hit a systematic off-switch. First you start to yawn, then your eyelids get heavy, your breath slows and soon your body is melting into a sedated state. It is possible to mentally trigger the vagus nerve while practicing guided meditation or even forms of hypnosis. But the vagus nerve can also be triggered with a physical approach like breathing techniques or self-myofascial massage.  

You will find many ways to induce relaxation here in Tune Up Fitness programs and products. But today I’d like to share with you one of my favorite deep relaxation exercises. I call it “Restore the Psoas.”

Psoas Release for Stress Relief

My favorite way to induce relaxation in the evening is to release my psoai with my Coregeous® ball. The Psoai are the deepest muscles of the core. They act as a portal to the nervous system via your respiratory diaphragm (the primary breathing muscle).

Where the diaphragm meets the psoai. Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psoas_major_muscle

Positioned in such close proximity, one of the diaphragm’s ligaments (the medial arcuate) actually wraps around the top of each psoas. This fascial (connective tissue) relationship creates your ability to walk, breathe and also plays a major role in how you respond to both fear and rest.

The Psoai are a sensitive pair, literally a proprioceptive power-couple due to the numerous nerves that pass through, around and within the muscles. Moving from stress to rest is simple with Restore the Psoas, a down-regulating breath and nervous system reset.

Stress is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be the end-all in your life. Turning on this internal off-switch is the surest, simplest and quickest way to make the traverse across the stress spectrum back toward peace and relaxation. It is always worth it.

 

Liked this article? Read How a Psoas Major Massage Relieved my Low Back Discomfort: QL & Psoas Self Massage

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Mélanie Ouellet

Great your articles!
My instantaneous switch is using the technique of pin/spin and mobilizewith coregeous ball on the vagus nerve in rotation of the cervical spine. It’s a winner every time!

JUNE BARTON

When we are stressed and burnout, it is not good because everything is filed up and triggers the Sympathetic Nervous System that lead us to unhealthy practices and diseases. If we learn mind-body practices that can illicit the relaxation response of the Parasympathetic Nervous System, we can lead a longer, healthy life. I definitely will use my Coregeous Ball.

Sharon

Love this post. As an empath, I tend to stress a lot because I take on others’ worries. Restore the psoas is a pose I should add to my daily life, along with teaching it to my loved ones to help them with their relaxation response.

Debra McKay

The gems in this article are brilliant. Our self care must include a self-induced relaxation. A complex concept, but so easily obtainable by initiating a vagal nerve response with a psoas release on the Coregeous® ball!

Nancy Bernhard

In vinyasa classes, I talk about down regulation at the moment people come prone after a 40 minute standing flow. Sometimes we call it hallelujah asana. I love talking about the parasympathetic response just as people take a deep dive into it, and often go right into a psoas stretch like reversed spinal twist backbend. It’s the big payoff for all the work.

Emily Whitaker

I tend to think I am incredibly relaxed person by nature, but then some nights, I crawl into bed and can immediately feel the quick pace of my heart as my mind rushes through the events of the day and the events of the day to come next. Breathing techniques, yoga nidra, and essential oils tend to help a little bit, I will definitely add this to my tool kit. I’m always looking for new ways to use my corgeous ball. Thank you!

Carol

Baylea, thanks so much for the thoughtful and helpful information. Bless you!

Nancy Bernhard

The more I learn about the psoas and vagus nerve, the more I’m fascinated by the huge number of functions and effects they have separately and together in the body. The psoas is so sensitive, some people consider a sense organ, and yet it’s also the most powerful hip flexor. Its proximity to the vagus nerve is also fascinating, and together they seem to constitute the brain-gut connection, gut feelings, and this crucial switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic response. So much research is happening, I think in the near future we’ll get a better understanding of this anatomy as cause… Read more »

Barbara G

Thank you for re-directing our energy to accept and deflate our inevitable daily stresses. As a yogi I am becoming more aware each day to work with our bodies instead of against it. With the ball(s) we can work with out body to reach our goal to become more balanced and at ease and in the moment.

LCF

Absolutely agree both on importance of deep relaxation and attention to the Psoas. I have sometimes used the Coregeous below the psoas in teaching Restorative Yoga private classes and my clients loved it even more then with “just the usual” props…

Alyssa

I love being reminded of how beneficial this technique is for relaxing mind and body. I’m thinking that perhaps it would be useful to try out on children with anxiety.

Stephanie

I absolutely love the idea of working the Coregeous ball into inducing this therapeutic relaxation response in the evening. I am continually impressed with the Coregeous ball and its affect on our internal organs and now after reading this article, the nervous system.

Margaret Rose

I am digging the Restore the Psoas approach to downregulating in the evening. I figured I would be up late again and was prepared to just be awake…not restorative…
Just came off my Coregeous Ball and am headed to bed. 🙂

Megan

Thanks for writing this! I know that I personally have super tight psoas, but had forgotten how linked they were to my stress level. What a great reminder 🙂

Gail

oh yea, totally agree. It is so easy to turn to alcohol to “relax”, but eventually that has negative effects. shavasansa has no negative effects ! Thank you !

Maegan Adams

Thanks for the article Baylea, stress is unavoidable so it is always helpful to have a few extra maneuvers to lower stress!

christina

it is unbelievable how fast this relaxion of the psoai works, thank you.

Candice Brown

Wow! I had no idea why I always felt so relaxed after rolling this area. It was more than relaxed, it was de-stressed and down regulated! I have a few questions: Does one side or area of the belly yield a stronger parasympathetic response if you roll or compress it? Does contract relax work just as well as the simple breathing? What if you can’t relax on the ball for very long? How long is long enough to get this response? How long is too long? Is the relaxation you feel after rolling other areas of the body going to… Read more »

Janice Quirt

I love all of the support for the relaxation response. Students in my restorative and yin classes seem to feel guilty about coming to class with the intention to down regulate. They feel that they should be out strengthening or doing some cardio instead. But I always remind them that activating the relaxation response is one of the most important things we can do to take care of our minds and bodies – and now I have even more research to back it up!

Erin Chiarelli

Wow! I never actually thought of stress as a positive but I can definitely understand that point of view and see how it can be. For being a high stress person, I generally revert to legs up the wall or a good old forward fold but learned something new to try 🙂

Madi

Hi Baylea! This is wonderful, I really love the idea that you can train your “off switch” from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode in the physical body, showing how intimately the mind (mental stress) influences the body (breath/heart rate, etc.); and more importantly how the physical body can influence the mind (like with self-massage).

shari Williams

Thank you, Great article, I am gathering info for my next client who wants to work w breath and downregulation! You provided the perfect ah ha! for me to also work with the psoai!