Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lessons from Yoga and Tea

There is something I am having trouble understanding about he modern world – the easier and quicker it becomes to do certain tasks, the less time we all have. Emails go unread or responded to in the briefest fashion, briefs and motions are filed without grammar and spell checks, and more people have sleep and health issues as a result. This is all true despite the immeasurable conveniences of the modern world. I simply do not understand, but I know it to be true, even in my own life.

What does this mean for our bodies? Constant stress! - also known as the “fight or flight response.” Stress is not necessarily bad for you. In fact, stress can be incredibly beneficial. It is the reason we survived as a species. When we were attacked by animals long before urbanization, our fight or flight response saved us from becoming lunch. Even today, eustress, or “good” stress, gets us pumped up before a big hearing, deposition, or meeting, and gives us the excitement to get through it and think on our feet.

But we are not designed to live in a state of chronic stress. Our bodies, and our minds, need to come out of that mode. When we are in a state of chronic stress, our bodies turn off these “non-essential” functions. They are, of course, not essential when running away from tigers, but they become far more essential in our day-to-day lives in a law firm. We need to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and recharge us, allowing us to relax so we can sleep, digest our food properly, and do all sorts of other bodily actions that so many people choose not to discuss at the dinner table. Perhaps the even more difficult aspect of fight or flight is the loss of ability to concentrate, which disrupts our ability to remember and be creative. All of these symptoms can result from chronic states of stress, and this is a state in which more and more people are living everyday.

If we gain nothing else from a yoga practice, we can learn to take a break, to take 5-10 minutes at a time and devote them to recharging our minds and bodies.  Yoga may be one of the best opportunities for our bodies to recharge. It is a time when we allow our bodies and minds to come out of the fight or flight mode and back into a state of relaxation. What is wonderful about yoga is that the more you teach your mind and body to enter this state, it becomes a pattern, and one to which you can return with a 90-minute yoga/meditation session. Although, as I mentioned in my last post, those longer periods are still necessary to refill the yoga reservoir. (As an aside, I felt 100% better after just one yoga class, and it has stayed with me throughout the week.)

But yoga is not the only way to recharge and renew. The New Zealanders have one that appears to kill two birds with one stone – a moment to relax and a moment to create community. It is teatime. Here, teatime appears sacrosanct, at least in some circles.  Offices still take morning tea breaks, and during presentations, tea may be served prior to starting the Q and A session.  Afternoon tea, especially on the weekends, ensures more togetherness and a wee moment of quiet and rest.

This is not to say that New Zealanders have mastered the art of relaxation. It is to say that there remains an understanding that time away is necessary to ensure we can be at our best when the stress hits. Even the law school at the University of Otago has a tearoom. The culture is a constant reminder that it is okay to take a moment to reflect, and instead of stealing a few seconds by a water cooler, embracing a few minutes together around a cup of tea. It may seem quaint and old-fashioned, but if our bodies and minds are to function at their highest, we may wish to embrace the idea.

Yoga and tea go together in my mind. Both create a sense of momentary peacefulness and restoration. Both are healing and give us an opportunity to spend some time either alone or together with others. In this world where we never seem to have enough time, the paradox is that when we take a few moments away, we come back to our work refreshed and better able to work more efficiently from the inside and not only as a result of modern conveniences.

What do you do to take a break and refresh yourself?

Namaste and Blessings!

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.


  1. You OK out there in New Zealand after the earthquake. Praying for your safety. Peace, One of your yoga for lawyers students.

  2. Very nice saying ‘Yoga may be one of the best opportunities for our bodies to recharge. It is a time when we allow our bodies and minds to come out of the fight or flight mode and back into a state of relaxation’. Yoga in itself is a system which involves the maintaining the coordination between mind and body.

  3. Yoga is for Life.Yoga is a gift for all those who are passionate about it.So New Zealand must be a great place for my next yoga retreat.You must tell me about that.

  4. Thanks for the support. And yes, I am safe and sound here in New Zealand. I was actually in Christchurch for a conference, but I made it out safely thanks to an amazing embassy and air force coordination. I am deeply honored and grateful.