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Episode #114: How to Manage Your Stress, with Neha Saxena

Grad Conn

April 12, 2021  •  22 min read

It’s Stress Awareness Month, and the Breath Yogi is here to help. Neha highlights strategies to keep stress under control, and then guides us through some breathing and meditation exercises to calm your mind.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad
Oh boy, I need this. Okay. It’s Monday. And it’s the CXM Experience. And as we have been doing regularly for a while now welcoming Neha, the Breath Yogi. She’ going to be with us today. And welcome Neha.

I’ve got a few things to keep everyone in the loop on. You may hear screaming, yelling, and a lot of loud noises and sounds like water and people in the background. So, unplanned, or not well planned or… the word planning is in there somewhere with some kind of negative word in front of it. We’re cleaning the floors of the house right now. Stanley Steamer is here, pouring water through the house and cleaning all the tiles and having a grand old time. So exactly the type of background you would want for your Breath Yogi session. But actually, in some ways, maybe it is fortunate because you know, water is pouring through the house, it’s cleansing. We’re moving the dirt off the tiles, it’s a new beginning. So, we’ll use that as the analogy. Neha, today is one of our April episodes. And I understand that April is stress awareness month. So what does that mean? And what are you doing for stress awareness month?

Neha Saxena
Well, facilitating a few workshops. And I’m excited about that. And I’m taking a few days off, I’m doing a workshop myself. So I’m looking forward to that. And yeah, I think it’s important to talk about stress, because it’s ubiquitous now. Everybody’s experiencing it. And I think there’s a lot of different ways to define it. But I thought it’d be good opportunity to talk about it, touch upon it, and have our listeners weigh in on it.

Grad
Interesting. You know, I was talking to my Pilates coach the other day, and we’re just talking about stress and music and stuff. And she had the most interesting story for me. She said that she has a song, I’m not going to talk about the song right now, because it’s not important what the song is. It’s a song that’s important to her. But she has a song that she’s thought was a good song. And she really liked it. It always made her feel really calm. And so she started listening to that song over and over again. And she had this interesting example of a measurement where she had a Garmin watch. And the Garmin watch measured her stress levels and her heart rate and also her blood pressure and all that kind of stuff. And then she lost the Garmin watch. And she was at the very beginning of beginning to listen to this music because her rates were not good. They were very high. And she was very, very stressed and very anxious and having trouble focusing and all this kind of stuff. And then she lost the Garmin watch. But she continued listening to the music. And she didn’t buy another smartwatch. So she went for a while. If I recall correctly, she said she went for two years. And then she was getting her car cleaned, like a deep clean on her car. And they found the Garmin watch.

I try not to be too judgmental on it. But I don’t understand how you lose a watch in a car for two years. Whatever. She found it again. That’s all that matters, right? She puts it back on. Again, she’s been listening to the same music now for two years. And yeah, making some other minor lifestyle changes, but not much. I mean, she’s a Pilates coach. So she was continuing to do that. So, it’s not like she lost 50 pounds or anything. She’s still doing her normal relatively physically fit life. And she puts this Garmin watch back on, and her stress levels have dramatically dropped from where they were two years ago. And she says the only real change she made was listening this music, which I thought was kind of interesting. I guess I’ve gone through periods where I sometimes do that. But when you talk to a client who’s got a lot of stress in their life… not that there’s anyone like that right now in society. When you have someone in that condition, what kind of advice to give them how do you help them figure out the way for them to manage stress in a way that works for them personally?

Neha Saxena
I think it starts with self-awareness. You have to become aware of what is causing me stress. When do I get stressed, and start to recognize it in your body. And the more you can recognize the stress signatures, then you can have more control over it. The first step would be to just become aware. And then also to get a neutral perspective. Stress is a part of life. Not all stress is bad, right? There’s something called good stress. Stress, in short bursts can help you focus, can help you get that creative juices flowing in the short term. But stress over a long period of time is not great. It’s very detrimental to our health on many levels. Just to have a bigger perspective that, hey, if you’re a human being, and you’re going through something like a human experience, stress is bound to happen, right? Stress is a part of life. The problem becomes when we have stress, high levels of stress over an elongated period of time. Then, fundamentally the body starts to go into a disease state. I read this thing, which was really interesting. And it actually made a lot of sense. It’s like, nothing needs to happen for health to happen. But something needs to happen for disease to happen. Right?

Grad
That’s profound, huh. You’re right. Yeah. That’s really profound.

Neha Saxena
Yeah. We’re naturally healthy, but then over a period of time you have so much cortisol flowing through your system and your nervous system starts to kind of adapt to that. And then that leads to a whole host of changes. And we know now that about approximately 60% to 80% of all disease has underlying element of stress. Stress is a big thing. So, I’d start with, first of all, being like, hey, you’re not the only one, right? Everybody’s experiencing stress, there’s nothing abnormal about it. Second, let’s try to understand what’s causing it, what’s causing you stress, and what happens when you feel stressed. And what’s the impact of that. And then, usually they’ll have some other sort of thing going on. Their sleep might be disturbed, or for example, their testosterone levels might be getting impacted, or they have high level of anxiety that prevents them from going about and doing their normal things, social anxiety. So, depending on all the things that are happening, we make a comprehensive plan for them, and see how they respond to different modalities, and eventually get them better,

Grad
I like that. I went through a really, really intense year, year and a half. And it’s funny because as you get deeper and deeper into it, it’s hard to escape. I think that the one of the challenges when you’re in a high stress situation is that you do adapt to it. You get used to it. And even though you know it’s going on, it’s a little hard to know how to escape. And then suddenly you have to escape. And I essentially changed my entire life. But it was very hard to get to that point. And I think that it’s funny, because I’ve been meditating for a long time. And I did Pilates for a really long time. That was actually a period where I wasn’t doing Pilates. But I’d moved, I was in a new city, things are really different. And I think when you lose a lot of your regular support systems and a lot of your regular go-tos, it becomes easier to fall prey to that. And it’s dangerous.

Neha Saxena
Yeah. And I think there’s this element of… in the yogic tradition, they would call something… in English, I would say the word would be “self-reflection.” It’s important to reflect on the day, it’s important to reflect on the inner workings. What’s going on inside me. And I somehow feel like today, all our focus is on the outside. And we feel stressed, and we keep responding to what’s happening outside. We keep looking for the solution outside. But I think we have to first become aware of Oh, today I felt this, because of this. So, you have to understand yourself. Self-awareness is like the foundation of what’s causing stress in your life.

Grad
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. How do you deal with stress? You shared a lot of stories with us over the last few weeks. And you’ve had some pretty intense stressors. How do you deal with stress? What’s your go-to plan on stress management?

Neha Saxena
So currently, it’s a combination, I do my breath work. I have a very robust breathwork practice, right? I am a stern believer in, if I’m not doing something, I have no business telling other people to do it.

Grad
That’s fair. I like that. I like that. Yeah. Practice what you preach. Yeah.

Neha Saxena
Exactly. So I have a two-hour meditation breathwork practice in the morning, and then I have a one and a half hour practice in the afternoon. So I do that. And then…

Grad
Say that again.

Neha Saxena
What?

Grad
How much breathing practice do you do?

Neha Saxena
I have a two-hour practice in the morning.

Grad
Two-hour practice in the morning. Wow. That is awesome. I am so jealous.

Neha Saxena
You can learn it all too.

Grad
Two hours though. That’s so amazing. Okay, and then in the afternoon, an hour and a half, you give yourself a break, right? Taking it easy on yourself in the afternoon, just an hour and a half.

Neha Saxena
In the evening, yeah, yeah. But then I also love kickboxing, and I also love yoga sculpt. I am a yoga sculpt instructor as well. But I love my weights, and I love hot yoga. So I’ll do that. I either do strength training, or some form of kickboxing or yoga sculpt. So, it’s like a combination of those things.

Grad
Well, you must be in wicked shape.

Neha Saxena
I mean, I don’t know. But I think it stems from the fact that I can’t tell anybody to do something, if I’m not doing it myself. Like, I have no business. That’s just a principle. I like to follow that. I wouldn’t want to learn from someone who’s just advising and not doing, who is not eating their own medicine. To me, it’s amazing, because it’s my job to do that. So it’s not a strain on my time or anything.

Grad
That’s amazing. Also, just for completeness. How many bottles of Jack Daniels a week? Okay, two, I guess. I heard two in that laugh.

Neha Saxena
None!

Grad
The little ones? The airplane ones? Just a couple of those?

Neha Saxena
I’ve been alcohol free for since 2007. No alcohol. No tea. No coffee.

Grad
No tea or coffee? Herb tea though, right?

Neha Saxena
Herbal tea, yeah.

Grad
Did you hear that? The Stanley Steamer folks just turned the water off. The floors are clean. Oh, my gosh. I’m so excited. Everything is probably moved around. So I can’t even imagine what things look like. Okay. Well, that’s great. That is awesome. Well, I’m not doing two hours in the morning and an hour and a half a night, but I am doing an hour of Pilates every morning. Every morning. So that’s not bad, right. I’ve got to work on the evening, I’ve got to work on the evening. Very inspiring.

Neha Saxena
Even if it’s 5-10 minutes, just taking a moment to reflect on how the day was, and how it felt through the day. And if something stands out, it’s an opportunity for everyone to look into, okay, what happened that made me feel this way. So a high level of self-awareness is actually the first fundamental step to being truly empowered.

Grad
That’s the thing I like about Pilates, is that Pilates forces you to be self-aware of your body, right? It depends on the coach. I don’t love Pilates classes, because people don’t do them correctly. But if you have a good one-on-one coach, that person will be like, no, move your sacrum this way or… and it’s minor, like one inch or half an inch moves, sometimes that make a lot of difference. But you become very aware of yourself. And I find that that physical self-awareness will help me stay more mentally self-aware. I find that when I get super stressed, I get separated from my body. I become like a brain on a stick, that kind of feeling. And then when that happens, I start losing track everything. But if I can stay connected to my body, then I find it easier to stay connected to myself and I just be me. But I have found that to be helpful. And I know when I start to lose it, and I I have to work to not let that happen.

Neha Saxena
What you’re defining is… there’s a theory called neuroscience called polyvagal theory. And that’s exactly what happens. The first response is immobilization. You’re under a stressful situation, and you’re immobile. You express that as feeling like a head on a stake, right? Like you’re disconnected with your body. But the second phase is mobilization. You feel it in your body. So if we can strengthen this connection between the mind and the body, on a regular basis, and then you can start to… even before you get to that immobilization state. If you can start to recognize the signs of stress in your body, then you can get ahead of that game. You’re right, every emotion has a corresponding physical sensation. And every emotion has a corresponding rhythm in the breath. Let me ask you, how do you breathe when you’re angry?

Grad
Interesting. Well, I don’t get angry? Actually, literally, that’s what people say is weird about me. There was actually a situation I was in recently where someone said, Yeah, the weird thing about Grad… and I was actually talking to my girlfriend. And I was relating the story. So you know, I had a really interesting meeting today. And she said, Yeah, what’s that? I said, Well, all these people were talking about stuff. And then one person said, Yeah, the really weird thing about Grad is… blank. And I said, Can you guess what they said? And she goes, Oh, yeah, you never get angry. Oh, yeah, that’s exactly what they said. And I said, is that really my defining characteristic? And she goes, Yeah, it’s super weird. Like, you never get angry.

And I don’t really get angry. So I don’t have a breath for anger. But I do have a breath for when something happens, that might be a problem. Okay, so when a problem comes in, I do deliberately breathe more slowly, to calm myself so that I don’t narrow my vision. I want to make sure that as a problem approaches me, that I stay as calm as possible, so that I have the greatest range of possible responses available to me. Because if you get too stressed on a problem, your vision literally narrows. Sometimes you can actually feel it narrowing. And then you just focus on the only way to do it. But there’s almost always a solution to problems. The challenge is finding the solution. And solutions are sometimes non obvious. So you’ve got to be very, very open minded to be able to do that. And you can only stay open minded if you stay calm. In my experience, you can only stay open minded if you stay calm. So I do have a breath for that and I’m very aware of. But I’m not sure I have a lot of other breaths, that I’m aware of.

Neha Saxena
But usually speaking, when people are angry, they’ll breathe short and shallow. And when somebody is really excited, like you’re walking in Walmart like you were this morning, and there you meet your friend, after 20 years. You’re like, ah, are you serious? You’re here! When you’re excited, your inhalation is pronounced. And you’ve heard of the term called a sigh of relief. You’re worried about something, and everything goes wild. So it’s like, the exhalation is more pronounced. I want you to experiment on this. We’ll talk about it next week.

Grad
I did breathe a sigh of relief on something last week. You’re right. I did do that, actually. Now that I think about it. So okay, good. I’m going to play with that. Good. Well, let’s do something for today. I’ve had a good day, but kind of a weird day in some ways. So I could use some good breathing, guided meditation or whatever you want to take us through to start our Monday off, a the week off, to have a terrific week. It’s a spring is blooming kind of week. Spring is coming soon. I guess Spring is here, actually. So, summer is coming soon. But April’s always a great month. I love April.

Neha Saxena
Okay, so how much time do I have, like 10 minutes? Okay, as I was saying, this breath in emotional connection is a two-way connection. When you change the rhythm in your breath, just like you were saying, you start to breathe slowly, it changes the state of your mind. It can actually calm you down by getting the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in. So let’s start.

Grad
I’m going to go on mute. It seems like the main Stanley Steamer… it’s like a Stanley Steamer commercial I’m doing right now. The main Stanley Steamer mobile water unit seems to have closed down. But now there’s another sound going on out there, which sounds kind of like a vacuum. But anyway, I’m going to go on mute, and I’m following along and you’ll see me following along with you. So go ahead, Neha.

Neha Saxena
Okay, so today we’re going to learn something very simple, something that’s accessible to you with eyes closed and eyes open. It’s called the 16 second breath. We’ll be breathing in and out of the nose. So let’s start. And for the purpose of this exercise, you can either keep your eyes open, or I recommend  you close them. Place your palms on your thighs open to the ceiling. And just for a moment, bring your attention inwards and notice the natural rhythm and your breath. How are you breathing right this moment? What’s happening? Is the breath long and smooth? Is it short and choppy? What’s the temperature of the breath that’s moving in and out of your nose? Is it cool? And let’s become aware of the state our mind. How are you feeling right this moment? What’s going on in the mind? Is it too busy? Is it quiet? We’re simply becoming aware.

And let’s take a deep breath in. And let it go. On my count, through the nose for the 16 second breath. Breathe in 2, 3, 4. Hold the breath in 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 hold the breath out. Breathe in, 2, 3, 4, hold 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Hold the breath out. Breathe in, let the air fill your belly. Breathe into the chest and your collarbone. Hold the breath 2, 3, 4, breathe out, gently pull the navel in. Breathe out for a little longer. Hold the breath out. Last few rounds. Breathe in 2, 3, 4, hold 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Breathe and keep the body relaxed as you’re breathing in. Do not tense the body. Even as you’re holding, keep your body relaxed. Then as you breathe out, gently pull the navel in. Breathe out for a little longer. Hold the breath out. Breathe in, 2, 3, 4, hold 2, 3, 4. Breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Hold to breathe in, 2, 3, 4 hold 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, hold to breathe in, 2, 3, 4 hold, 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, hold to last three rounds. Breathe in. Keep the body relaxed. Breathe until your collarbones lift up. Hold the breath 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, hold to breathe in 2, 3, 4, hold 2, 3, 4 breathe out, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, hold to. Last one, breathe in, hold breath in until your collarbones lift up. Hold the breath 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, hold to and relax. Let the breath return to normal.

Continue to sit easily and comfortably. For a moment bring your attention inwards. And now observe the quality of your breath. Notice how you’re breathing right this moment. Maybe the breath is a little more deeper, a little bit more smooth. And notice the state of your mind. Notice how you’re feeling right this moment and take a deep breath in. And slowly breathe out, relax. We’ll do a short body scan meditation. If you’re able to follow along, that’s great. If not, then also, it’s great. Let’s begin. Sit easily and comfortably with your spine straight, back rested, shoulders relaxed, and palms open to the ceiling. Your feet are firmly placed on the floor. Take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, spread your toes and place them on the ground. Feel that contact with the floor and become aware of your feet.

Our breath and our attention can automatically dissolve the stress from the body. We’ll take our focused attention to different parts of the body. One by one. Become aware of your ankles, lower legs, knees, thighs and hips. pelvic region, abdomen, and lower back. Stomach and navel region, the middle back, chest, and upper back. Right shoulder and right arm. Left shoulder and left arm, throat and neck. Your face, the top of your head, the back of your head. Your ears.

Breathe in. And as you slowly breathe out through the nose, become aware of your whole body. Then locate any area of discomfort. Bring your attention to any area of discomfort in the body. Maybe there’s some lower back pain. Maybe there’s some tightness in the chest. Maybe the shoulders and neck are feeling a little tight. Bring your attention to the area of discomfort. And if there is none, bring your attention to your chest region. And keeping your attention there. Take a deep breath in. Hold the breath and let that feeling of discomfort increase and consolidate. Then very, very slowly breathe out through the nose. And notice as you’re breathing out, that discomfort starts to dissipate. Let’s do this one more time. Attention in the area of discomfort or the center of your chest. Take a deep breath, then hold the breath, and let that feeling of discomfort increase. Keep holding the breath in very, very slowly breathe out through the nose. And notice as you’re breathing out, the tension is also dissipating. Every single incoming breath is energizing our body and every single out breath is bringing relaxation. Take a normal breath in. Breathe out, relax and drop all your effort for a few seconds.

Slowly and gradually becoming aware of your body and surroundings. Take another breath in. Then as you breathe out, maybe wiggle your toes, bring your palms together gently rub them, generate some heat and place them on your eyes. Let the eyes absorb the heat. Relax the eyes, and when you’re ready, you can slowly open the eyes. I hope you enjoyed that.

Grad
That was great. I still got a long day ahead I really needed that. And now all the other noises have also gone away. It’s like I entered chaos. And we went through this exercise, and now birds are chirping and it’s all perfect. That was amazing, Neha. So everybody else have a great Monday Have a great week. For some of you it’s quarter end. Anyone who’s a Sprinklrite I know the next two or three weeks are going to be busy. Use the techniques that Neha’s showing you and taking you through to breathe through the challenges and tensions ahead. Alright, Neha, see you next week.

Neha Saxena
Thanks Grad. Bye.

Grad
Well, wait a second. I forgot to do my sign off. So, hang on a second, stay here okay. Because people are used to me saying… I have my official sign off. So hold on a second. First of all, I want to thank my weekly guests, Neha the Breath Yogi… I was so relaxed I completely forgot what I was doing. I want to thank Neha, the breath Yogi for taking us through our weekly exercise. It was fantastic and also a great discussion at the beginning that I really enjoyed. And for the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, CXO and Sprinklr. And I’ll see you… next time.

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Grad Conn

Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr

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