By: Rebecca Childress, Ultimate Spark! Coaching Guest Contributor
When doors began to shutter in March for yoga studios, yoga students and teachers across the country quickly learned what it truly meant to take their yoga “off their mat” and into their living rooms, apartments, and bedrooms, practicing alongside their children, pets and a few dust bunnies. Contrary to the glossy, staged, and sometimes complicated yoga poses some Insta users share, there’s a legion of yoga students, and teachers who know yoga is more than a fancy pose. It’s a lifestyle. And it’s a lifestyle we need right now. Many have a yoga practice that looks a little more raw, real, and perhaps, relatable right now, and this is exactly where growth is going to occur. Whether you’re a long time student of yoga, or a beginner, here’s 5 quick tips almost anyone can use during this stressful time.
1. Breathe. Conscious breathing is one of the fastest ways to hack your stress response. It seems so simple, yet most of us have never really had any instruction on breathing techniques. A simple beginner’s breath to practice is four square breathing. This technique is sometimes called “tactical breathing,” as it’s so popular among first responders like the military, fire fighters, and police officers. How to do it: Take a comfortable seat with your back straight, but not stiff. A simple kitchen table chair is perfect. Sit up straight, let your feet rest comfortably on the floor, rest your hands on your lap and begin to take steady, deep breaths in and out through your nose. When you’re feeling a little more relaxed, softly close your eyes and relax the muscles around your face. Visualize a square. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, breath out for a count of 4, and hold the breath for a count of 4. Repeat 3-4 times, or more if necessary.
2. Move. Sometimes when we’re feeling anxious or sad, movement seems like a far reach. But, a little movement often leads to more movement. In other words, just do it. Studies have shown that walking, running, and yoga is not only good for our physical health, but our mental, and emotional health benefits from movement as well. As we move through this world health crisis, boosting our immune systems and overall health is more important than ever. If you don’t currently have a lot of movement in your life, consider an accountability partner. Whether online, or in-person, knowing that someone is cheering you on can give you the motivation you need to begin and continue.
3. Calm Heart = Calm Head. If you’re feeling a little anxious or worried, one of the best things we can do is calm our bodies to help calm our thoughts. Yogis know that mind inversions, like forward fold, child’s pose, bridge, and the popular down dog, give us an opportunity to bring our heads below our hearts which, in turn, may bring about a calming response. While in these poses, bring your attention to your breath and perhaps an intention or mantra. Keep your focus simple. Words like “hope”, “peace”, “joy”, or something that is especially meaningful to you may give you a much needed focus point.
4. Rest & Routine. Some yogis also practice the ancient science of Ayurveda. Yoga poses may help us learn a lot about ourselves on the mat, but Ayurveda is what will help us maintain and grow that insight. Many yogis believe a routine is one of the keys to overall wellness. Ayurveda encourages us to rise early and sleep early, practice routine care of our bodies such as dry brushing our skin, self-massage with soothing oils, and drinking lemon water to encourage healthy digestion.
5. Flexibility. Let go of expectations. People who practice yoga usually come to understand at some point that yoga is really more about the poses. It’s truly about the peace of mind and flexibility we can gain when we realize, just as we observe the way our bodies respond and flow to challenges on the mat, we can train our minds to flow through stressful times.
Nothing lasts forever, whether it’s a yoga pose or a worldwide pandemic. We will eventually return to a time of ease, but until then we can take our practice off our mats and into our hearts, minds, and lives.
If some of the words in this are speaking to you, but you’re not quite sure where to begin – support local. I suggest reaching out to your local, hometown yoga studio. Many are offering support virtually during this time and are excited to have beginners discovering the world of yoga for the first time.
Rebecca Childress is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and received her yoga teacher training through internationally recognized YogaFit (yogafit.com) and YogaFit for Warriors. You can find her on Facebook at Rebecca Childress Yoga and Wellness. She lives and teaches in Fredericksburg, Virginia.