Yoga for Stressful Times
The entire globe is reacting to the unexpected results of the United States election last week. Some are celebrating, elated and triumphant; others are mourning, devastated and scared.
Regardless of where you align yourself on the political spectrum and your feelings about the election results, it’s unlikely that you’ve been immune to the stress of the last few weeks and months. You may feel like you’ve been riding an emotional roller coaster—steep climbs, sudden drops, sharp turns, little bursts of exhilaration and dark moments of apprehension.
As yoga practitioners, how lucky we are to have the opportunity to come together and share a practice that is specifically designed to bring us back to balance in an unbalanced world.
The various practices of yoga—pranayama (breath control), asana (postures), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation)—weave together to form a discipline that leads us towards equanimity. These practices allow us to experience peace, even when we’re hanging on, white-knuckled, as we ride the roller coaster of our ever-changing emotions.
You don’t have to do anything fancy or complicated to reap the benefits of yoga. Something as simple as a breathing exercise is one of the most potent tools for dealing with stress. By working with your breath through pranayama, you empower yourself to regulate your emotions, enhance the activity of your nervous system, and optimize your body’s response to stress. The stressors you encounter may be the physical trials you intentionally create for yourself on your mat, or the challenges that are unexpectedly hurled at you as you navigate your daily life.
Sama vritti, or “equal breathing,” is a breathing exercise you can practice anytime, anywhere. All you need is a little space in which to sit or lie down, and the desire and discipline to turn your attention inward.
• Sit or lie down in a comfortable, relaxed position.
• Become aware of your breathing. Notice that you’re breathing in, and notice that you’re breathing out.
• Little by little, begin to breathe more deeply.
• Let your breath gradually settle into a smooth, even rhythm. Breathe in for the same amount of time that you breathe out, matching the length of your inhale with the length of your exhale. It might help to count as you breathe, inhaling for a count of perhaps five, then exhaling for five. Find a length of breath that feels deep but comfortable.
• Spend anywhere from one to several minutes breathing in this way.
• When you’re finished, let go of the equal breath and let your breath resume its natural pace and rhythm.
• Notice how you feel.
Deep, steady, even breathing reverses the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, or fight-or-flight response, which is the body’s habitual reaction to stress. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes referred to as the “relaxation response,” which slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and calms the body and mind.
Whatever is happening in your life and in the world around you, there will inevitably be moments when you feel overwhelmed by stressful thoughts or powerful emotions. These are the moments to clear a space on your bedroom or living room floor and lie down, breathe, maybe move.
Remember that whatever winds may toss you this way and that, there is a place deep inside of you—a place of stillness, of peace, of calm. When you breathe, and move, and pay attention, you get little glimpses of that place. You can return to it whenever you feel surrounded by darkness or when you’re tempted to give into despair. That place is always within you. You just have to give yourself the space to find it.
By turning inward and connecting with that quiet, still, peaceful place within, we gather the strength to move forward with a clear mind and an open heart; to continue to fight for what we believe is right; and to hold on to hope and love, come what may.
More on Reducing Stress from YogauOnline and writer, Leo Babauta – Yoga For Stress Relief Off the Mat: The Zen of Doing.
Study with YogaUOnline and B Grace Bullock, PhD – BREATHE: Yogic Tools for Happy Healthy and Fulfilling Relationships.
Christine Malossi, RYT 200 is based in New York City, where she offers a mindful, alignment-focused Vinyasa practice that cultivates balance, awareness and equanimity. In addition to teaching private clients and group classes at studios throughout Manhattan, she also teaches at the Spencer Cox Center for Health at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Institute for Advanced Medicine whereshe designs a practice specifically tailored to patients diagnosed with HIV and other chronic illnesses. Christine is honored to be teaching yoga and to have the opportunity to pass on to others the joy and freedom that she has found in her own practice. Find her at www.christinemalossi.com