Most of us couldn't wait to look back on 2020 in hindsight, yet 2021 has roared in with even more turbulence. We are being challenged us in many ways, revealing inequities in health management, racial justice, and voting rights. Our families, schooling, and socializing have been disrupted. Jobs, businesses, entertainment options are gone. We've lost loved ones, mourn hundreds of thousands of souls unknown to us, and fear we may be next. Americans lined up at the polls, and now fear for their country.
How to manage this stress? Here are some tools yoga offers us to get through and stay strong.
Recognize stress building up with: body tension, clenched jaw, stomach tightening. The rib cage tightens around the lungs to protect us. Stop this response by taking a deep 1 second inhale followed by a 1 second exhale. Repeat as needed through the day. Deergha Swasam, deep yogic breathing, calms the body and mind.
In 30 seconds, you can move from the sympathetic nervous system response (stress = fight flight freeze) to the parasympathetic nervous system (stability = rest and recovery).
Think of it as a 30 second yoga class:
You are now in a state of homeostasis, a balanced equilibrium necessary to function.
When we chant OM, we connect with the vibration of Cosmic Consciousness. We also vibrate the pineal gland, which controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleep, and circadian rhythms. It’s also responsible for serotonin production – your happy hormone.
You may have notice people who hum are happy. They not humming because they're happy, they're happy because they are humming.
So whether you chant the Infinite OM, hum your favorite tune or hymn, you're changing your internal chemistry to cope with external stressors.
The Sages observed the animal kingdom. When stressed, they shake it off. Try shaking the arms, legs, fingers, toes, face, burble the lips. This disrupts the stress response. Keep it up for at least a minute. You may even find yourself laughing (the best medicine).
Our fingers (and toes) are wired to the part of the brain where memory and emotion are stored. It's a fundamental part of learning our place in the world. We remember the heat of a stove top, the sharpness of a pin, the softness of a kitten's fur. Thus, our fingers can help us relieve stress.
Start by rubbing the hands vigorously to warm them. Wrap the fingers of one hand around the index finger of the other. Take a deep breath in, and exhale. Repeat for each finger and the thumb. Rub hands again, then repeat on the other hand.
Throughout the day you can repeat this gentle compression. It's small and subtle, but its effects are profound at reducing anxiety.
Another technique is to wriggle the fingers and toes, smiling a smile that crinkles your nose. This makes your brain produce happy endorphins. Do this first thing in the morning to set your day right.
Makarasana (Crocodile Pose) is a great stress reducer. By lying on the abdomen, forehead resting on the stacked forearms, the breath moves to the back and sides of the lungs. When stressed, the ribs close in. This breathing opens the ribcage and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. With regular practice, you build muscle memory and can release tightened ribs, thus enhancing deep breathing and calming down.
When the entire world has turned upside-down, meet it head on! If you have an established headstand or shoulder stand practice, you likely enjoy the benefits of the King and Queen of asanas. Perhaps, though, you've never realized they are also powerful antidepressants. If you prefer, you can also invert by lying on your back with your hips elevated slightly with a pillow or block, legs in the air or against a wall. Allow the body to be still. Soft focus the eyes on the blank ceiling.
Ayurveda teaches that everything has the capacity to be medicine. Your environment, the scents around you, the colors, your food and clothing—all can work to balance body and mind. If you're feeling down, put on your favorite tunes and dance. If you're feeling edgy, play something soothing.
Use essential oils like lavender or frankincense. Relax with a cup of tea. Eat fresh wholesome food. Limit consumption of social media and the news. Put on your favorite, most comfy clothes. Surround yourself with flowers or your favorite color. Take a walk in a forest. Sit in a garden.
Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotion. What ever your faith practice, devotion brings both grounding and uplifting. There are beautiful chants in many spiritual traditions, or secular poetry and readings. Prayer and devotion offer us the opportunity to switch off the droning of doom and focus on what informs and unites us.
Please feel free to write if you have questions or comments.
Lokaah Samastaah Sukino Bhavatu
May All be Blessed with Peace, Joy, Love and Light
Christine Brahmi Romero, C-IAYT