By Trisha Elizarde-Miller, OCADSV Executive Administrative Assistant and Yoga Instructor
In times of stress, it is easy to retreat into what we know is comfortable or what is habitual. When we are not stressed and are asked the question, “How do you handle stress?” it is easy to come up with practices that you want to do, but may not have been able to do. So, what can you do to calm down your nervous system? The following tools listed below are suggestions. They may or may not work the first time or they may or may not work for you at all. The beauty of these practices, however, is that they may teach you something about yourself. Always approach exploration with curiosity and without expectation. Always know to press on the brake when you need to! This article is split up into three sections: Meditation & Mindfulness, Asana, and Breath Techniques.
Meditation and mindfulness offerings
What do you think of when you think of meditation? Sometimes, the perception of meditation is that you have to rid your mind of thoughts and feelings. It is quite the opposite. Meditation is an invitation to witness your thoughts and feelings, as if you were watching them from the outside. Mindfulness helps to bring your awareness to the present moment. If our minds wander to the future, or to the ‘what ifs’ we can easily become discontent.
Thank you letter
This is a practice adopted by Brenda Salgado’s book, “Real World Mindfulness for Beginners.”
I invite you to allocate a minimum of 5 minutes for this activity. Find something to write with and a journal if you have one. If possible, find a place where you won’t be disturbed. Think of one person you’d like to say thank you to. In those 5 minutes, start listing all the things you can think of that you are thankful for this person.
Upon finishing, consider giving the letter to the person.
Focus on the exhalation
Over a period of time, focus your attention on letting your exhale lead vs. your inhale. Notice how you feel. Notice any habitual patterns. Notice what your exhale is holding or not holding.
I invite you to try asanas (postures) that give the opportunity to release tension and open up stagnant energy in joints. These two joint opening exercises are best utilized in the morning and in the evening and is a part of a joint opening sequence called pawanmuktasana. This means “wind releasing pose.” More detailed instructions can be found in Swami Satyananda Saraswati’s book, “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha.”
Skadnha chakra – shoulder rotation
Skadhna chakra helps to relieve strain and tension doing office work, frozen shoulder or stiffness or pain in your shoulder joint.
Start in a comfortable seated or standing position
Inhale: Sweep your arms up to a ‘T’ shape, palms of the hands facing up towards the sky
Exhale: consciously relax your shoulders if you find them creeping up and bring the finger tips to touch your shoulders
Inhale: creating circles with your elbows – draw the elbows towards each other in front of your face, let the elbows trace up towards the sky
Exhale: sweep the elbows in a downward/out motion
Repeat 10 times and then reverse direction of the circle
Visual instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebhbxfhyemc
Greeva sanchalana –neck rotation
Greeva Sanchalana relieves tension, heaviness, and stiffness of our neck, shoulders, and head. Note: if you struggle with low blood pressure, high blood pressure, vertigo, or have cervical spondylosis, please do not attempt and consult your doctor.
Start in a comfortable seated position with the eyes closed
Exhale draw the chin towards the chest, inhale draw the chin up towards the sky, being careful to not strain the back of the neck. Repeat this 10 times at the pace of your breath.
Exhale and slowly bring the right ear towards the right shoulder, inhale bring the head center. Exhale and slowly bring the left ear towards the left shoulder. Inhale bring the head towards center. Repeat this 10 times at the pace of your breath.
Exhale turn the head to the right without straining. Inhale center. Exhale turn the head to the left without straining. Inhale center. Repeat this 10 times.
Exhale bring the head down, inhale to the right shoulder, back, exhale to the left shoulder, and down in a circular motion that is in time with the breath. Exhale on the downward motion and inhale on the upwards motion. Repeat this cycle 10 times, keeping the eyes closed. Repeat other direction 10 times.
Visual and verbal instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cnzfsc_jZIY
“The quality of our breath expresses our inner feelings.” ~ TKV Desikachar
Breath work has the amazing capability to calm down our fight or flight response to trauma, chaos, and threats. Breathing is also a very intimate part of our being. Sometimes we don’t think about it, sometimes we forget to do it. While there are many breath techniques that we can work on, know that your breath is unique. As Bessel Van Der Kolk says, “As we breathe, we continually speed up and slow down the heart, and because of that the interval between two successive heartbeats is never precisely the same.” These practices may help in bringing awareness of what your relationship is with your breath.
10 count breath
Find a comfortable seat, making sure the feet are firmly planted on the floor. Allow your spine to grow tall, letting any burdens from your shoulders roll off. Allow the crown of the head to reach towards the sky. Hands can rest gently on your lap. You may gently close the eyes or gaze softly at the ground in front of you.
Allow yourself to notice your breath. Is it deep? Is it shallow? Is it strained? Is it forced?
Then, slowly exhale out the mouth. Once all the air is out, inhale through your nose, allowing the low belly to protrude forward and the chest to lift proudly. Once you have filled yourself up, purse your lips and exhale through the nose. This might create warmth and slight constriction in your throat. Complete this cycle 10 times. If you find yourself drifting, losing count, bring your attention to an aspect of your breath.
When finished, gently open the eyes if they are closed or re-focus your gaze.
Nadi Shodhna is a beautiful breath practice. It lowers heart rate and reduces stress and anxiety. It is said to synchronize the two hemispheres of the brain. Nadis are streams or channels that allow energy to be accessed. Nadi Shodhna helps to clear these channels that might block energy. It is recommended that this is done before meditation or after a heated event or heightened situation as it helps to release heat. It is not recommended if you are in a depressed state.
Verbal and Visual instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCK1jBfRVsE
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
- Sana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
- Real World Mindfulness for Beginners: Navigate Daily Life One Practice at a Time by Brenda Salgado
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions regarding any of these practices. I would also love to hear from your experience if you learn anything about yourself while practicing these tools. I’d also love to hear from you and how you handle stress!