Holidays got you feeling stressed? Feel better with these simple yoga and mindfulness tips.
Mindfulness is a central tenet of yoga – and it’s one of the reasons yoga is such a great way to calm and center yourself and relieve stress. Focusing inward, or on your body, or your breathing, is a great way to become more mindful – more aware of the present moment, instead of focusing on the past or the future, which is where we humans tend to spend most of our time. Becoming more mindful helps us to relax, enjoy life more, and make more informed decisions from a broader and more holistic perspective.
In the busy holiday season, it can be so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of shopping, visiting, and travel plans. When all these things don’t go exactly as we would like, it can lead to stress and anxiety. Yoga and the practice of mindfulness can help to relieve this sense of stress and pressure, and help us to enjoy this special season rather than dreading it!
Managing stress with mindful yoga techniques:
Everyone faces stress whether it’s from our careers, personal lives, or the many layers in-between. Yoga teaches mindfulness as a way of living that elevates us above trivial and unnecessary distractions. Mindfulness allows us to concentrate on what is most important and takes the focus away from the nuisance and stressors of daily life.
Mindfulness also offers a grounding in reality, in the present, and in what’s important. Focusing on what ignites your passions and makes you feel fulfilled is healthy! Immersing ourselves in our lives and keeping a healthy detachment from the results of our actions is the real benefit of a mindfulness practice. In an achievement-based world, though, it’s too easy to taste success, become addicted or entranced, and want more…whether it’s something as small as likes on social media or as major as climbing the corporate ladder. When we are flying high from our successes, of course we enjoy the thrill of it. But eventually those feelings will plateau and we realize our true priorities and passion. We don’t want to be empty, alone, or broken at the top. Mindfulness keeps us afloat in a world full of distractions. Each and every one of us possesses the ability to transcend the stress and drama and can sit steadily in the comfort of our yoga practice.
We are all familiar with the shapes and contortions in yoga known as asana or yoga postures. Most yoga classes in the West are vinyasa-based, which focus on teaching a sequence of poses that aim to warm up, strengthen, lengthen, stretch, and wind down the body. The postures, when arranged in a specific way, can shift how we think and feel, almost as if by magic! But is it magic? We think it’s part magic. What we can all agree upon is, if you commit to it, it works.
Meditation & Pranayama: Stress-relieving yogic practices you can do anywhere, anytime
Some of yoga’s most powerful and best kept “secrets” are pranayama and meditation. Pranayama is generally considered to be a set of breathing techniques in which we explore the flexibility and range of the breath. In pranayama, we use inhales and exhales as well as the retention of the breath (Note: If you’re pregnant, you should never retain your breath). Changing our breath signature can shift our mood in as little as three minutes. If you are upset, try on Sama Vritti, also known as square breathing.
Square breathing exercise (Sama Vritti) how-to:
Breathe in for a four count, hold the breath for a four count, exhale for a four count, and hold the exhale retention out for a four count. Each step is equal in length, hence the name “square breathing.” This pranayama can be used to calm us down and can even help clarify the mind. We always hear, “Take a breath.” Well, let’s take a few more with a rhythm that is known in yoga to induce relaxation and clarity.
With all of the new research backing up the benefits of meditation, it’s growing rapidly. However, with this growth often comes a misunderstanding of what meditation really is. Many people will say it’s sitting still and not thinking. It certainly looks like that from the outside, but sitting is an inside job.
Meditation is sustained concentration over any period of time. Try to focus on something without changing your thought to another thought for 30 seconds. Did you notice that after about five seconds the mind wanders off? This is completely normal. “What about my laundry? What will I have for dinner? I feel ridiculous right now trying to do this and read an article!” The mind is like a wild monkey jumping around from branch to branch (often called the “monkey mind”—the mind that needs to keep doing. We want to calm the monkey mind down. Ultimately, a calm mind allows for more insight and understanding to process. Hopefully, with practice, we can understand and accept situations and problems from a place free of judgmental thoughts.
Meditation can be seated in stillness or it can also be active. Try a walking meditation if you don’t want to do the famously difficult seated meditation. Have you ever heard, “I’m going to take a walk to clear my head?” As it turns out, walking to clear the mind is a yogic act. Take a walk and focus on your breath. Don’t fixate on what happened a few moments ago or what will happen tomorrow. Just walk feeling every step and breath you take. Sustain this for a while, and eventually you have walked a mile. That problem is no longer at the front of your mind, and the distress may have subsided, even a little bit. Maybe the stress has lost its hold on you, or maybe you can even laugh it off. Being in this state, in present moment awareness, gives us the tools to cope with an ever-distracting reality.
Applying these simple tools into our everyday life can enhance this mindfulness we are seeking…
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