People often assume that because I teach yoga I never get stressed. I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. I've co-taught Yoga for Anxiety courses, not because I never get stressed, but because sometimes I freak out too and sometimes I use the tools yoga has taught me to help me manage stress. Don't get me wrong, I don't pretend to always have the answer for stress. Despite my experience with meditation, breathing techniques, and stress-relieving yoga poses, sometimes I still find myself self-medicating with Ben and Jerry's.
Here's what I do when I get stressed. First, I take a bunch of sighs out my mouth, mostly when I'm driving or alone and can really let it fly. I try to make it as dramatic as possible. I think this helps. I'll try to relax my jaw and notice whether my stress lessens even by just a couple of sighs. Sometimes when I’m really worked up, I'll sigh for 5 minutes or so. Next, I'll practice ujjayi breath, whisper breath. A lot of you know this but it's the breathing you use during yoga practice where you breathe in and out of your nostrils and put a little whisper in the back of your throat, elongating your breaths. It really helps. I've read something about this form of breathing activating your parasympathetic nervous system, the opposite of your flight or flight nervous response. Try it.
I will also do something physically active, like go to a yoga class, put on my running shoes and hit a trail, or even just take a 10 minute walk around the block, even if I don't have the time to do so. It's incredible how my perception changes when I get outside or at least get moving for a bit. Wallace Stevens once wrote, "Sometimes the truth depends upon a walk around the lake." Yoga explores the relationship between mind and body. If my body can relax, maybe my mind can follow. Putting some endorphins in my body and some oxygen in my brain is a great way to make me feel good and clear my mind.
Next, I'll actually look the bull straight into the eyes and see it for what it is. I'll try a meditation technique where I try to adopt the role as the observer rather than the one who is oppressed by stress. The other day, I felt like I was feeling a lot of stress and caught myself trying to avoid it or pretend it wasn't there. I had a few minutes to meditate and instead of mentally escaping it, I decided to look at it straight on. I closed my eyes and noticed how my body felt in response to the stress. I observed the images in my mind and emotions in my heart and thoughts in my brain, everything associated with this stress and tried to just observe it rather than fix it. As I looked inside, this feeling inside me felt like a cold, jagged, metal plate along my chest. It felt sharp and protruding. The more I looked at it, the more I realized that what I was feeling was more like a plate of armor than oppressive stress. It felt less like worry and more like my assertive warrior/hunter part of myself who is on full-alert with all my senses alert, my tomahawks drawn and all my focus and faculties ready to take on this adventure of life. Suddenly I noticed this feeling as more of a protection for my heart rather than an enemy to my heart. After my meditation, I still felt this same energy in my chest but with the added feeling of gratitude for what I was feeling. I need that protection . Through my meditation, my observation, I was able to see this feeling for what it was instead of trying to avoid it and worry about the monster I felt was breathing down my neck.
I can assure you I'll continue to use these techniques throughout my life. Maybe you can use some of these techniques if you find yourself freaking out about anything. Try to do some breathing techniques, come to a yoga class, or try to meditate. I realize, too, that the only thing yoga class does not incorporate is the Ben and Jerry's therapy. Maybe after class we should go and get some ice cream.
What are the tools that help you work with stress? Please leave a comment below.