Stressed out, struggling to relax, can’t face going to a class? Here are some tips on how to self soothe at home.
Begin by preparing a space – Forget the yoga cliches of joss sticks, buddhas and prayer flags unless they feel meaningful. Experiment with what feels good to you. This could be simply emptying the dustbin, turning up the heating and shutting a door. Whether you choose candle light or darkness, music or silence, the really important thing is to take pleasure in any small action you take. Your preparation should not be mechanical.
Open your mind – Be ready to do something different even it if makes you feel self conscious and puts you out of your comfort zone. Trust the process because the more you believe, the better it works.
Start on the floor – When you are feeling stressed and sad it is very important to come out of your head and down to earth. Surrendering the weight of your body to the earth can be a big physical relief – it also connects you to a bigger reality outside yourself. The practice of surrender – Īśvarapraṇidhāna – is key to yoga. The founding text of yoga – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – puts more emphasis on this than any other principle. Alternate between lying flat or raising the legs to a sofa or chair which is particularly good for calming the nervous system and relaxing a painful lower back. Spend at least five minutes here.
Notice how your are feeling – Self reflection – Svādhyāya – is crucial in yoga practice. It does not have to be a big deal, simply note your symptoms – tired, wired, irritable, anxious, sore shoulder, stiff neck. The goal is to to develop non-judgemental awareness about your condition. Always aim to be kind to yourself.
Breathing –Pranayama – Once you’re lying comfortably, begin to observe your breath. Make a mental note of it’s qualities – fast, slow, uneven, painful, stiff ribs, contraction of the belly. Bringing your hands to your belly or ribs will help focus. The goal is to deepen and lengthen the breath in a smooth and natural way. This will trigger activity in the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for sleep, rest and digestion.
Mindful movement with the breath – It is very important to keep the breath flowing smoothly as you move from one yoga pose to another. Never hold your breath. Start by exploring simple twists, forward and side bends in cross-legged position – Sukhasana. If your back or hips feel tight and sore use a chair to support you. Focus on coordinating breath and movement. Take your time, slowly repeating a movement several times can help you go more deeply into your practice. Here’s a nice little sequence
Big stretches release pent up feelings – Don’t underestimate the connection between the body and mind. Physical tightness in the muscles can lock feelings into the body and stop you relaxing. Pigeon Pose – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana – is great for releasing the unconscious physical tension trapped in hips, buttocks, thighs that can leave you feeling wound-up.
Working with a chair – helps you go deeper and stay longer in a pose, which means you get more benefit. It takes some of the effort out but you still get a big release. This is particularly good when you are stressed, tired, stiff and new to yoga. Chairs make it a bit easier to do yoga at home – and it is fun bringing new purpose to boring household furniture.
Pursvottanasana or upward plank pose using a chair give a bigger release for chest muscles that become tight in times of sadness and stress when it is common to collapse the chest and shoulders. Anjaneyasana lunge using a chair enables release of the hip flexor muscle – the psoas – in a controlled, supported way with minimal impact on the knees. The psoas is the only muscle connecting the back to the legs and can become chronically tightened in times of stress as it prepares the body to run from danger. Stretching the psoas enables a release deep in the body which can feel profoundly satisfying.
Alternate nostril breathing Nadi Shodana – It may feel a bit strange at first but once mastered this is an incredibly calming breathing technique that has been proven to reduce blood pressure. Spend a few minutes doing this at the end of your practice – but don’t push yourself to do it if it creates any tension in the body.
Slow, simple, short & sweet – Yoga is a practice that develops over time. To get lasting benefit you need to keep it up. But please don’t punish yourself with an elaborate regime that will give you something else to feel guilty about when you cannot practice. Better to spend five or 10 minutes peacefully in Savasana observing the breath – than to rush through a big routine feeling irritable. Mindset is more important than the physical mechanics. So take pleasure in whatever you choose to do because contentment – Santosa – is key to yoga.