As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow and ripple into every area of life, we are all having to cope with the stress.
From legitimate fears for vulnerable loved ones, to uncertainty about job security and finances. Even popping to the supermarket has become an anxiety-fuelled nightmare.
But we are in this for the long haul and as more people fall ill, it is likely the changes to our lives will continue to increase. And we need to find ways to cope.
Existing with constant anxiety is mentally and physically draining, and not good for our long-term health. Yoga and mindfulness techniques can be really helpful in calming your nervous system and helping to centre your emotions.
Lucy Edge, YogaClicks founder and author of Yoga School Dropout, has pulled together some top tips for using yoga and mindfulness to ease your crisis anxiety and give yourself a much-needed moment of calm.
‘I asked some of London’s best yoga, meditation and mindfulness teachers to share what they will be doing to stay calm, boost their immune system, and get a good night’s sleep,’ explains Lucy.
Connect with your breath
The best way to stay calm is to connect with your breath.
‘As soon we connect with our breath, we calm our nervous system and shift it from the so-called sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest),’ says yoga teacher Annabel Chown.
‘Focusing on the exhale is particularly good for soothing the nervous system, as it feels grounding and releasing.
‘Try lengthening your exhale – say inhaling for a count of four, exhaling for eight, to quickly calm yourself.’
Often the problem isn’t what’s actually happening but what might happen, which makes us feel unsafe and panicky.
Annabel’s remedy is mindfulness which, for her, means staying in the moment. She does this by focusing fully on what she’s doing and not thinking about anything else.
‘For example, when I cook, I focus on the texture of the food, the actions of preparing the meal,’ she says. ‘I find it incredibly soothing, and grounding too. It’s a great way for people who don’t have any meditation experience to get started.’
Feel your feelings
‘It’s really important to make space for the sadness, the anger, the fear that might be arising,’ says Annabelle. ‘Try to locate these feelings in your body, and breathe into them, rather than getting caught up in stories and thoughts in your head.
‘By doing this, you will allow them to release, rather than letting them get trapped inside.
‘And you get to acknowledge that these feelings are valid – because it is sad and scary – rather than denying the reality of it all.’
One of Lucy’s personal favourite tips is to make a list of things she is grateful for.
It’s so easy to get stuck in the negatives – the frustration of empty shelves, the pain of not seeing our loved ones, our financial worries, but there is still so much that is good in our lives.
Give thanks for the food on your table, the person who delivered it to your door, your online communities, your child’s smile, your cat or dog, Netflix!
Above all, remember that today may not be perfect, but it is a gift that you’ll never get back.
Connect with nature
You don’t have to roll out a yoga mat to get the benefit of meditation and mindfulness.
‘Walking mindfully and breathing mindfully in nature enables us to connect with the natural world, which naturally calms the mind,’ says yoga teacher Tara Lee.
If you can’t get out for a walk, listen to the bird outside your window, admire the spring blossom or the clouds moving across the sky.
They will bring you back to the here-and-now.
Spend time on what matters to you
One of the benefits of spending more time at home is being able to spend more time on what matters to you.
‘My tip is to wholeheartedly connect to what matters to you most, what brings you joy,’ suggests yoga teacher Zephyr Wildman.
‘Take this time to feel it, sense it and see it. Enjoy your people. Your dogs. Your work. Your kids. Your home.’
‘Get disciplined about preparing for bedtime,’ suggests yoga teacher Anna Ashby. ‘Don’t watch the news or other horror stories immediately before bed. Choose something light or a comedy instead.
‘Don’t take your phone to bed – the blue light can keep you awake for hours. Have a bath with magnesium or Epsom salts. Go to bed at the same time every night with a good book. And don’t drink too much water or you will have to get up in the night for the bathroom.’
Tips if you’re struggling to sleep
Notice where the tension is in your body and breathe into it.
Focus on your breath, especially the exhale.
Visualise your negative thoughts as clouds in the sky – passing by.
This will help you detach your mind from troubling thoughts, help to lower stress hormones, reduce your adrenal fatigue, and aid deep relaxation.
Lucy Edge, yoga writer
Create a routine
‘As human beings we need structure – otherwise life can feel very chaotic,’ says Anna. ‘So, to help me feel safe and in control, I will be creating structure with time set aside for work, meals, teaching yoga online, talking to friends, and of course my own yoga practice.
‘And most importantly, I will only be checking the news once a day – so I can stay in touch with what’s happening in the world without getting switched into fear and panic mode for the whole day.’
When stress is ongoing, it’s very important to take fifteen or twenty minutes breaks every so often.
The important thing is to distance yourself from what you were doing and turn inwards.
As Zephyr Wildman puts it: ‘Gift yourself the time to lessen the human doing and support the human being. Check in with yourself. Take stock.’
Turn off your phone and notifications and sit quietly in a different space to your desk and any other distractions. Go for a short walk around the garden if it’s available to you or get on a yoga mat for twenty minutes.
Get on your yoga mat
Moving with your breath, through an asana (physical postures) practice is very powerful too, as again it takes you out of your head and your worries, anchoring you in the here-and-now.
Try balancing poses like Tree Pose – it’s very hard to think about anything else when you’re standing on one leg.
It’s so easy to feel disempowered by everything that’s going on – any of the Warrior Poses will help you cultivate a sense of strength.
Chest Openers will also open your lungs and side ribs and help keep things moving.
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