Anxious? Can’t focus? Thoughts running wild? Yoga.
When you think of yoga, you might picture the ‘good old days’ of people filing into the studios with their mats in hands preparing to move their bodies; what you should know is that long before our modern culture placed an emphasis on physical postures, the yogis of the past were engaging in methods of meditation and breath regulation.
And now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to practice these techniques and encourage mental health wellness.
Here are two techniques I practice when I’m feeling anxious or struggling to get tasks done:
Lengthening My Exhale
How: Take a moment to observe your breath, both the inhale and the exhale. Spend 30 seconds simply observing. Then see if you can begin to make your exhales longer than your inhales. I personally inhale to a count of 5 and exhale to a count of 6. The exact numbers though are not important; our main goal is to extend the length of the breath out.
Why: Longer exhales stimulate our vagus nerve, which plays a role in our parasympathetic nervous system and help reduce the flight-or-fight stress response.
How: Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes down or find a single point of focus on the ground in front of you, choose an object of focus: your breath, the sounds around you, etc.(I find my breath to be the easiest), and then set a timer.
For 1 minute, try and maintain your thoughts on your object of focus. I mentally say: “inhale” as I’m breathing in and “exhale” as I breath out. If your thoughts begin to wander and you catch them, simply redirect your mind to your object of focus.
Why: Contrary to my personal belief when I first began practicing yoga, meditation is not about clearing my mind and thinking about absolutely nothing; rather, it is mental training for deep concentration and focus. Additionally, this practice does help draw me into the present moment; and when I’m in the present moment, I’m not able to simultaneously worry about the future.
Side note: I choose to practice a 1 minute meditation because I’m still a beginner and the thought of meditating for long periods of time often makes me want to avoid the practice altogether; it’s important to pick something you’re comfortable with rather than something that will feel discouraging. You may find that you can slowly increase the amount of time you meditate as you consistently practice.
Give these techniques a try and let me know what your experience is like; also, let me know what other personal practices you have to help encourage a healthy mind!