face stress head on with a daily balancing yoga practice
During times of unexpected stress, our bodies and minds often fall into a familiar pattern. You wake up overwhelmed by the demands of your day. You spend the first part of the day worrying, procrastinating and distracted.
By evening, you’re physically and mentally exhausted, and the challenges have only become more overwhelming. You spend what should be a relaxing part of the day rushing, blaming, panicking, or exploding. Then you fall asleep, only to do it all over again the next day.
This pattern is emotionally draining and counterproductive. A balanced yoga practice can reverse this pattern, giving you the courage, energy, and focus on facing your challenges.
The AM Practice
First, make a list of the challenges you face in your current yoga practice:
- The balancing poses, you can only hold for one breath (if you can get into them at all!).
- The poses that test your courage (perhaps headstand or handstand).
- The poses that force you to recruit your most profound strength (perhaps Navasana or Lolasana).
- The poses that test your patience (maybe a deep stretch that takes time to ease into).
Put together a short, twenty-minute practice that moves you into and out of each of your most challenging poses.
Keep it short and simple – it shouldn’t exhaust you, and it can’t be so intimidating that it becomes another thing to avoid. Begin with deep breathing and a few sun salutations or other warm-ups. Then systematically approach each challenging pose, even if you can’t move into it or sustain it.
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Fall out of headstand a hundred times if you want to. Check your attitude and your anxieties at the door – this practice is not about perfecting the poses. It is about working up the courage to face them and move in the direction of the challenge rather than running from it.
For your morning practice – make sure to do it early in the day. It will counteract procrastination tendencies, get you moving in the direction of actively facing your challenges, and build confidence as you continue to practice ‘the hard stuff’ each day.
The PM Practice
Next, design a restorative practice full of all the poses you love to hold. Perhaps your practice will include the delicious sensation of deep forward bends or hip openers, or maybe you prefer to support yourself with bolsters and blankets in a few meditative poses. Take an opening savasana and a finishing Savasana. Don’t rush.
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For your mid-day or evening practice. It is a reward for being alive, not for accomplishing any specific goal, so don’t put it off until you finish that “one last thing” (which usually turns into two or three or twenty last things.) This practice keeps you calm, encourages you to take care of yourself, and counteracts the physiological effects of accumulated daily stress.
Practice both every day. Keep it as short and straightforward as you need to; make sure you show up to the mat. By including a challenging practice and a restorative practice in your daily routine, you will establish a healthy cycle of activity and rest that supports you when you feel overwhelmed by responsibilities or emotions.
Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., teaches yoga and meditation at Stanford University.