As a yoga teacher, you’re taught to show up for class no matter what happens in your personal life and hold the space – sacred and safe – for your students. There are days where this is much harder than others. Today is a tough one. Really tough.
Like many of you out there, I am shocked, disappointed and admittedly a little scared of what the future holds for this amazing country I call home. While I am devastated on many levels, I am proud of that Nasty Woman I admire for handling the outcome with such grace, humility and strength. In light of her calm and peaceful processing of this momentous and painful turn of events, I too am inspired to cope with the fallout in the best way I know how. Time to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps (or shoelaces)!
Here are my 3 Healthy Coping Strategies for Shock, Disappointment and Fear:
1. Move your body. Not surprising this is my number one, but exercising is a powerful way to redirect your energy in a positive way, increase dopamine (feel good hormone) in the brain, and do something immediately good for yourself. It can be as simple as a brisk walk or run (no equipment required!), or your favorite yoga, HIIT or spin class. Get your mind off it for a while and come back to your reality with a more level-headed and peaceful disposition.
2. Read something that inspires you. Now is not the time to watch CNN, Fox News or whatever media outlet you prefer running 24/7 post-election coverage at nauseam. We have to move forward, one foot in front of the other, and must try to do so with an eye toward the change we can affect and the gratitude we can experience. My sweet mama reminded me of two such readings – one a quote, one a poem – that helped me immensely as I woke up to the news this morning:
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~Jellaludin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
Remember to remain open, loving, accepting and hopeful. We cannot control what others do – though we can certainly do our part to try and influence them for the better – so we must turn the focus onto our individual roles in affecting a greater good.
3. Do something of service. Whether that be putting together a basket of food for a thanksgiving meal drive; offering to watch your friend’s dog or babysit their children so they can have some time for self-care; volunteering for an organization like Girls on the Run; or any other compassionate act you can dedicate to someone in your community, near and/or far.
We all have something to give – time, money, talents – so put yourself out there. As Gandhi once said, we can make the world a better place one small, kind act at a time, and those small acts combine to radiate waves of love and acceptance far and wide.
On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your stress level? Chances are it’s higher than you’d like. The body’s response to stressful situations – “fight, flight or freeze” – is an important part of our ability to cope with dangerous and sometimes life-threatening situations. Unfortunately, the way we live our lives these days – constantly on the go, striving to do and accomplish so much, not wanting to disappoint people and thus saying yes when maybe we ought to say no – is peaking our stress levels way more than is healthy.
Chronic stress is no joke. It can lead to high blood pressure (a major risk factor for heart disease), anxiety and depression, immune system suppression (aka more colds and flus), skin conditions, GERD (acid reflux), and countless other health issues.
I am no stranger to stress. Why do you think I became a yoga teacher? Prior to my yoga practice – both taking and teaching – my anxiety was consuming at times. I still have to work to stay on top of it and, for me, the most tried and true way to combat the physical manifestations of my anxiety is through pranayama, or breathing techniques. My favorite form of pranayama – deep belly breathing – is straightforward and discreet. You can do it anywhere, at any time, and all you need is one minute.
We all have one minute to take care of ourselves. No excuses.
According to a recent publication from Harvard Medical School, “deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide.” As a result, deep belly breathing has been proven to slow one’s heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. Plus, it just makes you feel most at ease.
- Come to a comfortable position either lying down or sitting upright on a pillow block of blanket. If you choose to sit, make sure you are comfortable and that it feels somewhat effortless.
- Bring your right hand on top of your heart and your left hand on top of your belly.
- Close the enjoys and start to pay attention to your natural breath, without trying to change anything at all at first.
- Begin to deepen your breath, inhaling through the nose to fill your belly. You will feel your in-breath pass beneath your right hand first, then the diaphragm will press down and your abdominal wall will swell outward beneath your left hand. Pause.
- Exhale just as slowly as you inhaled, first emptying the belly and feeling your left hand draw back toward your spine; then, feeling the out-breath rise up beneath your right hand, clearing the chest cavity and exiting through the nasal passages. Pause.
- Repeat for nine more cycles, or a total of 10 belly breaths.
This simple practice will take anywhere from 45-90 seconds to complete. Pepper this practice through your day five to 10 times by setting reminders on your phone or work calendar to keep you honest. You will be amazed how quickly your stress levels drop and a sense of ease washes over you.
Make this practice a ritual before any predictably stressful situation – a presentation at work, tough conversation with a partner, or big competition, to name a few. Not only will you feel better going in, but you’ll be less likely to react negatively throughout.