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Are we safe in saying 2020 has brought up a ton of emotions the likes of which we did not plan for? The good, the bad, the “unprecedented”–our hearts and minds have been taken on a wild rollercoaster ride, and for many of us, our mental health is suffering.
With our minds running in thousands of directions, it’s hard to notice our own needs. Yes, our attention to the goings-on of 2020 is vital, but caring for ourselves is as important as ever.
If you’re like me, your external presentation is calm and cool, but on the inside–it’s a feelings-festival.
We tend to think of emotions and anxiety as things that only happen in our brains, when, really, our entire physical bodies are being affected by what goes on up there. A constriction of the chest? Worry. Neck pain after a day at work? Stress.
If you’re looking to release those emotional blocks, try practicing yoga and meditation. Yes, we hear it all the time, but it’s because it works. Sitting in uncomfortable yoga postures and finding stillness within them offers the entire body a chance to release emotional blockages, stagnant energy, and lingering tension. It’s a beautiful act of self-care, and we deserve that care.
Settle in. Buckle up. And keep your eyes on me. It’s time to hop on the emotional release ride and begin your daily healing process.
Disclaimer: set the tone. Dim the lights, light a candle, and play relaxing music. Cultivate a space of calm and support and take care of yourself as you move through the poses. Once you’re done, consider taking a class from one of the many studios featured on the Mindbody app.
In the yoga world, the hips are often referred to as the “junk drawer” of emotions. They house all the odds and ends of your past emotional states, especially those that have been traumatic in nature. While there is no scientific explanation for this, we do know the hip flexors are paramount in contracting the knees up towards the torso, an action used in our sympathetic nervous system’s “flight, fight, or freeze” responses. This means we also know that hip openers are great for working toward healing emotional trauma.
Whether you are contracting the hip flexors to run (fight or flight) or to curl up in a fetal pose (freeze), this area is used in high-stress situations and may have lingering effects.
To get into the pose: From downward-facing dog (adho mukha svanasana), pull one leg forward and bend it so its shin is parallel with the top of your mat. Set it down and heel-toe your back knee behind you. Flex hard into the foot of your bent leg. Keep your hands planted in front of you or come onto your forearms. Practice intentional breathing. Switch and repeat.
Accessible modifications: Place one block underneath your bent hip, and another block underneath your hands or forehead. If the traditional expression of the pose is too intense for your hips, come onto your back. Plant your feet into the mat. Hook one ankle over the opposite thigh. Take a strap behind that thigh (or clasp your hands) and pull the thigh towards your chest—and don’t forget to keep breathing.
Whether it’s due to a personal relationship, worldly issues, or unidentified feelings of depression or sadness, the heart can sometimes feel like an anvil. The physical response is to concave your chest, curling inward to protect the heart from further harm. This keeps us from fully processing those emotions, and the heart-opening camel pose can help.
This pose opens the heart space, known as a “cracking open” of the heart– which helps activate the heart chakra (anahata chakra).
To get into the pose: Sit on your shins and stack the hips over the knees. Place your hands on your low back and press the hips forward. Tilt the head up towards the sky and back behind you. Let your hands come to your heels as you press the hips farther forward. Open the throat and let the head tilt back. Keep breathing.
Accessible modifications: To ease the intensity of the backbend, place your hands on your hips, fingertips facing downward, and keep them off the heels. You may also keep the chin tucked to protect the throat and cervical spine.
Feeling unsure, insecure, or shy? There’s a warrior pose for that. While warrior 2 requires a good deal of strength and stability, it’s mostly known for its balance of effort and ease (stirha and sukha). When we are confident, we have a sense of ease about ourselves. We don’t need reassurance because it’s already within us, and we move through the world with positivity and light. If you need to clear the emotional cobwebs and come out full of power, this is your pose.
To get into the pose: Face the top of your mat. Step one foot back behind you and drop your heel down to a 90-degree angle. Wiggle your feet until you find a front-heel to back-arch alignment (or somewhere close). Bend deeply into your front knee as you lengthen your back leg. Hip points are square to the side of the mat as your arms come out to a “T”. Gaze towards your front fingertips. Keep breathing. Switch and repeat.
Accessible modifications: If you need assistance with your balance, place the back foot next to a wall. If the hips and thighs need extra support, shorten the distance between the feet. You may also bring a chair underneath your front thigh for more support.
Find more strength-based poses like this through classes on the Mindbody app.
Imagine you were a child again, about to jump off a huge rock into the lake. As a kid, you may not fully understand the risks of such an act, so you go for it. You trust the experience, and you jump–arms open wide, chest fully exposed–into the water below. As adults, we may begin to lose that sense of trust in the world, and even in others around us. That’s where humble warrior comes in. The act of bowing down is humbling and reverent, and the intensity of the pose requires our full trust. This is the “jump in the lake, chest first” pose that helps us surrender and let go of hesitation.
To get into the pose: Face the top of your mat. Step one foot back behind you and drop your heel down to a 45-degree angle. Wiggle your feet until you find a heel to heel alignment (or somewhere close). Bend deeply into your front knee as you lengthen your back leg. Hip points are square to the top of your mat as your arms clasp behind your low back. Inhale and lift the chest upward, exhale and bow down inside of your front knee. Bring your clasped hands up above your head. Breathe. Switch and repeat.
Accessible modifications: If you need more physical space for your body and hips, heel-toe your front foot to the edge of your mat. If your shoulders are tight, use a strap behind the low back. A chair underneath your front thigh works here, as well.
Tension and anxiety can present themselves throughout the body, with physical sensations commonly in the upper and low back, the chest, and the belly. Spinal twists are an excellent way to release tension and anxiety that have crept up in those spaces, and they are known to be mentally and physically cleansing. The act of “wringing out” one’s spine may spark an emotional response of the same. Try this pose after a stressful day at work or before bedtime.
To get into the pose: Lie down and parallel the shins with the sky. Drop the knees down to the left. Place your left hand on your top knee and allow the opposite shoulder to soften down towards the mat. Breathe. Switch and repeat.
Accessible modifications: Place a folded blanket under your knees or between your legs.
Taking care of our mental health is more crucial than ever right now. If you're experiencing increased anxiety and uncertainty during this time, you're not alone. Regular practice can provide so many physical and emotional benefits to help you heal and focus on your mind-body connection. Whether you're looking for stress reduction, mental clarity, physical strength, or other benefits, your mat is a good place to start.
Ready to explore more restorative poses to release your emotions?
When you think of self-love what do you think of? Bubble baths, walks on the beach, facemasks, or what? Self-love can mean so many different things but when we think about self-love, we have to acknowledge loving ourselves both on the outside and on the inside. The way that we show ourselves love is one of the most important things we will ever do.
How do we treat ourselves? How do we talk to ourselves? What foods are we putting into our bodies? How are we thinking about our overall well-being when practicing self-love?
As self-love defines and redefined itself for you over the years, here are a few foundational tips to think about when easing into your self-love journey.
Don’t we love this one? Loving ourselves has a lot to do with the boundaries that we have for ourselves, with others, and for others. Take time to think about your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs when setting boundaries that reflect your personal needs. Boundaries don’t have to be big and scary; they are here to remind us that you get to have your lived experience and still have expectations about how you’d like to be treated and what you’d like to feel.
When thinking about your boundaries, ask yourself:
In a world where perfectionism and curated existences have been rewarded, begin to cultivate compassion for yourself. You are a soul having a human experience and it’s totally okay if things are not perfect.
Mindfulness exercises such as Breathwork, self-care activities, and self-compassion, all help train the mind, emotions, and even the body’s stress chemicals to be able to deal with undesired situations. Self-compassion means, can you be nice to yourself? Can you find empathy and kindness for yourself in the middle of what feels chaotic, stressful, or unwanted? Self-compassion means that we get to make mistakes, have our plans not work out the way that we wanted, and we still get to celebrate that we are doing the best that we can and it is enough.
When thinking about self-compassion, ask yourself:
In every sense of the word “nourishment”, begin to learn what nourishes you and what depletes you. Nourishment doesn’t just mean food for yourself; it means that whatever you are consuming whether it be media, podcasts, people, energy, information, etc. all impact the way that we think, feel, and experience life.
Nourishing yourself definitely goes right along the lines of having your boundaries intact and practicing self-compassion.
When thinking about nourishment, ask yourself:
That’s it. Those are the foundational steps to cultivating a self-love practice that you can ease into your daily routine. Come back to these questions often, because like anything else, self-love is a practice and it takes effort, time, and intention to maintain.