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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?
If you’ve ever taken a hot yoga class, you know it’s always going to be one thing—outrageously hot. Not the “let’s hang by the pool and get that sun-kissed glow” kind of hot either. I’m talking that “I can't believe I have this much sweat in my body” and “I may or may not pass out” kind of hot. It’s nothing to mess around with, and after a year or so of not being able to go, it’s easy to forget just how serious that heat can be.
To get the maximum enjoyment and benefits out of your heated yoga classes, you need to prepare yourself before and take care of yourself afterward. Luckily, I’ve been taking some classes (sweating enough for the both of us) and I’ve listed my five favorite must-dos to help you readjust to your heated classes and get back to the hot yoga summer that we all want.
Heated classes are difficult in nature. The normal difficulty of regular poses is mixed in with the added challenges of sweating and dealing with the humidity and the heat (at times, I’ve seen the thermostat climb to 108 degrees—yikes!). Depending on what type of yoga class you’re taking (sculpt, Bikram, power vinyasa), the difficulty level and temperature are going to vary. It’s also important to remember that each person in the room is going to practice in a way that’s unique to them. Hours slept, hydration levels, food intake, and different lifestyles are all contributing factors that make our practices different. What you practice on your mat is your own––trust your body and only do what feels right to you. And remember, it’s okay to take breaks!
The rise in temperature mixed in with the humidity that we all know and love creates the perfect recipe for sweating—like A LOT. You go into a heated class dry and come out feeling like you just took a dip in the pool. Before heated classes, I had no idea it was physically possible to sweat that much. If you’re going to a heated class, especially after a long break, it’s easy to forget just how much you might sweat. Is it possible to lose that much water if you haven’t consumed it first? Trust me, going into your heated class super hydrated is going to make a world of difference and help you feel good throughout your practice. And don’t forget to take some sips of H2O while you’re practicing!
Heated classes are challenging, but I can’t stop going. Nothing quite compares to overcoming the challenge— and experiencing the cleanse my body feels after I’m done. It’s the perfect blend of hard and rewarding, but I couldn’t do it if my body wasn’t properly nourished. On the days I know I have a heated class booked; I like to make sure I am eating right. I make sure to take my vitamins and fuel my body with fruits, vegetables, and my favorite superfood shake. I hold off on food about an hour before my practice, so I feel comfortable. After the class, I like to replenish with a big protein shake (boosted with collagen to aid with muscle recovery and skin elasticity). There is no one-way path for properly nourishing your body but making sure you’re fueled for the challenge of a heated class is essential for getting the most out of your practice and feeling good on and off your mat.
Increasing and maintaining your water intake on the days you take a heated class is important, but sometimes you need something a little extra. If you’re sweating that much, you’re basically an athlete (at least in my book) and if you’re performing like a rockstar yogi, you need to hydrate like one as well. That means replenishing those lost electrolytes. Reward yourself and your body for the hard work and treat yourself to your favorite drink. I switch off between electrolyte-boosting drinks and coconut water depending on what I’m in the mood for that day. Adding these to my post-practice self-care routine has helped me feel more hydrated after and ready to take on the world again after especially sweaty classes.
Usually, a yoga mat is all you need for your practice––but heated classes are a different ballgame. I’ve gone with just a mat, and I’ve slipped all over the place. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than having sweat drip all over the place while you’re trying to hold a pose that makes you grip your mat for dear life (never again). Make sure you bring a towel to place over your mat, this will help with support and grip. Bringing a smaller towel is also a good idea. You can use the smaller towel to dry yourself off during water breaks or whenever you’re feeling just a bit too sweaty. This is a small step that makes a world of difference during those super-hot classes.
So, there you have it. Five of my favorite tips (more like lifesavers) that have helped me readjust to those heated classes I love so much. Getting back into it is a challenge for us all, so know you’re not alone. No matter where you’re at in your practice, remember to be kind and gentle to yourself––celebrating your health and your body’s ability to do what you love. We’re all just getting back out there, together.
Ready to jump back into your hot yoga routine? Browse Mindbody to find the perfect class for you.
While you’re at it, check out some Intro Offers near you that can help you get back to your cadence of hot yoga classes.