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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?
Welcome to my regular cadence of blog posts where we talk about—you guessed it—stress. This past year, we’ve been talking about it A LOT. If that’s not the understatement of the century, then I don’t know what is. Oh, and ICYMI April was Stress Awareness Month—and even though that month is over that doesn’t mean our “awareness” of the stress in our lives just magically disappears. Ask me how I know. In fact, I was stressed even thinking of a title for this piece. STRESS IS REAL PEOPLE.
With 67% of adults reporting their stress levels have skyrocketed over this past year, odds are you’ve probably been plagued by this unfortunate feeling quite a bit. In fact, it’s been so overwhelmingly apparent that stress plays a big role in most of our day-to-day lives that it was a major component of the 2021 Mindbody Wellness Index. This year, the survey set out to understand who has been affected the most by surveying the 50 most populous cities in the US.
If you see your city on this list, please know that you are not alone and there are many ways to combat stress—like chilling out in a yoga class, venting in your journal, and leaning on your bestie for advice. Heck—we even have a guide to help you learn how to keep your chill.
So, without further ado, here are the most stressed-out cities in the US according to our Mindbody Wellness Index.
I hate to break it to you, Oaklanders—but you topped our list as the most-stressed city in the US. But you all aren’t just succumbing to pressure—you also said you’re making a solid effort to get your health and wellness back on track. Out of all the cities on this list, you had the highest number of people who used meditation as a stress reducer during the pandemic (30%).
Now that we’re starting to get back to some form of normalcy, might I suggest taking a stroll around your neighborhood and appreciating the sizable gnome population as an instant mood-booster?
Coming in at number two is Minneapolis. Unfortunately, 61% of you reported feeling an abundance of stress during the pandemic. However, like Oakland, you’re also making some serious strides to decrease your stress by leaning into your fitness routines. How are you doing this? By focusing on weight and strength training, partaking in cardio, and practicing yoga.
Minneapolis—if you’re ever feeling stressed, just remember that your city is home to one of the greatest musicians of all time—Prince. So go ahead and “Party Like it’s 1999” whenever you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Next up is Oklahoma City. While you experience a great deal of stress, you’re also making some serious moves to increase happiness and wellness with 63% of you exercising once a week or more. However, you also had the smallest percentage of folks putting more focus on health and wellness throughout the past year.
Here’s a fun fact that may just put a smile on your face—Oklahoma City recently adopted the nickname “The Big Friendly.”
El Paso does sit pretty high up on this list in the number four spot. Y’all may want to pay special attention to catching some z’s each night since you had the highest percentage of folks lacking in the sleep department—which is a major contributor to stress. On top of that, you also said you feel the least connected to their community among the 50 cities surveyed.
There’s nothing that a giant dose of Vitamin D can’t fix (at least that’s what my doctor says)—so get outside and enjoy the 302 days of sunshine that your city has to offer!
Ahhh the City of Angels. According to our survey, you came in as the fifth most-stressed city. But in true LA fashion you are using healthy coping mechanisms to regain a peaceful state of mind—almost 80% of you exercise once a week or more. Also, literally like none of you smoke which can also help you find balance.
There are a lot of fun facts about your city, but I decided to hit with a funny fact instead. Did you know that Charlie Sheen once bought 2,615 outfield seats at Angels Stadium so he could catch a home run ball? And guess what—he walked out empty-handed.
Unlike LA, Tulsa has the most smokers out of all the cities on this list. You also don’t make exercise a top priority with your city ranking third to last in exercising consistently and second to last in getting a good night’s sleep.
Mmmbop...sorry for getting that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day—but we have your city to thank for the Hanson brothers. Also, does anybody else think they are the Russian Dolls on this season of The Masked Singer, or is that just me?
To say your city has been through a lot over the years would be an understatement. This year, we also learned you were in the bottom ten for having close relationships with family and friends—which isn’t surprising given the fact that we were all forced to shelter-in-place for the majority of the year. Hopefully, as fitness studios and wellness businesses start to welcome more and more people back, the stress you are all experiencing will quickly dissipate.
With vaccines becoming more available to the general public, happy hours are a thing again! Get together with some of your friends and (responsibly) enjoy some iconic drinks your city has to offer.
Though your city made this list for experiencing high stress, you also topped the list for several wellness practices. In fact, 86% of you say you get a good workout sesh in once a week or more. On top of that, you were quick to take advantage of virtual fitness classes, with 75% of you saying you regularly work out from home. You are also the number one city to receive massages, partake in strength training group classes, aerobics, and dance fitness classes.
I think we can all agree that any demonstration of girl power is something to be happy about. Did you know that your city is the only major US city to be founded by a woman? It’s true—Miami officially became a city in 1896 after local businesswoman Julia Tuttle encouraged one railroad mogul to expand into the area.
Seventy-one percent of you turned to health and wellness when the pandemic made our daily routines come to a screeching halt. You stepped up by taking advantage of health and life coaching the most out of any other city and you also came in second for using meditation to de-stress during the pandemic.
Hi—it’s me again here to hit you with not one but TWO funny facts about Atlanta. Did you know that it was once illegal to put an ice cream cone in your back pocket? Oh, and it’s also illegal to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole. Umm what.
Denver—you may have made this list, but you’re straight up flexing to help combat stress. In fact, you top the list when it comes to incorporating weight and strength training into your workout routines. On top of that, 20% of you are also tapping into a blissful state of mind by practicing yoga regularly.
As Matthew McConaughey once cleverly said, the "man who invented the hamburger was smart," but the "man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius." Well, Denver, that genius just happens to be from your city. Louis Ballast began selling them in 1935 at the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In.
If your city made this list, don’t...stress? There are a number of classes available to you on the Mindbody app that are designed to help you keep calm and carry on. Or, if you want to take your at-home routine to the next level, you can get your daily dose of virtual chill pills by booking classes through Mindbody Flex.