We are living in difficult and worrying times. As if the global pandemic, the rising cost of living and the environmental threats were not enough, there is now also a shocking war to worry about, quite nearby. The macro situation may come on top of a personal challenge in your life. How can we stay calm and clearheaded when it’s far easier to be agitated and stressed? The ancient yoga philosophy says that inner peace is always within us. Although it can get clouded by fear, anger and worries, our inner peace is always there. Accessing this sanctuary regularly helps us gain mental clarity and emotional balance. There are many yoga tools that can help us reduce overwhelm, fear and stress, but this blog will focus on three yoga shortcuts to find inner peace.
Fight or flight
Any life threatening situation gives rise to the body’s stress response: our heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure increase, while the mind is on high alert and there is decreased blood flow to the digestive system. Unfortunately, our body and unconscious mind can also perceive work pressures, financial worries, or chronic fear as such an emergency. While the body’s stress response is useful in some circumstances, it is harmful when it becomes chronic, and we have a permanently raised heart rate, raised blood pressure, impaired digestion, and problems sleeping. Very often, we are unaware of being in this heightened state of worry and alertness.
Chronic stress can lead to many health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, a weakened immune system, etc. So it is important to include activities in our daily lives that will counteract this chronic state of alertness. Dr. Herbert Benson used the term “relaxation response” to describe the state of recuperation after the fight or flight mode. Interestingly, to promote the relaxation response, he says we need: 10 to 20 minutes in a calm environment, a focus for the mind, and a passive (non-judgmental) attitude.
Of course meditation and breathing practices correspond to these criteria, and so does a practice that involves yoga postures. The interesting element is the non-judgmental attitude: if we get frustrated by our lack of flexibility for example, or compare ourselves to the person on the next mat, or with the person we would like to be, the ego — and stress – spoil the benefits of our yoga.
I frequently see the “fight or flight mode” change into the “relaxation response” in my yoga classes. Often students start the session with a mind filled to the brim, as it were. They leave the class feeling calmer, clearer and stronger. The only thing they have done is focus for an hour on their body and breath. What really happened is the removal of mental chatter, so that the inner peace could shine through.
Three yoga shortcuts to find inner peace
Today I would like to share three practices that you can include in your daily life: one movement, one practice while you are walking and one breathing exercise. You will get the best results if you practise these every day. Let me know how you get on…
Coordinating the breath with movement
Do this preferably in bare feet, but even with shoes anywhere, for example when you are alone in a lift or waiting for the bus. Inhale and lift your heels so you come to stand on the balls of your feet; exhale and slowly bring the heels down. Repeat for about a minute, paying attention to the coordination of breath and movement. Make sure you keep the weight behind all the toes, and not only behind the big toe or little toe, which can be an unhelpful movement pattern the feet have developed. Once you have mastered the weight distribution and slow coordination of movement and breath, add the arm movement: bring them up to shoulder height and to the side as you rise onto the toes, lower them with the exhalation. This movement promotes calm, expands the chest and strengthens the feet. As always with yoga: don’t do it if it hurts.
While walking, consciously observe your surroundings: sounds, smell, colours, shapes, light and shade. As soon as you catch yourself thinking about something, bring your attention back to your surroundings. Try to practise this every time you walk. This is beautiful practice: as opposed to being in our thoughts all the time, we discover many things we normally never notice. With spring just about to blossom, there are beautiful surprises everywhere.
Lengthening the exhalation
At your desk and need a pause? Close your eyes and breathe in for four counts, out for six counts. It does not matter how fast or slow the counting is, just choose a comfortable rhythm and continue for at least a few minutes. With any breathing exercise it is important never to force the breath. As soon as you feel dizzy or empty-headed it is essential to breathe normally until it passes. So the emphasis is on comfort and joy!
There is so much suffering in the world, but also so much beauty. When we stay close to our inner peace, we will have more mental clarity to decide the best course of action for our life.
These three yoga shortcuts to find inner peace are only a few of the many ways yoga can make a difference in your life. If you would like to join my online group classes, or receive your personal yoga therapy programme, do contact me here for a chat: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-for-yoga-classes-in-chiswick/