In honor of National Stress Awareness Day on November 2nd, I am sharing my favorite techniques to reduce stress. Stress has a major impact on your body and is linked to many diseases. There are various ways stress negatively affects the body including: the inability to sleep, living in the "flight or fight" response, high blood pressure, digestive issues, weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, etc. I am currently reading Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky, which is about stress, stress-related disease, and coping with stress. This is an incredible book. The author describes scientific processes in the body impacted by stress in a very relatable way. I would definitely recommend reading this book if you are curious about the impact of stress on every system of the body. However, this post isn’t to make you stressed about being stressed, which ironically is how I feel while reading Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Instead, I have provided a few easy techniques to cope with everyday stressors in your life.
There are many techniques I have learned to reduce stress. Below are a few of the most effective ways to keep calm. These simple yet effective techniques can easily be customized to fit your schedule and daily routine. You will be able to find a technique to cope with stress whether you: have 5 minutes or 45 minutes, are in your car or office, are an advanced yogi or beginning your yoga journey.
1. Breathing Mediation – Take a few minutes to close your eyes, sit up straight, and notice your natural breath. Then, focus on a specific aspect of you breath such as: your exhales, counting the number of breaths you take, counting the number of seconds in your inhale and exhale, or focusing on your diaphragm expanding and contracting. If your mind starts to wander (and it will), come back to your breath. Continue this mediation for a few minutes.
2. Three-part yogic breath - Close your eyes and notice your natural breath for a few minutes. Then, focus and feel your breath as you inhale and fill your belly, chest, and collarbones, and exhale contracting your abdominals to release all of the air in your belly. Repeat this breathing exercise for a few minutes.
3. Ha breathing - Take a few minutes to close your eyes and just notice your natural breath. Then, take a deep inhale expanding your belly, and exhale out of the mouth making a Ha sound. You can decide how loud or soft you would like to make your Ha sound. Louder Ha sounds will be more energizing, while softer Ha sounds will be more relaxing. Repeat this breathing exercise for a few minutes.
4. Alternate-nostril breathing– One of the most calming breathing exercises for me is alternate-nostril breathing. Close your eyes and notice your natural breath for a few minutes. Take your right hand up to your face and curl your pointer, middle finger, and ring finger down. Press your thumb down on your right nostril and breathe out gently through your left nostril. Now breathe in from your left nostril and then press your left nostril gently with your pinky finger. Removing your right thumb from your right nostril, breathe out from the right. Breathe in from your right nostril and exhale from your left. Continue by exhaling and inhaling from one nostril, then switching to the other nostril to exhale and inhale. Repeat this breathing exercise for a few minutes.
5. Yoga poses – If you can spare 10 minutes from your day, you can fit in a yoga practice. Spend 2 minutes stretching, 5 minutes moving through sun salutations or create your own flow, 1 minute of breathing exercises such as alternate-nostril breathing or three-part yogic breathing, and finish with a 2 minute shavasana or meditation. Some of the most calming poses you can incorporate into your practice are: child's pose, cat/cow pose, side stretches, butterfly pose, standing forward bend, triangle pose, eagle pose, tree pose, down dog, bridge, seated spinal twist, and legs up the wall pose
6. Vayan Mudra– Mudras are hand and finger postures that are incredibly powerful. There are many sensory and motor nerve endings in your fingers, which enables the communication and transference of information to your brain and energy centers. Mudras allow you to feel and alter specific areas of your body. One of the most calming and balancing mudras for me is Vayan Mudra. This mudra is also great for hypertension, cardiovascular health, and muscular tension. To practice this mudra: touch the tips of your thumbs to the tips of you pointer and middle fingers. Extend the pinky and ring fingers straight out. Once you have the mudra, let your hands rest on your knees, relax your shoulders back and down, and notice your breath. Focus on how your body feels while holding this mudra. Hold Vayan Mudra for a few minutes, while continuing your natural breath.
7. Kanishtha Mudra – I have recently incorporated Kanishtha mudra into my practice. This mudra is great for reducing stress and high blood pressure, deepening your connection to the earth, and supporting the health of the skeletal system. To practice this mudra: hold your palms infront of your solar plexus, make loose fists, extend and gently press your pinky fingers together, relax your shoulders back and down, and have your elbows away from your body with your forearms parallel to the ground. Focus on how your body feels while holding this mudra. Hold Kanishtha Mudra for a few minutes, while continuing your natural breath.
8. Self-massage – One of my favorite ways to relax after a long day is by giving myself a massage. Self-massage is a great way to increase blood circulation, soften and nourish the skin, tone muscles, lubricate joints, stimulate the lymphatic system, and much more! I use organic sesame oil (not toasted), which is a warming oil so it is great for the colder months. I massage my whole body before or after I shower. I start by pouring a small amount of sesame oil in my hands and applying the oil to my arms and shoulders and work my way down. I slowly apply the oil using long, slow strokes on each body part. At each of the joints, I rub the oil in small slow circles. Remember to massage your stomach slowly and move your hands in clock-wise circular motion. Don't forget to massage your feet! This may take 10-20 minutes!
It is great to incorporate some or all of these techniques into your daily routine. My current daily routine includes breathing mediation, yoga poses, alternate-nostril breathing, Vayan Mudra, and self-massage. My daily routine has helped me to have a steady, calm demeanor throughout the day. I hope these techniques help you feel calm! Leave a comment with which techniques worked the best and/or which ones weren’t suitable for you.