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Yoga to Calm the Body and Mind: Benefits and 5 Steps to Help You Get Started

Yoga is a great way to connect with yourself mentally and physically. In hard times it can also help build resilience and facilitate self-regulation. The practice is comprised of postures (also known as asanas), breathing (or pranayama), and dhyana (also known as meditation). Yoga has eight limbs with asanas, pranayama, and dhyana composing three of those limbs. This post will go into detail on how to expand your yoga practice in these three areas.

There are many benefits to yoga some of which include decreased mental distress and decreased blood pressure. Additionally, studies examining the impact of yoga on various populations found that it was effective in improving attention, emotional processes, mood and anxiety disorders, stress, and pain.

If you haven’t already started your practice now is the perfect time. Since we are encouraged to practice social distancing, we may find ourselves experiencing an occupational imbalance – that is, our lifestyles have drastically changed and may no longer meet our social, mental, and physical health needs. As you start building a new routine, consider ways to incorporate yoga into your daily life with these steps.

1. Deep breathing

You can begin your practice with one simple step: connecting with and deepening your breath. This part of yoga is known as pranayama or expansion of our life energy. Life energy in this case is the oxygen that the air supplies to our body when we breathe. By deepening the breath, we can slow down and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps calm the body and mind. You can use deep breathing before, during, or after a stressful situation, or anytime you feel you need it.

Below is an exercise to help deepen your breathe. Abdominal breathing, thoracic breathing, and clavicular breathing won’t ever be done on their own except for this exercise which helps you feel what each area of the torso should feel like as you do yogic breathing.

Sit in a comfortable position either in a chair with your feet flat on the ground or the floor sitting cross-legged. Sit up tall creating length from your tailbone to the crown of your head.

Abdominal breathing: Begin by placing your hand, with fingers spread wide, on the area between your hips and your ribs on either side. Close your eyes. Inhale deeply for a count of 5 seconds. As you inhale, notice as you feel your abdomen expanding in all directions forward, back, and to each side under your hands. Pause for one second, then exhale evenly for a count of 8 seconds and feel your abdomen come back together.

Thoracic breathing: Place your hands on the sides of your ribs. Make sure your fingers are wide and spread so you can feel as much of your ribs as possible. Inhale for a count of 5 seconds. As you inhale feel your ribs expand in all directions, forward, sideways, and back. Pause at the end of the inhale then exhale evenly for a count of 8 seconds. As you exhale take note of how your ribs collapse in all directions.

Clavicular breathing: Place your hands on your knees. Inhale evenly for a count of 5 seconds. As you inhale, pay attention to how your collarbone rises. Don’t try to force your shoulders up, just let your collarbone rise naturally. This may take some practice. At the end of the inhale pause for a second. Exhale evenly for a count of 8 and feel your collarbone come back down to a natural resting position.

Combine all of the steps above to create a breathing technique that helps calm the body and mind.

Deep breathing: In a sitting or lying position, close your eyes and place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. As you inhale for 5 seconds focus on filling your abdomen with air then your ribs, then your chest area. Pause at the top of the inhale for a second, then evenly exhale the air for 8 seconds, starting by releasing the air from the chest, ribs, then abdominal area.

You can also start by inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 6 seconds if inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 8 seconds is a challenge. Eventually you can start deepening your breath even more by extending the amount of time that you inhale and exhale. As you start taking longer breaths make sure that your inhales are longer than your exhales to ensure that you are getting the maximum calming benefits.

2. Connect breathing with movement

The different postures in yoga are called asanas. Once you are comfortable with your deep breathing practice you can start connecting your breath with asanas or movements. I like to follow a simple rule of thumb when connecting my breath with movement. Generally, movements that involve your body flexing or coming together (like bending forward or bending to the side) should be paired with an exhale. Movements where your body is creating space or extending, should be paired with an inhale. When you are holding a position, you want to ensure that you are breathing naturally and not holding your breath as this can negatively impact your heart rate and cause excessive strain on your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles.

You can start pairing your breath with movements by doing simple neck exercises. Here is a simple exercise you can practice with your deep breaths:

Sit in a comfortable position either in a chair with your feet flat on the ground or the floor sitting cross-legged. Sit up tall creating length from your tailbone to the crown of your head.

Lateral flexion: Start with your head in the center and inhaling deeply for 5 seconds. Slowly bend your head to one side, as if you are bringing your ear to your shoulder, and exhale for 8 seconds. Slowly and gently start to bring your head back to the center and inhale for 5 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

3. Meditation: Training the mind

This part of yoga is known as Dhyana. There are many different forms of meditation such as prayers, affirmations, imagery, breathing, gazing, and focusing on physical sensations. Meditation doesn’t just involve clearing the mind, but more so learning to live with the thoughts that come up and learning not to judge them. One of my favorite meditations is the candle meditation.

There are many great apps you can use to deepen your practice with meditation including Buddhify*, Headspace*, Stop, Breathe & Think*, and Calm*.

4. Join a class or practice with YouTube videos

There are so many great yoga instructors on YouTube. Some great YouTube instructors are Yoga with Adriene* and Tara Stiles*. If you would like a more personalized experience many yoga studios are hosting virtual classes. You can check out Facebook or Instagram pages of studios near you. Some great yoga instructors in the Twin Cities area are Terra Firma and Revive You MN. Every yoga instructor puts a unique twist on their practice so explore different yoga instructors until you find one who has a style that you enjoy.

5. Make yoga part of time with others

Yoga is a great practice for deepening the connection with not only yourself, but other important people in your life. Especially now it may be difficult to find time to yourself, so why not build yoga into family time? A great option for doing yoga with children is Cosmic Kids Yoga*. You can also work yoga into time with people outside of your household by doing virtual yoga sessions with your friends or siblings while watching one of the yoga instructors on YouTube.

Yoga has many benefits and allows us to improve our health and well-being. Consider how you can start incorporating these steps into your day to help build resilience and calm your nervous system.

 

Written by Sara O’Connor, Occupational Therapy Intern

*Wild Tree Wellness has no affiliations or invested interest in the success of these yoga resources.

 

References:

Arias, A. J., Steinberg, K., Banga, A. & Trestman, R. L. (2006). Systematic review of the efficacy of meditation techniques as treatments for medical illness. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 12, 817-832.

Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Lutz, A. Schaefer, H.S., Levinson, D. B., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104, 11483-11488.

Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., Tuffrey, V., Richardson, J., & Pilkington, K. (2005). Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review of the research evidence. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, 884-891.

Ospina, M. B., Bond, K., Karkhaneh, M., Tjosvold, L., Vandermeer, B., Liang, Y., … Klassen, T. P. (2007). Meditation practices for health: State of the research (Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 155). Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Pilkington, K., Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., & Richardson, J. (2005). Yoga for depression: The research evidence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 89, 13-24.

Schmid, A., Malcom, M. P., Atler, K. E., Grimm, L. A., Klinedinst, T., & Chop, C. (2018). Yoga improves fall risk factors and quality of life in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 7211515292. doi:10.5014/ajot.2018.72S1-PO8052

Shaprio, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Biegel, G. M. (2007). Teaching self-care to caregivers: Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the mental health of therapists in training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1, 105-115.

Weaver, L. L. & Darragh, A. R. (2015). Systematic review of yoga interventions for anxiety reduction among children and adolescents. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69, 1-9. doi:10.5014/ajot.2015.020115

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

By | 2020-04-16T11:38:51-05:00 May 3rd, 2020|Blog|0 Comments
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