How To Help Fight Stress and Anxiety with Yoga and Meditation
By: Erica Diamond
We are living through a global pandemic. These are not easy times, and COVID has affected every person differently.
A few questions for your today:
Have you been suffering from chronic fatigue lately? Find yourself tossing and turning at night unable to shut off your brain? Feeling at a low… emotionally, physically or spiritually? Have you lost your appetite? Or are you binge eating from stress or boredom? Been looking for your mojo and can’t seem to find it anywhere?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Many people are running on empty – and when I say empty, I mean emptier than they have been used to pre-pandemic. We are also heading into winter, and that low-energy feeling that can accompany limited amount of daylight, just sort of sneaks up on us.
Now, in “normal” times, we all have stresses in our lives… be it stress with our kids, in a marriage, in a career, financial pressures, a sick loved one, or even the stress as a result of being stuck in traffic and running late for a meeting. But the key in all of this, is how we deal with it.
Some cope better and take to exercise, healthy eating and a positive attitude to deal with stress. Some take to a bottle, to drugs, and to other toxic forms of self-soothing. But, when stress and anxiety are not taken care of and are allowed to escalate without care, they start to feed off your body for survival and this can lead to problems.
Stress over time takes its toll. A line I read recently that I love, “The first mistake most of us make is that we try to operate as if we’re computers — at high speeds, for long periods of time, running multiple programs at the same time.”
Today, I wanted to give you a few tips in your toolbox for wellness and self-care:
As a Certified Life Coach and Certified Yoga & Meditation Teacher, I’m most interested in wellness for stress and anxiety. Here are four yoga poses that are proven to reduce anxiety and stress. Speak to your doctor first. They help me a lot.
CAT / COW STRETCH
Starting in table top on all fours with our wrists under our shoulders and our knees directly under our hips. Exhaling, starting from our tailbone, and slowly rounding our backs toward the sky, releasing our head last for Cat. On the inhale, starting from our tailbone, we’re extending our spines, lifting the crown of our head last, for Cow. Reaching through our sternum to lengthen our spine. Moving into Cat on the exhale and Cow on the inhale, flowing with our breath. Letting our bellies lengthen without dropping our udders in Cow.
This pose creates emotional balance, relieves stress and calms the mind.
From all fours, sinking our hips back toward our heels and lowering our body toward our thighs. Reaching our arms out in front of us for Extended Child’s Pose or bringing our arms around alongside our body. Resting, relaxing and checking in with our bodies. Permitting our bodies to find relaxation and rest.
Child’s Pose helps to release tension in the back, neck and shoulders and also helps to promote relaxation by encouraging steady conscious breathing, which is particularly great for anxiety sufferers due to a calming of the nervous system.
From Mountain Pose, we’re bringing our hands to heart center, and shifting our weight to balance on one leg. Bringing our opposite foot into our standing ankle, calf, or thigh (above or below the knee) and ensuring that our hips stay level. Keeping our hands at heart center, or for more challenge, reaching our arms overhead. If our foot is on our thigh, we are pressing our foot into our thigh and our thigh into our foot. Creating strength and length down through our rooted foot and up through our crown or our fingertips. Repeat on other foot.
By balancing on one foot, you promote concentration, awareness and focus. You can therefore can take your mind away from fears or worries, and places your attention onto your physical self.
With your feet hips distance apart, turn to the left and widen your stance about four feet apart. Turn your right foot about 90 degrees so your toes point toward the front of the mat. Shift your left foot about 45 degrees so that its at an angle toward to upper left side of the mat. Align your pelvis and torso with your right foot and bend your right knee, keeping both feet planted on the mat.
Raise your arms overhead and press your weight onto your right foot, lifting your left leg as you lower your torso forward, making your body parallel to the ground. Reach out through the heel of your left foot, keeping both legs actively engaged. Your arms will now be reaching forward. Straighten your right leg and shift your gaze toward the ground a few feet in front of you and hold for 2-3 breaths. Slowly lower your leg back to the floor and repeat on the other side. (YogaJournal)
Warrior III stimulates your abdominal region which helps improve your digestion, and we are learning that proper digestion and gut health are crucial in fighting anxiety. Like tree pose, warrior III gets your mind and focus on balancing your physical body, as well as enhances your core strength.
Alright, so that covers yoga for stress.
What about meditation?
First, I’d like to ask you a question. When you think about meditation, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Boring? Too woo woo? I can’t sit still? I’m not into it?
Well, I’m here to tell you, EVERYONE should meditate.
But here’s what you need to know about meditation– there is no single way to do it, no right or wrong way to do it. You can meditate sitting up, lying down, standing up, heck you can even do a walking meditation. Your eyes can be open or closed. Today, I’m giving you the 411 and the 101 of meditating for you to try.
I am often asked how to start meditating, so here is meditation in 9 simple steps.
And, one more thing. When you first start meditating, IT WILL FEEL WEIRD. Yes. Your mind might tell you it’s a waste of time. Why sit there and think about nothing? You will twitch and you will itch (gee, that sounds very Dr. Seuss). You might even get annoyed. May I say, stick with it anyhow. It gets better.
How to Meditate in 9 Simple Steps:
- Commit to 5-30 minutes a day.To begin with, start with 5 minutes. Most people find 15 minutes optimal, but literally 5 minutes of meditation is beneficial. As for how often, it is said that meditation should be aimed for daily, like brushing your teeth. If not daily, every second day.
- Eliminate Distractions.Choose a time in your day where you have the least amount of distraction. Maybe it’s in the early morning. Maybe it’s lunchtime. For me, lately, it’s been before bed when I am actually lying in my bed. I have never slept better these days, honestly, as I have been committing to my practice every night throughout the pandemic.
- Relax and get comfortable.Some like to stretch before meditation, as it can loosen the body and help you relax. Remember, if you are a beginner, it’s hard to sit still, so stretching and relaxing gets your mind in the zone. You might want to set a timer, that’s a personal choice.
- Choose Your Position. As for your position, whether lying down, or sitting up- that is a personal choice. Some like to sit, some like to lie down. As I mentioned above, there are even walking meditations. The only rule is- you should be comfortable (with a straight spine, and not slouching). If you are sitting, relax and rest your hands on your lap. You can sit on the floor cross-legged with the support of a cushion or on a chair with your feet resting on the ground. It’s not necessary to force yourself into a lotus or cross legged position if you’re not comfortable. I enjoy meditating on my back only, and in my bed, regardless of the time of day I am meditating, but these are personal choices. NO choice is wrong.
- Focus Your Mind.Be prepared for your mind to wander. The key in meditation is to keep your mind ON THE PRESENT MOMENT, and not in the past, nor on what you have to do in an hour. This is your time to be still, to relax, to literally heal yourself. Once you’ve chosen the optimal time, you are comfortable and relaxed, you will be ready to focus your attention on your breath. You can meditate with your eyes open or closed. Sometimes listening to relaxing music can help in meditation. If you’re a beginner, you might enjoy a guided meditation to help get you started, with or without music. I am a meditation teacher on Insight Timer, so feel free to listen to those guided meditations.
- Breathe slowly and deeply. Close your eyes softly. Begin by taking a few slow and deep breaths — inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your nose. If you’re feeling a little more tense, feel free to take some deep exhalations from your mouth. The first few intakes of air are likely to be shallow, but as you allow more air to fill your lungs each time, your breaths will gradually become deeper and fuller. Take as long as you need to breathe slowly and deeply. When you are breathing deeply, you will begin to feel calmer and more relaxed.
- If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing. If your mind wanders, know that this is NORMAL, and gently try and bring it back to the now- to your breathing. Your mind may wander as often as every 5 seconds. That’s totally okay. As you meditate more often, your mind will start to wander less, and your body and mind will truly begin to relax. It’s hard to sit still and focus on your breath, but make that gentle conscious effort to bring your mind back to the here and now. That is what meditation actually is – bringing your awareness back to what you’re doing.
- Ending your meditation. When you are ready to end your meditation, open your eyes and stand up slowly. Good job. You did it!
- Practice Makes Perfect.It’s not a race. Maybe you can only meditate for 3 minutes now. With time, you’ll increase your time, therefore increasing all the wellness benefits you will experience from meditation.
The more regularly you do the simple art of breathing and focusing your awareness on the now, the calmer you’ll feel and the more deeply rooted the benefits will be too.
As I said, I like morning or evening meditations depending on how I’m feeling, but you might like an afternoon breathing pick me up. Play with the times of day and styles until you connect with something.
The difference over time is remarkable. You will begin to feel peaceful, calmer and happier. Stick with it.
If you’re ready to try yoga, click here for my free online classes. They are all different lengths and benefits. Pick something you like, and try one!
How are you doing with self-care these days? Do you need to spend more time and energy on self-care? If you are curious, find out by taking my short quiz! https://www.tryinteract.com/share/quiz/5f9565ff6d5a350014a7d196
I also have a FREE Self-Care Resource Guide to help you restore and re-energize on the daily. Download it here: https://wellness.ericadiamond.com/self-care-resource-guide
Finally, here is a 10-minute guided meditation for calm for you to download and listen to today. https://wellness.ericadiamond.com/meditationforcalm
ABOUT ERICA DIAMOND
Teaching Empowered Living, Erica Diamond is a leading Expert in Lifestyle, Wellness and Empowerment. A Certified Life Coach and Certified Yoga & Meditation Teacher, Erica is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of the Award-Winning Lifestyle Platform EricaDiamond.com® (previously WomenOnTheFence.com®), Lifestyle and Parenting Correspondent on Global TV, Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Keynote Speaker, Spokesperson, and Author of the women’s entrepreneurial book, 99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Starting Their Own Business. Erica founded the Global Get Off The Fence Movement inspiring people worldwide to get off the fence, get unstuck and thrive, and launched The Erica Diamond Podcast in summer 2019 to spotlight trailblazers and change makers around the world.
Erica Diamond has been named to the coveted list of The Top 20 Women in Canada as well as FORBES Magazine’s Top 100 Sites for Women and FORBES 25 Most Influential Women In Entrepreneurship on Twitter. Erica Diamond was the Spokesperson for National Entrepreneurship Day and is a Huffington Post contributor.