As a yoga teacher, I’m always promoting the importance of self-care. Never have we needed it more than right now, when life has been turned upside down by coronavirus.
Yoga can play a useful role in self-care, along with the other tools in your belt – nutritious foods, restful sleep, physical activity, connection with others. Adding a touch of restorative yoga and some deliberate breathing does not come with any medical guarantee, but as we say in the South – “Can’t hurt, might help.”
In times of extreme stress, our central nervous system gets locked up in fight or flight. Meaning that we push forward on what amounts to a set of flat tires. Generally, most of us would not drive our cars on 4 flats, but a depleted adrenal system is pretty much just like that.
With that in mind, here is one of my favorite yoga poses: Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani). Give it a try by itself or add the following short meditation and breathing exercise. Trust me – it may not look powerful, but this pose is actually doing a lot more than you might think. Inversions bring great rest to the central nervous system, rejuvenate the brain, open the lungs, and generally ease our emotions. Many of us wake at night and have difficulty getting back to sleep. It may help to get out of the bed and give this a go.
If your hamstrings or low back object, you can use a chair as a support for your legs. Both variations are wonderful.
Give yourself a few moments to settle into the pose and literally sink into the floor beneath you. Be aware of where the legs are positioned and try to be still. Can you relax your face completely with eyes closed or open, softening the throat, the back of the neck? Are you clenching the teeth and jaw? No judgement – just soften. Be mindful that your tongue is not jamming into the teeth or roof of the mouth. See if you can literally float your tongue in the mouth.
Plan to stay in this position for about 5 minutes or longer if it feels right. During this time, your mind will wander and look for something to do. To keep your mind focused and body relaxed, try this 5 Senses and 5 Breaths Meditation exercise while keeping your legs up the wall..
5 Senses and 5 Breaths:
In this exercise, you’ll explore each of your 5 senses, one by one, pausing at each one for a 5-breath cycle:
Touch. Focus on how your body is in contact with the floor, the chair, wall. Are there other physical sensations you can note here? The idea is to be as grounded as possible. Inhale and exhale slowly using the 5-breath cycle:
Inhale to the count of 1 - Exhale to the count of 2
Inhale 3 - Exhale 4
Inhale 5 - Exhale 6
Inhale 7 - Exhale 8
Inhale 9 - Exhale 10
Vision. Visualize a soothing or favorite spot. See as many details as possible - colors, shapes, other individuals and yourself. If comfortable (and hands are clean) cup your hands over your eyes. Inhale and exhale slowly using the 5-breath cycle.
Hearing. Listen carefully to your surroundings bringing your attention to only the sounds in the room. Inhale and exhale slowly using the 5-breath cycle.
Smell. This could be a smell in the room or a memory. Inhale and exhale slowly using the 5-breath cycle.
Taste. Bring back that relaxed palate and be aware of the taste in the mouth. Inhale and exhale slowly using the 5-breath cycle.
When complete, slowly hug your knees into the chest and gently rock back and forth. Roll to the side. Rest here for a moment before lifting to a seated position. Repeat as often as you need and take this gift of care to heart.