How are you? How are you dealing with all the anxiety COVID 19 has caused? It also brought to the surface our anxieties about death and illness, inadequacies in the healthcare systems throughout the world. We like to say that “we are in this together”, but everyone is affected differently, don’t you think? I have been fortunate to be able to stay at home. I don’t have to report to work, I don’t have to work in a way that might danger my health. I hope this pandemic has made us realize how essential some people are for the maintenance of our daily life which I, and others like me, might be taking for granted. It should go without saying that we must revolutionize the ways in which humans have been treating animals and the environment. May we all live through these hard times with grace, understanding, and compassion for all sentient beings.
Whatever your own situation is, I am assuming that you are anxious and tired of all the worrisome news coming from around the world. Our daily routines have changed, resulting in irregularity in the mind and the body. During such times, and especially for strengthening our immune system, we need to pay attention to our diet. In Ayurveda, we say that we are what we digest. To strengthen your digestion, eat warm, easy-to-digest food with grounding spices such as turmeric, cumin, and coriander. Avoid raw, cold foods. You might know from my Instagram posts that I love my morning smoothies, and sometimes have them as snacks, too. But they are rarely frozen because most of the ingredients I use are at room temperature, or from the fridge, and not from the freezer. An even better idea is to make warm oatmeal instead of a smoothie, especially during winter months. Cardamom spiced oatmeal with raw nut butter, warm oat milk? Porridge with seeds, nuts, and dried fruit? Both of these are grounding, warming, calming and healthy breakfast ideas right there. For a meal, I would love a mixture of split mung beans and rice, or quinoa, without too much heat or spice, so as not to over aggravate the digestive system, but served warm, to bring groundedness and comfort.
We digest food, but we also digest emotions, experiences, thoughts. This means that we must work on our emotional wellbeing – or, that our physical and mental health are intertwined. To ease stress, and better digest emotions, you might also benefit from Ayurvedic adaptogens and herbs to ease stress, strengthen the immune system, and for their anti-inflammatory functions. I have in mind ashwagandha, turmeric, amalaki, or tulsi. It is amazing to me how our ancestors knew about the body/mind connection and respected this relationship more than us. That is what Yoga is about: Healing the body while soothing the mind. Or vice versa! Below I prepared a series of Asanas that will be calming to body/mind!
(Oh, also have a look at my adaptogenic recipes!)
Calming Poses (Asanas)
- If you have a few more minutes before starting your practice, consider Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing). This will help to quiet and still your mind.
- Because we are going through an unusually disorienting time, we need to add to our practice those qualities of stability, grounding, and focus. Hold each posture below for a short amount of time, but do multiple repetitions, if you can. Finish the entire sequence, and get back to the beginning.
- I cannot know your medical or physical condition and history. For example, if you have severe carpal tunnel syndrome or are in late-term pregnancy, you would prefer to skip some of these Asanas. Some of these poses should also be avoided by those with injury to the back, arms, or shoulders; and by those with high blood pressure, eye or inner ear infections. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- If you don’t have such conditions, but struggle with any of these poses, be compassionate and patient with yourself; you are not the first person with tight hamstrings or weak arms. The aim is to bring ourselves the calm, not to get into a competition with a yogi we follow on Instagram. If you feel uncomfortable, feel free to use modifications such as a towel or a blanket; have a break by going into child’s pose, or skip the pose entirely. It’s okay. Breathing in and out, try to focus on your power center or “hara”, the area below the naval and above the pubic bone. The idea is to get connected to the earth, to feel grounded. Focus on that.
- Start with the downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). This pose deeply stretches your hamstrings, shoulders, calves, arches, hands, and spine while building strength in your arms, shoulders, and legs. But first, we need to warm the joints, so raise your right arm first, rotate your wrist clockwise and counterclockwise. Place the right arm back on the floor. Raise left arm, and do the same. Then take a deep breath, while breathing out, pull the right leg all the way towards your nose. Stay there for a moment, and breathing in, push the leg back farther and raise towards the ceiling. Rotate your ankle clockwise and counterclockwise. Place back on the floor. Now do the same with the left leg, and place it on the ground. Back to the downward-facing dog.
- From downward-facing dog, move onto the hands and knees to the cat-cow pose (Marjaryasana to Bitilasana). This pose helps warm up your spine and relieves back and neck tension. Coordinating this movement (from cat to cow) with your breathing relieves stress and calms the mind. Take a deep breath, as you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. This is the cat pose. While inhaling again, drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. Now, this is the cow pose. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If your wrists hurt, place your forearms on the floor. Repeat this 5-6 times.
- Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). This pose helps with circulation and creates heat while being grounding at the same time. It rejuvenates your mind and relaxes the nerves; stretches your hips, hamstrings, and calves. It is also known to be therapeutic for asthma and sinusitis. You begin by standing with your feet together and your hands on your hips. Press your weight evenly across the balls and arches of your feet. Exhale as you bend forward at the hips, lengthening the front of your torso. Bend your elbows and hold on to each elbow with the opposite hand. Let the crown of your head hang down. If you can keep the front of your torso long and your knees straight, place your palms or fingertips on the floor beside your feet. It is important not to over-round your back. If you do not have the flexibility to place your palms on the ground, you can practice with a block or even with your knees bent until you can straighten your legs without over-rounding your back.
- Move on to the wide-legged forward bend (Prasarita Padottanasana, which tellingly means something like “expanded leg intense stretch pose”). This pose stimulates downward moving energy and creates a grounding feeling. Again, those with back injuries should not fold completely forward but should practice a modified version. As you can guess, this is similar to the forward bend, but the legs are far apart. Inhale, and as you exhale, fold forward, just like you did in the forward bend pose. There are alternative versions such as: From standing, reach your arms behind your body and clasp your elbows. Then, come into the fold. Or, before folding, reach your arms behind your body and interlace your fingers. Come into the fold and extend your knuckles overhead. If you are advanced enough, you might want to bring your knuckles all the way overhead. Whatever variation you chose, keep your legs strong and engaged, and do not lock your knees.
- Continuing with the theme of groundedness, we move on to the tree pose (Vrksasana). This pose improves your sense of balance and coordination. Regular practice will improve your focus and your ability to concentrate in all areas of your life, particularly during those times when you might normally feel disoriented/ off-balance. Stand up with your weight evenly across both feet. Shift your weight to your left foot. Bend your right knee, then clasp your right inner ankle. Use your hand to draw your right foot alongside your inner left thigh. Do not rest your foot against your knee, only above or below it. Make sure that your right hip and left hip are aligned. Press your palms together in prayer position at your chest. Fix your gaze gently on a point in front of you. Inhale as you extend your arms overhead, reaching your fingertips to the sky. Rotate your palms inward to face each other. If your shoulders are flexible, you can try pressing your palms together in prayer position, overhead. Hold for up to one minute. Slowly, step your right leg back on the ground. Repeat the Asana on your right leg.
- Lie down on the stomach, stretch your legs back, tops of the feet on the floor. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Hug the elbows back into your body to form the cobra pose (Bhujangasana). This pose is one of my favourites (I missed backbends a lot, during my pregnancy). Besides reducing stress and fatigue, it increases the flexibility of the spine, stretches the chest and strengthens the shoulders. Inhale as you gently lift your head and chest off the floor. Keep your shoulders dropped away from your ears. Do not put any weight on your hands. Slowly, straighten your arms but only as much as your body allows. If your flexibility permits, you can straighten your arms all the way while maintaining the connection of the front of your pelvis and legs with the floor. Bring your gaze to the sky. Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds. Exhale as you slowly lower your chest and put your forehead to the mat.
- We are getting close to the end of the series. Lie on your back, for knees to chest (Apanasana). Continue to focus the breath/energy on the lower stomach and the pelvis area. This pose is soothing after the backbend. It is also used to calm the mind and rebalance your energy. As you exhale, draw both of your knees to your chest. Clasp your hands around them. See if you can wrap your forearms over your shins and clasp each elbow with the opposite hand. Slowly rock backward and forward and side-to-side for a gentle spinal massage. Then, focus on your breathing, the groundedness, the calm. Repeat a few times.
- Still lying on your back, I LOVE to include Supine Pigeon (Supta Kapotasana) to ease tension in the hips. Bend the knees to bring the feet to the floor. Cross the right ankle over the left thigh just above the knee. Lift the left foot off the ground and bring the left knee towards your chest. Clasp the hands behind the left thigh and use your right elbow to press the right knee away from your body. You should feel a stretch on your right hip. Continue to breathe into any areas of tension. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Revolved abdomen pose (Jathara Parivartanasana). Twisting the spine has many benefits. When the torso is revolved, the compression helps the organs of digestion to release toxins and metabolic waste. This pose is considered therapeutic for stress, fatigue, and anxiety. Extend your arms out along the floor at shoulder-height with your palms facing down. Straighten your legs, reaching your heels up toward the ceiling. On an exhalation, lower your legs to the left, twisting your spine to the other side. You might want to bend your knees or keep your legs straight. Either way, try to bring your torso and legs into a 90-degree angle. Stay for a few breaths, and work on the other side.
- Seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana). This pose stretches the spine, shoulders, pelvis, and hamstrings. Practiced regularly, it might provide relief from stress and improve digestion. Inhale as you reach your arms out to the side, and then up overhead, lengthening your spine. Exhaling, bend forward from the hip joints. Do not bend at the waist. Inhale should bring you more space, and exhale should bring more compression/stretch. Try holding onto your shins, ankles, or feet — wherever your body permits.
- Reclining hero pose . This pose provides a deep stretch to the thighs, hip flexors, ankles, and the pelvic region. Begin kneeling on the floor with your inner knees together and your thighs perpendicular to the floor. Open your feet slightly wider than your hips. Keep the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Exhaling, sit down between your feet. Rest your weight equally across both sit bones. Keep your feet directly in line with your shins. This is the hero pose. Now you need to “recline”. To do that, place your hands on the floor behind you. Lean your weight into your hands, then lower your elbows and forearms to the floor.Continue to lower yourself all the way to the floor. Knees should not be wider than your hips but do follow your body’s guidance. Rest your arms at your sides. Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest, and gaze down the centerline of your body. To release the pose, press your weight into your forearms. Slowly come onto your hands, and gently press yourself back into the hero pose. Slowly, extend your legs straight out in front of you.
- Go back to the beginning and start the flow again. When you are ready to finish the practice, go back to the corpse pose (Savasana). Breathe into the idea that you are relaxing your body and mind, one body part at a time, and one thought at a time.