Emphasizing five healing practices can have lasting health benefits
In her latest book, Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression, psychologist Bo Forbes emphasizes five healing practices for creating lasting change and health.
Balance the nervous system — Our nervous system filters all emotional experiences. In order to not over stress (anxiety) or under stimulate (lethargy, depression) the nervous system, we need to learn how to respond calmly during intense emotional situations. Given the almost epidemic growth of anxiety (chronic or intense worry) and depression (long-term or acute sadness) around the world, our innate ability to relax appears to be significantly underutilized.
Fortunately, relaxing our physical body and quieting our emotional reactivity emerges in a restorative yoga practice where props are used to support each pose. Muscular effort and tension are reduced while comfort and relaxation are induced. As dedicated yoga practitioners who healed ourselves from anxiety and depression, the restorative practice is still a favourite experience.
Regulate the breath — If we are unable to relax our bodies and quiet our minds, then very likely we are rapid, shallow, mouth breathers, which encourages hyperventilation and over stimulates our nervous system. Slow, deep breathing through the nostrils elongates our exhalation, lowering our heart rate and calming our nervous system. Furthermore, deep gentle nose breathing during emotionally intense situations helps us stay in a place of centred silence where we are able to listen with patience and compassion.
Cultivate direct experience — Direct experience implies living through present moment awareness. To do so, we are not recycling the past through regretting our behaviour, which can lead us down the pathway to depression. Neither are we only living in the future by worrying about the unknown, which is the root of anxiety. Instead, we are aware of and listening to the sensations emitted by our bodies. Our bodies are our best early-warning detection systems willingly and wisely alerting us to dangers or joys long before our minds have figured out what is happening.
Paying attention to our body’s sensations enables us to heal both emotional and physical injuries. After a medical diagnosis of torn meniscus in Helen’s knees and the suggested surgical treatment, she decided instead to use her yoga practice to alleviate knee pain.
For five years, she gave up jogging and committed to increasing the space and flexibility in her joints, particularly hips and ankles. Happily, she is back to jogging and sitting in Padmasana (lotus pose) with pain-free knees. Not only was she able to eliminate her physical health problem, she also increased her overall fitness and wellness due, in no small part, to learning the emotional source of the knee injury.
Quiet the mind — A racing mind cannot hold attention on the present moment. In our initial attempts to relax the body and still the mind through meditation and mindfulness practices, we often discover just how incessantly active the mind is. Its monkey-mind chatter can and does distract us from staying present to each emerging moment.
Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there — buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person has every day. Deepak Chopra
Because we have spent a good deal of our lives listening to our monkey mind rather than resting within the abiding quiet, we are unfamiliar with this inner space of centred silence where truth, wisdom and creative expression dwell. Rebuild your capacity to enter this silence and reward yourself with the gentler, wiser, more joyful and creative being that emerges — the authentic you.
Change your personal narratives — We have a favourite guided visualization we teach to beginning meditators. It goes like this: imagine there are three buckets beside you each labelled “Positive”, “Negative” and “Neutral.” Over the next 20 minutes, place all your negative thoughts in the negative bucket, all your positive thoughts in the positive bucket and all your neutral thoughts in the neutral bucket.
At the end of the visualization, we ask, “Which bucket is the fullest?” If you guessed the negative bucket, you are right. Most people, once they analyze their thoughts, realize the majority of their thinking is negative. And like the wonderful First Nation teaching of the Two Wolves, what we focus on we feed and thus increase in our lives.
We are huge proponents of the power of positive thinking and use affirmations to physically form new positive neural pathways in our brains. Neuroscience has proven when we stop repeating negative thought patterns, those grooves in our brain eventually disappear.
Negative thinking, such as worry, anxiety, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy and regret is an utter waste of time and energy. Have you noticed those who focus on negativity are often unhappy and unhealthy? Negative thoughts inhibit intuition, creativity, peace, love, joy and overall well-being. So, choose to be powerful with positive thoughts in your life and in the world. Change your story, and you will change your life.
Use the following breath action, visualization and restorative poses to awaken your whole being to wellness.
Action: Find your breath at the tips of your nostrils. Feel the coolness as you breathe in through your nose and the warmth as you breathe out through your nose. Allow your breath to become a deep natural inhalation and exhalation rhythm. Don’t force your breath. Instead, pretend you are a passenger in a boat floating on the waves of your breath. Let your breath guide the journey and notice the calm that comes over your mind and body.
For more advanced practitioners, as well as noticing the calm, become aware of changes occurring within your physical body (i.e., the release of muscle tension, aches or pains).
SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA (Lying Down Bound Angle Pose)
Sit in front of the bolster. Loop a belt around the back of your pelvis, over your thighs and under the outer edges of your feet. Tighten the belt just enough to allow you to lie back comfortably. Place supports under your outer thighs and head. Find the breath action. This supported pose directs the breath deeper into your lower belly and pelvic bowl. Stay for three to five minutes.
SAVASANA II (Corpse Pose II)
Sit in front of the bolster. Lie back fully supporting your rib cage. Place enough height under your head to easily direct your inner gaze to your upper cheeks. Find the breath action. This supported pose directs the breath into your lungs and heart. Stay for three to five minutes.
SALAMBA MAKARASANA (Supported Crocodile Pose)
Lie face down on a bolster. Let your forehead rest on your stacked hands. Allow your inner legs to rest comfortably. Find the breath action. This supported pose directs the breath into your back body more. Stay for three to five minutes.
Discover more actions for whole being wellness in Helen and Candace’s book series — Creating Space: Yoga Actions for Feet & Ankles; Legs & Knees; Pelvis & Psoas; Torso & Spine; Shoulders & Arms. To purchase these print or ebooks, visit their websites below. Winnipeggers Helen Maupin (www.righttojoy.com) and Candace Propp (www.natureofcontentment.com) are 500-hour certified yoga teachers and authors of the Creating Space: Yoga Actions book series. For yoga teacher training with them and Stacy Schroder, go to www.sereneyogastudio.com.