Violence, fear, hate. I have been overwhelmed lately by the racial and social injustices encompassing our communities, filling our world. I recognize my own privilege and I choose to use my voice to speak against separation and to support healing. If I am aware of my place in the bigger picture, managing my own emotions, tending to my body and mind compassionately, then I am far more equipped to show up for others, to address systemic trauma mindfully and with compassion. Yoga and mindfulness have helped tremendously here, and they provide tools that work not only on a personal level but can be used for positive social change.
I do believe there is hope. There are organizations like Niroga who supports communities throughout the Bay Area to discover their own innate power for health and healing. They seek to bring about change on a systemic level, working in schools and community centers. They strengthen individuals who then strengthen their communities. I want to share some practices that Niroga uses as foundation in much of its work, practices that bolster inner energy to allow us to then face the world with centeredness, ready to act with empathy.
The following are five tips for stress resilience, tips to discover how your body, emotions, and mind currently operate under stress and tips to work with stress in a healthy way. Last week I shared the first three tips in my weekly Health & Wellness group for adults with substance abuse and mental illness. We put the simple tips into practice, and nearly everyone reported feeling more aware of how their body feels when stressed and more able to address their stressors healthfully. The simple things are the big things.
Resiliency is crucial when injustice is raging. May you be resilient, may our communities be resilient.
1. Release the Tension in Your Body
From clenched fists, to shoulders that are crunched up to our ears, to an upset stomach, there is almost invariably a physical manifestation to stress. One of the most useful stress resilience skills we will ever know is recognizing the effect that stress has on the body… that way we can take a few moments to soften it!
As we soften the physical tension caused by stress, our nervous system begins a cascade of events to bring about calm and enhances our ability to think clearly. With a calm mind and a body that isn’t exhausted from holding tension, we can effectively deal with what is causing the stress.
Try this simple shoulder relieving technique: Roll your shoulders backwards in slow circles about 5 times, then switch directions. Now, keep your chest lifted and your shoulders relaxed down: exhale to bring your chin down to your chest, then inhale your left ear to hover over your left shoulder, exhale to let your chin come back down to your chest, inhale the right ear to the right shoulder. Go very slowly, rocking your head down and to the sides 5-10 times.
2. Use your Breath as a Tool
Just as we can recognize stress through tension in the body, we can also notice changes in our breath as markers of stress. Holding the breath as a result of anxiety, huffing and puffing in anger are great examples… but what about this: a sigh of relief.
Next time you feel angry, sad, fearful, anxious, or any other stressful emotion - try calming your breath first. Lengthening your breath immediately slows you down, helping to bring you to the present moment. Exhales that are longer than inhales calm the nervous system.
Try this cooling breath technique:
Inhale gently through your nose, exhale gently through pursed lips - as if you are trying to blow the feathery seeds off a dandelion.
3. Choose Where to Focus
It is so common to let stress get the better of us, hijacking our minds, emotions, and often our actions. It can be helpful to acknowledge stress when it is present so that we can move on in a more directed manner.
Take time to acknowledge your stress, to understand why it is there and how it is manifesting. Once you have had your “little moment of acceptance,” as I like to call it, you will notice that you aren’t as attached to the stress as you were before. Now you can go about your business with your head on straight.
Try this stress-busting mindfulness practice:
Take out a pen and paper and write down everything that is stressing you out. It’s okay if some of the stressors seem irrelevant. Once you have your list of stressors, write a potential solution for each.
This exercise is about stopping everything you’re doing so that you can shake off that annoying feeling that has been keeping you from acting with ease.
4. Start a Daily Practice
The best preventative medicine out there is a daily Dynamic Mindfulness practice that incorporates movement, breathing, and centering. After all, what happens when you practice something? YOU GET BETTER AT IT.
Even if it’s a few minutes a day, a little experience of stress relief and self-awareness leave us more prepared to confront the life’s unending trail of stressors.
Combine the three practices above for a complete mini-mindful break.
Release that pent-up physical tension, cool down your breathing, and use your awareness with intention. If making a list of stressors, as tip 3 explains, doesn’t seem
appropriate, make instead a list of 5 things you are grateful for - this practice will build up your muscle of appreciation, bringing more joy and humility to your day.
5. Join the Conversation
The more activated we are when it comes to matters of feeling good, the better we’ll feel (see point 4). Building community through stress resilience means nobody is left behind, and everyone will have the opportunity to succeed.
As an ambassador for Niroga Institute, I am proud to be part of the movement to bring yoga and mindfulness to our communities in need. After all, safe communities, healthy families, and successful individuals don’t grow in a vacuum, we must all do our part to support those around us.
Join the movement at Niroga’s Stress Resilience Conference
Wednesday, August 3rd
Downtown Oakland, CA
Use this code to receive an exclusive $50 discount: SRC16MH
As an ambassador for Niroga, I am proud to be part of the movement to share yoga and mindfulness with our communities in need. After all, safe communities, healthy families, and successful individuals don’t grow in a vacuum, we must all do our part to support those around us. May you be resilient, may our communities be resilient.