The yoga practices included here are informed by ancient yoga practices and LifeForce Yoga® practices.
We’ve all felt it.
A nervous twitch on our first day of work. A racing pulse just before we take the test or meet our blind date or any other new event we may be unfamiliar with with.
Anger at the person who cut in line at the store or cut us off on the highway. Sadness at not getting the promotion we want or missing the party or blowing the race we trained so hard far.
Having some degree of anxiety or depression or anger in our everyday lives is not unusual. But when it takes over our mind-body with symptoms that control our moods, thoughts, and actions, that’s when we need to know how to hit the reset button.
Sadly, trauma is going mainstream these days as the new normal. With today’s frightening increase of mass shootings and random bombings, along with the personal stressors, daily pressures, and triggers that set us off course, more and more of us are finding ourselves on the front lines of our fears, unarmed and ill-equipped to know how to respond.
In our western world, we are facing problems and patterns that as a culture are not familiar to us. Yet it’s a new normal that we parents and teachers—even our children—have to think about. It makes us wonder how we can feel safe again, who of our loved ones is going to succumb to the devastating emotional effects of trauma and fall victim to the darkness of addiction as a result.
We are no longer in a position where we can wait for something outside of us to change in order to feel better and more balanced. We need to know how to go inside ourselves to reset our mind and body and feel whole again when dangerous and frightening situations steal our sense of self, and our moods and emotions run havoc.
Even with 20-plus years of experience as a psychologist working with people with wounds, and a certified yoga therapist supporting teachers and seekers, I too have days when my mood gets the better of me, sending me back to a time when hurt ruled my head and hid my heart.
We all do. Traumatic events, big and small, vicarious or personally experienced, have a way of imprinting in our bodies, leaving us vulnerable to any number of real or neuroceptive dangers that may trigger the trauma we lived through.
If you are feeling more emotionally reactive today, that makes sense given the times we live in. You might be feeling more anxious, depressed, or fearful without really knowing why. It may be a feeling you can’t quite put your finger on, but one that makes you feel uneasy and unable to focus.
It could be the sound of a siren that makes your pulse quicken and takes your breath away as you begin to relive an accident from long ago. You may cringe and cower during an angry confrontation or lose your temper in an uncontrolled rage. You may panic or go numb at the touch of a person who reminds you of the abuse you suffered at the hands of another, or you may feel faint when asked to speak in front of a crowd.
It could be any number of things that set you back, stop you in your tracks, and make you freeze, flee, or fight, whether it seems to make sense to you or not, whether it is at a good time or not—and you don’t know what to do when you are faced with your fears.
These are the ripe times when common emotional vulnerability may lead to checking out behaviors to attempt to numb the pain, uncertainty, or sense of helplessness. It’s the place where we may turn to social media addiction, gaming, drugs, alcohol, or food as a way to try to balance out a sense of imbalance happening, right now, in the mind-body system that is you.
Instead of surrendering to your reactions as your new normal, you can learn to manifest your own power by making a commitment to hold you and your self-care as your highest priority. The power to take back control really does comes from within.
When stress strikes, there are accessible ways to hit the reset button and find your breath and balance again. By integrating mind and body work, you can access practices that are effective in virtually any triggering situation.
I call them “microdoses of yoga”—five-minute, do anywhere, anytime practices that can change your response to situations that challenge you. And it doesn’t matter how often you access them. They are effective and empowering each and every time. In fact, this is why I refer to these practices as microdoses. Whenever the need arises, give yourself a dose of what you truly need to find balance, to return to, or maybe to visit for the first time as sense of finding the place of comfort, nourishment, and/or grounding that comes from within.
Imagine you are driving over a bridge or in a tunnel, or maybe you are stuck in a snowstorm. The traffic is at a dead stop. Your heart starts to pound, your skin gets clammy, your hands sweat, beads of perspiration run down your forehead, and that “oh, no” loop of thinking gets activated.
When anxiety, big or small, tries to hijack you, try this:
Tell yourself the following: “Right now, in this moment, I am uncomfortable. I have resources to manage my discomfort and to find comfort.”
If you are parked and your hands do not need to be on the wheel, press the fingertips of your hands together, palms apart, like you are holding something fragile, and rest your hands in your lap.
Take a long inhale through your nose, and then do a long exhale with an audible sigh, keeping your mouth open. Be sure your exhale is longer than your inhale.
Repeat this breathing exercise three to five times. Check in with yourself, and try to notice the difference in how you feel in your mind and body.
Ask yourself, “Do I need another dose?” If you need one, take one.
This practice will decrease the physical sensations of anxiety and fear moving through you. It also helps to decrease blood pressure, regulate heart rate, and return your body to a relaxation response. It’s nice to remember that physiologically the human body cannot simultaneously be in a state of panic and a state of calm!
Now let’s say that your anger gets triggered and begins to elevate your emotional reactivity, as anger often does. Maybe you just had an issue with your boss or colleague, or perhaps your teenager or partner has made you angry. It doesn’t really matter what the “story” of the anger is, at least not for these purposes. What matters is meeting the anger by owning it, releasing it, and returning to a state of balance.
Say to yourself or out loud, “Right now, in this moment, I feel anger moving through me. I have resources to manage my anger and return to a state of equilibrium.”
Take a full inhale through the nose. On a long exhale, open your mouth wide, eyes wide open, and stick out your tongue, “roaring” like a tiger on a long, slow exhale.
With your hands, bring the left hand into your lap, palm up; put your right palm on top of the left, also facing up. Bring the tips of the thumbs together so they are touching.
With each “Lion’s Breath,” say to yourself silently or out loud what you are releasing (or imagine a picture in your mind of what you are releasing). For example, “I am releasing anger about how my boss just treated me.”
Take three to five breaths. Allow yourself to name what angered you in a few words without attaching a story or details to it.
When you finish the breaths, pause and reflect, noticing how you feel.
If you’d like, keep your hands in this position, palms up, one on top of the other, a little longer and listen to the feedback your mind and body are giving you. If you need to, take another dose of three to five breaths.
This practice will help calm the mind and redirect you to find your “center” again during angering and chaotic situations. It helps to reduce tension in the jaw, neck, and face, areas of the body that often tighten up with anger. It also helps to build overall confidence and gain a sense of empowerment over your anger. (This is also a great practice for kids!)
Now let’s say that something triggers you into a fear response, something that really frightens you. It may be that your trigger comes from a trauma in your past or it may be related to something happening right now. Again, this is not intended to be a treatment for trauma. Rather, these are in-the-moment practices that serve as interventions to return to balance when we get activated.
You have a choice of two practices here—one if you are alone and have privacy, and the other if you don’t. The beauty of these microdosing practices is to know that no matter where we are, we always have choices.
If you have the privacy and are able to stand up, this is the practice for you. Say to yourself or out loud, “Right now, in this moment, I feel fear moving through me. I have resources to manage my fear and return to a state of equilibrium.”
Stand with your feet a hip-distance apart, with a little bend in the knees. Keep both feet entirely grounded on the earth. Let your arms rest easefully at the sides. Begin to bounce the whole body, shaking and bouncing the whole body while taking slow, deep inhales through the nose, and long, extended exhales through the mouth.
Take three to five long, slow breaths. If you like, soften or close the eyes.
This may feel silly the first time you do it! Allow the body to come to stillness slowly. Please don’t just stop; let your body find stillness on it’s own.
Stand, pause, and receive the effects of this bounding practice. You may notice some tingling in your hands and arms, some shimmering energy in the face. Allow your eyes to gently open.
What do you notice? Ask yourself, “Do I need another dose?”
Allow yourself to get creative as to where you can do these practices. I have been known to take my practices into my car, in bathroom stalls, outside in nature, behind any closed door.
If you are not alone, find a chair where you can sit with both feet firmly and evenly grounded. Say to yourself or out loud, “Right now, in this moment, I feel fear moving through me. I have resources to manage my fear and return to a state of equilibrium.”
Tuck each thumb across the palm of the hand and then wrap the other four fingers around the thumbs. Place your hands, with fists down and arms straight, on your lap. Look around and name three things you see (i.e., I see kids playing outside, I see a picture of my family on the desk, I see a plant in the corner), then name three things you hear (i.e., I hear the sound of the fan, I hear trucks honking, I hear people talking), then three things you feel/sense (i.e., I feel warmth in my palms, I feel my back supported by the chair, I feel my feet on the ground).
Imagine now that you are inhaling up from the “sitz” bone to the top of your head with the words “I am,” and exhaling from the top of your head down to the seat with “here.” Repeat this with your breath two more times.
Pause, notice, and receive the feedback from your mind and body. Do you feel a bit more present?
The key takeaway is to remember to go inside when the outside overwhelms, take a breath, find your balance, and restore your power. The more you do it, the more it works, anywhere and every time—for everyone!
“Go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out.” ~ Katherine Dunham