If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you’ve probably had this experience: You’re holding a pose and the tension is more than you can take. Your muscles are reaching their pain and stamina threshold, but you are reminded to breathe into the sensation. And, when you do, you notice that you can tolerate the tension and hold the pose a little bit longer. Sometimes, the tension actually subsides and you are able to deepen the stretch.
Here’s what happened: You experienced a stressor and, rather than resist it or get bent out of shape over it, you rode the wave of sensation and watched it change and then recede.
If you are like me, you’ve probably also had this experience: You leave the sanctity of yoga class, and life starts throwing you stressors. Maybe you’re late for an important meeting because you’re stuck in a major traffic jam, or maybe you get a call from your teenager, who’s just crashed your car. All of a sudden, the stress-management tools you learned in yoga class are a distant memory, if not completely forgotten.
You may be increasingly skilled at practicing yoga on the mat, but when it comes to practicing yoga off the mat, you’re still a bit clueless.
When stressors arise we can choose to “ride the waves,” by following the same techniques we practice in our yoga class:
- Breathe: Breathe when uncomfortable sensations such as fear, anger, sadness, and so on arise. Breathing takes us from fight or flight, the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system that promotes relaxation. Just like on the yoga mat, as you breathe into the sensations, they relax and change.
- Relax: Try to soften your muscles and relax around the tension. (Relax your facial muscles, soften your jaw, drop your shoulders). There is always going to be stress and tension in life but we can cultivate ways to soften around it.
- Feel: Feel our feelings, notice the sensations that arise in our bodies. Feelings are not the problem, it is what we do to try to control them that digs a hole. So, when a stressor arises, try giving yourself permission to feel whatever comes with it. Let the experience move through you.
- Watch: You might have been encouraged in yoga class to step back and watch yourself in the midst of a challenging pose. That can be helpful in life too. Witnessing consciousness is the capacity to notice what is happening without judgment, the ability to observe with compassion.
- Allow: This can be tricky for those of us who like to be in control, but just as we strive to allow painful sensations to arise and pass in yoga class, we can do the same in life. We can’t control other people, situations, or things but we can develop passionate nonattachment. We can relax into the experience rather than trying to force it. It will always pass!