by Stephanie Harding
At the end of October, with Hurricane Sandy threatening the northeast, I returned to New York from Yoga Therapist training in sunny California. I had to jump right in to prepare for the storm – clearing the gutters and the basement, taking any potential projectiles inside, filling buckets and bottles with water. When the storm hit, we immediately lost power. I tried to concentrate on a candle-lit game of Scrabble with my family as we listened to the howling wind, the creaking house, and yard debris slamming into the windows. In the end, we were lucky – we were without power, internet or phone for more than a week, but many of my neighbors sustained damage to trees and houses. Two young boys in the next town were killed by a falling tree; many others, especially those who live along the ocean shore, lost loved ones to falling trees and storm surges. So many people are now homeless.
It can be hard to maintain equanimity and serenity amid all the worry and sense of helplessness we face in our modern society: looming superstorms and their aftermath, continuing economic hardship, political discord and violence. Now the holidays are upon us (What, already? Aren’t they a few weeks early??), with the combined stress and delight they always bring, and I, for one, am struggling to remember that, as my family gathers around me, we have so much to be thankful for. Luckily, yoga offers some wonderful tools for de-stressing and restoring equanimity.
One of the best ways to de-stress is to extend the exhale. Try this:
- Sit on a chair, feet under your knees, back straight but relaxed, hands on your thighs. Take a few moments to feel your body – noticing your feet, legs, buttocks, hands, shoulders, top of your head. Bring your attention to your breath. Breathing through your nose, follow the flow of air through your body – inhaling chest to belly, exhaling belly to chest.
- Keeping your breath long and smooth, start to count your breath, starting with a four second inhale and a four second exhale.
- As you breathe, progressively lengthen the exhale, but only as long as you can keep the breath smooth – don’t force it.
- Notice the effect of the breath on your body – your rib cage expanding and contracting, your abdomen rising and falling, your spine arching and extending as you inhale and relaxing as you exhale.
- Continue for about five minutes, and then start to decrease the length of the exhale.
Bringing your attention to your breath and extending the exhale in this way allows you to shift your focus away from the source of your stress and concern, giving you a moment of respite, and perhaps even offering a fresh perspective.
Stephanie Harding, is an AVI 500 Hour Teacher Training graduate and a current student in the AVI Yoga Therapy Program. She worked in Information Technology for many years before becoming a yoga teacher in 2006. Stephanie currently teaches (www.rippowamyoga.com) at several locations in central and northern Westchester County, NY and has been actively involved with the Viiniyoga Stress Reduction Program (VSRP) piloted with Aetna Insurance to reduce stress in workplace employees. She also serves as secretary for the American Viniyoga Institute Foundation.