By: Francis McKenzie
There never seems to be enough time. Each day starts with a schedule, an inbox, a calendar filled with obligations. It’s no wonder we lie awake worrying about our to-do list or leave work at lunch (if we’re lucky) with a brain mumbling random tasks and frustrations. There is not enough quiet.
There’s no easy fix for a busy life, but there are ways to escape it, to master it, and to balance it out with calm. Yoga teaches a great deal on this concept, which is perhaps why it has become so popular. To those less familiar, yoga might appear to be another workout fad. In fact, the teachings of yoga become most fruitful when they exercise the mind. It doesn’t take becoming a complete yogi or keeping a rigid schedule of classes to learn some of the tricks. There are a few simple exercises, inspired by yoga, that help mellow out even the most torturous, active mind.
Breathing is something we do all the time. Breathing consciously is not. Thinking about taking slow, deep breaths means we are not thinking about all the other things that normally occupy our mind. Yoga breath, called pranayma, is done typically through the nose, breathing in slowly and out with a throaty, audible sound. Deep breathing consumes our entire body and its calming effects are immediate. Learning to breathe consciously can transform our state of mind, which is a handy tool for everything from placating petty fights at work to simply falling asleep.
Another simple tactic to help calm the mind is a standing pose common in yoga. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend at the waist, taking hold of opposite elbows and letting the weight of the arms and the head draw you forward and down. You can keep your knees slightly bent, and simply hang for a few minutes.
Legs up the Wall
This is a great one to pull out on nights you can’t sleep. Sometimes laying in this position and breathing for a little while will do the trick. Simply lie on your back and extend both legs up the wall. Keep your spine flat to the floor and your arms by your side. Keep breathing slowly and consciously.
Tree pose helps shut our mind chatter off because it forces us to balance (or fall over). Stand on one leg and bend the knee of the opposite leg and hold it for a second until you feel you have your balance. Concentrate on keeping the standing foot solid. Move the foot of the bent leg to rest on the inside of the thigh of the standing leg and keep the bent knee out to the side. Pause again, and when you feel balanced, lift your arms above your head, palms together. Hold this one for a few minutes and let yourself fall out and come back in to it until you can keep it long enough to forget what you wanted to forget.
Note of caution: this pose is not for beginners, and not one that should be tried without learning the proper pose with the help of a yoga instructor. If you’re a headstand expert and you’ve done it in a yoga class, the pose is definitely one to bring home. Standing on your head not only takes practice and focus, there is something about looking at the world upside down for a while that makes you feel calmer and blessed with a new perspective when you arrive right side up.
Meditation, according to Wikipedia, is defined as “a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the conditioned, ‘thinking’ mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. It often involves turning attention to a single point of reference.”
The thought of meditating may seem daunting and out of reach to anyone who doesn’t consider themselves “new age,” but all it takes is a solid try (don’t be afraid to engage your iPod to talk you through it) and even the most cynical will be a convert. There are hardly any rules—you can try it sitting or laying down. There’s no better way to tame the devil of an active mind.
Sure, all of this sounds great, but how do we incorporate it into our busy lives? Some of these ideas may help get you motivated to mellow out.
Discover lunchtime yoga.
There’s something about escaping for an hour during the middle of the day that allows us to return to the office and have a completely different perspective and a renewed focus on what we’re doing. Suddenly that annoying woman in marketing is slightly understood; that email that seemed insurmountable is a five-minute response.
Use online tools to help structure your relaxation.
There are several yoga and meditation segments available online to download. The beauty of building your own mash-up meditation or yoga is that you can design it to fit whatever space of time you can allot.
Create a space at home for chilling out.
(The couch with a TV does not count.) The space doesn’t have to be big—it should simply be a spot where you can sit and meditate or go when you’re not sleeping to practice any of the above methodologies.
It’s amazing how peaceful it can be to forget about the past and the future and simply focus on the present moment, whether it’s ten minutes of breathing or an hour of yoga. Keeping the mind calm adds a sense of flexibility that makes everyone a nicer person.