If attaining peace of mind were as simple as reminding ourselves to relax whenever we feel agitated, the majority of us would be blissed-out most of the time. Like any other worthwhile skill, though, relaxation takes practice.
Thankfully, yoga can be a good training ground for cultivating this fine art. And the skills we learn in our yoga practice can support us in the rest of our lives, helping us manage stressful times with clarity and balance.
What can we do to deepen our ability to drop into a state of relaxation and ease? How can we connect with our inner state of peace when our outer lives are awash in stress and chaos? These suggestions can help you make your way back to balance and tranquility, on and off the mat.
Exhale: One of the best ways to bring yourself back down to earth is to lengthen your exhalations. This form of breathing—as prescribed in the Yoga Sutra—encourages the nervous system to become calm and quiet, moving the body into a more restful state of being.
Focus Your Mind: Sometimes when the world sends us spinning, we want to do nothing more than drop into an easy chair and stare into space. But this approach often gives the brain free rein to continue its obsessive and agitated thinking. Instead, try focusing your mind in a constructive and engaging way: Practice a challenging asana or an absorbing breathing exercise.
Minimize External Stimulation: Turn off the television, unplug the telephone, and dim the lights—turn down the volume of your life, remembering that outer calm nurtures inner calm. During your yoga session, use an eye bag or eye wrap while you're in restorative postures to quiet the eyes and the brain.
Substitute Positive Thoughts for Negative Ones: The ancient yogic sage Patanjali counseled that when we are disturbed by negative thought patterns, we can recover our balance by inviting peaceful thoughts into our minds. So the next time you find yourself reeling with an agonizing fear or a depressing thought, notice the negative habit, toss it out, and use your creativity to develop a more positive outlook on the world.
Seek Out Laughter: There's nothing more stress-busting than a first-class belly laugh. Call your funniest friend, rent a comedy on video, or attempt a complicated arm balance that will likely leave you swaying and splattering to the floor. Some arm balances are so ridiculously difficult (and, let's face it, funny-looking), how could you not laugh?
Practice, Practice, Practice: Like fine wine, relaxation improves over time. Even if you don't happen to feel completely blissed-out in Savasana today, you are priming the body for quiet and ease tomorrow. Repeatedly practicing restful postures greases the wheel of relaxation, so you will be able to quickly and easily drop into a deep state of ease someday in the future.
Claudia Cummins teaches yoga in Mansfield, Ohio. At the moment, her favorite pose is Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose).