What is the secret to happiness? We asked Bo Forbes, a clinical psychologist, author, and yoga and mindfulness teacher with training in stress management, biopsychology, and behavioral medicine. In her YJ mini-series, Happiness Toolkit, Forbes offers “tiny two-minute tools” for finding joy, based in simple, science-backed methods. (Don’t miss her classes and workshops at YJ LIVE New York, April 21-24. Get your pass today!)
Extensive research has shown that relaxation practices like restorative yoga have tangible effects: They lower cortisol (a chemical messenger involved in the stress response), can support subcutaneous fat loss, increase immunity, and promote digestion in the belly brain, our mood regulator.
Restorative yoga also facilitates what some researchers call constructive internal reflection, which we can think of as our reflect-and-redirect response. This is a major key to happiness: It helps us to edit and transform the negative inner narratives (“I’ll never be loved,” “I’ll never get what I need from others,” or “I’m always going to be a failure”) that reinforce anxiety and depression. Pair either of the next two restorative poses with slow nasal breathing. As you grow more comfortable in the pose, and the nervous system regains equilibrium, the mind can drop into the body. And it turns out that mindful awareness of the body plays a role in our stress resilience, our freedom from suffering, and our capacity to experience happiness.
The Tiny Two-Minute Tools
Face-down Burrito Pose balances the physical expression of anxiety
Props: 1 blanket, 1 eye pillow
- Fold a blanket three times lengthwise to make a long, narrow blanket. The blanket should be about 6–8 inches wide and no more than three inches thick.
- Lie over the blanket so that it is under your abdomen, not your hips. Ideally, the blanket will fit between your hip bones and lower ribs. (Your lower ribs should be forward of the blanket, while your hips bones will be a bit behind it.)
- Make a pillow of your arms or hands and rest your head to either side. If this is uncomfortable for your neck, rest your forehead straight down on your hands.
- If your head is turned to the side, you may place an eye pillow on the side of your head, above your ear. If your head is looking down, you can place an eye pillow on the back of your head or neck.
- Breathe deeply through your nose. To quiet the pace of your thoughts, make your exhale a little longer than your inhale.
Blanket adjustment: If your torso is on the shorter side, create a narrower fold. In this case, fold your blanket four times, first lengthwise, then lengthwise three more times. Place it on your mat with the rounded edge closer to the front of the mat.
Supported Relaxation Pose reduces depression-induced physical fatigue
Props: 1 blanket, 2 bolsters, 1 eye pillow
- Sit on a mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place a double-folded blanket behind you so the rounded edge starts at the curve of your waist. (Allow an inch or two between the buttocks and blanket.) The blanket will support you from the tip of your tailbone to beyond the crown of your head.
- Place a bolster under your knees in one of three positions that best supports your lower back: Where your buttocks meet your hamstrings (to help tilt the pelvis and ease back strain), under the middle of the hamstrings halfway toward the knees (to allow the spine to stay neutral), or directly under the backs of the knees (to allow more arch in the lower back).
- Lie down on your back and place arms out to a 30–45-degree angle. If it’s comfortable, place elbows and hands face-up; otherwise allow arms to be halfway between face-up and face-down. You can also place your hands on your abdomen, with or without added weight (see below).
- Place an eye pillow over your eyes or on/above your brow bone to reduce sensory stimulation. If you don’t have an eye pillow, place a small towel over your eyes to shut out the light.
- Breathe deeply through your nose. Lengthen your inhale and your exhale. Keep them in a natural ratio or, to quiet your mind, let your exhale be longer than your inhale.
- Optional: If you like, add a bolster on top of you width-wise across your hip flexors or abdomen or lengthwise down your body. This added weight stimulates the vagus (rest-and-digest) nerve, feels grounding and creates a sense of being “held” in the pose.
ADD TO YOUR HAPPINESS TOOLKIT
Why an Eye Pillow Is Your Stress Rx
A Simple Belly Massage to Stoke Health, Happiness, and Digestion
5 Mindfulness Practices to Rewire Your Brain and Improve Health
Build Boundaries with a Belly Breathing Meditation
Register now for Forbes’s YJ LIVE! San Diego workshops, June 24-27, including Body Maps, Cultivating Happiness, The Connective Tissue Matrix, and Yoga, Creativity, and the Body.
ABOUT BO FORBES
Bo Forbes is a clinical psychologist, a yoga teacher and an integrative yoga therapist whose background includes training in biopsychology, behavioral medicine, sleep disorders and stress management. She is the founder of Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, a system that specializes in the therapeutic application of yoga for anxiety, insomnia, depression, immune disorders, chronic pain, physical injuries and athletic performance. Bo conducts teacher trainings and workshops internationally, writes frequently for Yoga Journal, Body + Soul, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and other leading magazines, and is on the advisory board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and the Give Back Yoga Foundation. She is part of a research collaborative that investigates the contemplative practice of yoga, and will participate in the Mind and Life Institute’s Summer Research Institute this year. She is also the author of Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Relieve Anxiety and Depression. Learn more at boforbes.com and via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.