5 Simple Practices to Cultivate Calm When Life Feels Craziest
Having one of those days when you feel like you’re spinning? Sure, making a beeline for your yoga mat is a great idea. But for an instant hit of calm when you're on the go, try one of these simple practices that you can do anywhere, anytime.
By Jennifer Kreatsoulas
You know that moment in yoga class when the world finally seems to slow down and a subtle but palpable inner calm sets in? Distractions fade and worries fall away. Senses heighten, sensation reveals itself, and your breath has room to move and expand. At last—the present moment! You’ve arrived!
Daydream with me for a bit: In your mind’s eye, take yourself to this moment on your mat. Notice all that you can about yourself: the pose you’re in; the positions of your hands and feet; the expression on your face; your mood and energy levels; the colors and features of the space around you. Stay with this vision of yourself for a few breaths, embodying the tranquility it holds.
If your life is like mine—quite full—calm is not always easy to access. Or, I should say, easy to remember to access. Surely, a healthy dose of stress comes into play for most of us from time to time. (Or, let’s get real, most of the time.) However, prolonged stress often accumulates into feelings of overwhelm and anxiety—and these feelings drain our energy, leaving us exhausted and caught in a perpetual cycle of craziness. The crazier life feels, the harder it is to remember that we can find calm, even if for just a few minutes.
Yet even short periods of calm and inner ease are golden. Our nervous system has a chance to unwind, which in turn allows tense muscles to relax and thoughts to slow down. We also breathe more fully, and that alone can be tremendous in creating inner calm and balancing our whole beings.
As my little visualization above suggests, your yoga practice is a very effective and healthy way to cultivate calm when life feels overwhelming. In addition to practicing yoga and taking yourself in your mind to “that moment” on your mat in order to access a little calm in the crazy, you can also try these simple yoga-inspired practices that you can do anywhere, anytime.
Yoga philosophy teaches that the more neutral we can remain in our lives, the less we will suffer. For example, think of a yoga pose that physically challenges you. Visualize yourself in the pose. Then, notice: What's your attitude in the pose? Are you miserable and distracted or unaffected and open to what is? When we hold a sense of calm in a pose, our physical, emotional, and mental dispositions are more toward neutral than when we are impatient.
This same idea applies off the mat, too. When we are swirling in the craziness of life, we tend to embody the opposite of neutral. To be neutral does not suggest we shouldn’t care. Instead, neutral means not being over- or underwhelmed with emotion. We sort of settle into the moment and just be. When you sense yourself getting worked up and you feel stress settle in your body (perhaps in your neck, shoulders, or arms) and your mind start to spin, that's the time to shift from distress to a more neutral zone.
To do this, purposefully relax tense areas of your body, and repeat “I am neutral”—or just simply say the word “neutral” to yourself over and over until you sense yourself calming down. You might also firmly ground your feet into the floor or your hands into each other and take a few deep breaths to help create neutrality within your body.
Deep breathing is great—magical even—when dealing with stress and overwhelm. But sometimes we need to let off some serious steam. To do that peacefully, let out a good, strong sigh. Try one. And then try it again, but this time, exhale like you mean it. I sigh all the time. Even when I am feeling happy. Sighing is an easy way to release, reconnect with yourself and the moment, and clean out stagnant thoughts and emotions—like frustration and irritation about how busy you are or how crazed you feel.
The beautiful thing about breathing is that we do it unconsciously. It just happens. And thank goodness for that, considering how many inhalations and exhalations we take each day. But right now, consciously bring your attention to your breath—and inparticular, notice the pause that happens after you inhale and the one that happens after you exhale. These brief pauses hold a world of calm in times of constant motion. Your only task is to notice a pause. That’s it. Place your concentration on the pause between your inhalations and exhalations for a few moments the next time you’re feeling totally crazed. Just watch as the background noise fades away and you seem to effortlessly find time and space to focus on just this one thing: the pause between your breaths. Your mind will receive a well-deserved rest from its frenetic thinking and doing, and your body will appreciate the nourishment that comes from breathing mindfully.
This position, commonly known as Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal), is likely familiar to you, because it’s often done during yoga class. Connecting your hands in this way offers a point of grounding in the body. The pressure from the act of pressing your palms together creates a sensation in your hands, arms, and possibly even your shoulders—and paying attention to physical sensation like this is a helpful way to become more present and less preoccupied with your thoughts. Firmly press your hands together and bring your awareness to the feeling of palm in palm, fingertips to fingertips. Take a few moments to stay focused on the feeling of your hands pressing into one another as you take 10 deep breaths. Count your breaths to help deepen your focus and detach from stressful worries. Stay with this hand position and your breath for as long as you need. And remember that you can return to it as many times as is helpful to feel calmer. In fact, I like to think of this hand position as a literal reset button: Each time I bring my hands in prayer it’s a reminder to take a moment, breathe, and find some calm for a few moments.
Just as our hands serve as points of grounding, so do our feet. Consider how easy it is to lose connection with the ground when we are living in our heads. We find ourselves in the past or future, or completely caught up in whatever thoughts that are driving us to feel crazed. Firmly pressing your feet into the ground (think Mountain Pose) is a powerful way to reconnect with the moment. Whether you are standing or sitting, simply plant both feet on the floor. Feel the steadiness and support of the floor (or earth), and then choose one of the practices above to seek some inner ease. Remind yourself often throughout the day to find the ground. You might even write this phrase down in multiple places for a visual reminder—which can help you create even a little more calm.
About the Author Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT-500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is an inspirational speaker dealing with eating-disorder recovery and body image and coauthor of the forthcoming book, Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship With Your Body (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). In addition to her private yoga-therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga-therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and yoga workshops and retreats on eating-disorder recovery and body image. Jennifer also trains yoga professionals how to nurture positive body image in students and private clients at the YogaLife Institute in Wayne, PA. She is the cofounder of 11 Elements: A Body Compassion Project Yoga Retreat, and a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Jennifer's writing about her personal and professional experiences on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating-disorder recovery have appeared in Yoga Journal and influential blogs. She has appeared on Fox29 News and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, and the ED Matters podcast. Connect with Jennifer: www.ChimeYogaTherapy.com.