Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Do you feel like you’ve lost your usual self?
Maybe you can’t relax even when you have the time. Perhaps you feel the need to do everything but are unable to focus on anything. You may find yourself constantly rushing to get all the things done yet you never actually accomplish much. You may even feel edgy, defensive, or just out of sorts.
You’re not alone. There’s ample science that reveals the human brain is not designed to deal with the contemporary world and its endless decisions and countless priorities and nonstop multitasking. Nor is it natural to have to withstand the extended heightened tension of, well, everything that’s been happening in the world.
However, research also supports the profound effects of drawing your awareness back to your breath. Whether you consider it an ancient technique for grounding yourself or prefer to see it as regulating your nervous system, it doesn’t matter. When you slow down and lengthen your breath, good things happen.
This means that you can, at any time, draw on your body’s innate ability to regulate your nervous system by quietly noticing what you’re feeling in that moment. Less doing, more feeling.
In the tradition of yoga, poses that literally bring you to the ground or allow you to fold forward and block out the other distractions are the ones that most readily center and calm us. When this becomes your objective, your yoga practice can become less of a quick fix that allows you to go back into life and deplete yourself again before coming back to yoga. Instead, it can be more of a strategy that you take back with you in those difficult, unbalanced, and ungrounded moments in life, of which there are way too many, so that you don’t lose yourself so often. And, when you do, you can more easily come back to your usual self.
A 20-minute yoga practice to ground yourself
Supta Matsyendrasana (Reclining Twist)
Come onto your back. Slowly draw both knees toward your chest and bring your hands to your shins or the back of your thighs. Gently rock side to side or slowly circle, massaging your lower back. Play with gently curling your pubic bone toward your navel and then down toward your mat to release and lengthen your lower back.
Keep your knees drawn into your chest. Take your arms straight out to your sides in a T shape, palms up or down. Release both shoulder blades into the mat as you inhale deeply. As you exhale, drop both knees to the left, stacking them atop one another. Stay here for 4-5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Slowly come to your hands and knees, aligning your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. On an exhale, round your spine, pushing the floor away from you with both hands and gently lifting your navel toward your spine.
On an inhale, arch your spine, moving your heart forward and up and let your gaze follow. Repeat 4–5 times or more, if you like.
Stay here or, still on all fours, gently lift your navel to your spine to engage your abdominal muscles. Inhale and extend your right arm forward and your left leg straight behind you, keeping the inner left thigh rolling skyward. Exhale to bring your right elbow and left knee toward each other, rounding your spine and bringing your chin in toward your chest. Inhale and reach your right arm forward and left leg back. Do this 4–5 times on each side.
From Tabletop, bring your big toes to touch, let your knees slide a little wider than your hips, and ease your hips back over your heels with your arms extended. Bring your forehead to the mat or give yourself a bit more space here by placing a block or blanket beneath your head. Close your eyes and stay here for 16-20 breaths.
From Child’s Pose, inhale and bring yourself to Tabletop. As you exhale, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back into Downward Dog. Bend both knees deeply and work on keeping your hips lifted while pushing the floor away evenly through both hands. Eventually find stillness. Draw your shoulder blades toward your hips and relax your neck. Let your heels drop toward the mat. If you can, start to straighten your knees a little. Breathe deeply as you hold for 5-10 breaths.
Step one foot at a time to the top of your mat and separate your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees, hinge forward from your hips, and grasp opposite elbows or let your hands rest on the mat or blocks. Take 4–5 deep breaths. If you like, reach behind your back to interlace your fingers and clasp your palms together. Release your head down toward the mat as you breathe deeply for another 4–5 breaths.
With your feet together or hip-width apart, inhale and slowly reach your arms skyward. On an exhale, bring your palms together at your chest in anjali (heart) mudra or relax them alongside your body. Stand here with your shoulders relaxed, breathing deeply for 4–5 breaths or until you feel grounded and centered.
From Mountain Pose, with your feet parallel and toes pointing forward, bend your knees deeply, reaching your seat back as if you were about to sit in a chair. If you’d like, take a block between your thighs and squeeze. continue to squeeze the block. Breathe deeply for 5 to 10 breaths, then straighten your legs and come to stand in Mountain Pose. Repeat 1–2 more times.
From Mountain Pose, turn to face the long-edge side of your mat and step your feet wide, outer edges of your feet parallel with your mat’s short-edge sides. Bring your hands to your hips. Inhale and lift your chest; as you exhale, hinge from your hips and fold forward, bringing your hands underneath your shoulders to the floor or to blocks. Breathe deeply for 5 to 10 breaths.
Exhale and bring your hands to your hips. Inhale and slowly rise to standing facing the long side of the mat
Find a comfortable position on your back, with your feet falling out toward the side and your arms angled out from your body. Relax as you slowly exhale. Stay here for at least 2 minutes.
From Savasana, slowly draw your knees into your chest and roll onto one side. Take your time as you make your way to a cross-legged seat with your hips propped on a blanket or block, if that feels most comfortable. Allow your eyes to rest and find your breath. Stay here until you begin to feel ease in your breath. Remember this feeling and know that you can come back to it whenever you need.
About our contributor
Los Angeles-based teacher and model Grace Flowers started her practice 15 years ago. A student of Annie Carpenter, Maty Ezraty, Erich Schiffmann, Shiva Rea, Saul David Raye, and numerous others, Grace has a unique teaching style that encourages artistic exploration in her students. Learn more at graceflowersyoga.com.