Feeling overwhelmed?

By Jennie Lee

Just about everyone I know is feeling stressed and overwhelmed—too much on their plates, too many crises to contend with, too much frightening news to bear, and too much concern for their futures. And yet we’re also likely to proclaim ourselves “crazy busy” as if that were a badge of honor. However, I have noticed in my own life and in those of others who have a dedicated yoga practice that a more balanced approach takes the stress meter down a notch or two.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to offload some to-do list items and embrace brahmacharya, the yogic ideal of a more moderate life. In the Yoga Sutras, the teaching on brahmacharya recommends self-control, so that we don’t overdo things in any category of life, throwing ourselves out of balance and depleting our energy. As a result of practicing this moderation, the teaching says, we will not only experience greater peace but also increase our available energy.

With the upcoming holiday season and its inevitable surge of activities, now is a great time to take stock of your energy balance. Below are four yoga-inspired ways to avoid overwhelm. (A yoga therapist can help you to deepen and customize these practices. Find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist here.)

1. Decide what matters most
The word priority was originally singular, signifying the one thing that matters most at any given moment. It is actually impossible to have multiple priorities! By gently saying no to excessive activities, we preserve the joy in what we say a meaningful yes to. Consider what is the most authentic and most important use of your time and attention. Prioritize that, and let go of the rest.

2. Embrace simplicity
Cultural influences of consumerism and indulgence are strong around the holidays. As “householder yogis,” with families and worldly responsibilities, we can practice the yogic principle of saucha by choosing simplicity. We don’t have to get swept away in the tide of celebrating through material goods. We can combat overwhelm by buying less and expecting less. In this way, we step off the consumerism treadmill and get back to the foundation of holy holidays.

3. Practice even-mindedness
If people or activities are draining you, temporarily remove yourself from them. Practice responding consciously rather than reacting emotionally in the heat of the moment. Release attachment to how you think things should be, and be prepared to cancel plans if obstacles arise or you can’t show up in a calm state of mind. Set good personal boundaries to protect your energy reserves, and take frequent breathing breaks so stress doesn’t build up.

4. Don’t forget to meditate
A consistent daily practice of meditation gives you a sacred oasis amid the swirl of modern life. Choose a regular time and place for your practice and commit to it. Establish a routine so that when you get to your space, you know why you’re there and what you intend to do. Ritual is restful for the mind and allows us to drop more quickly into the stillness of the heart. Simple is fine: We can all find a minimum of 5 or 10 minutes a day to quietly focus on deep, slow belly breathing, for example.

The key to overcoming stress lies in prevention and in the conscious consistency of practices that support peace. If you prioritize your energy expenditures, simplify what you give attention to, strive to keep a calm mind, and anchor yourself in a daily dose of tranquility through meditation, over time serenity will replace overwhelm and each day will unfold with greater ease.

Jennie Lee, C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, is the author of the books Spark Change: 108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution; Breathing Love: Meditation in Action; and True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness & Spiritual Fulfillment. She has been a yoga therapist for more than 20 years.