Yoga therapy tips: Self-care for when everything changes
By Maggie McCuiston
As a self-employed person, I could easily work around the clock—especially if I don’t monitor myself!—and I have to specifically schedule time for self-care. As daily life shifts dramatically, carving out this time has become even more important.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the average American spent only 6.6% of their day on self-care. This percentage includes health-related recommendations from a doctor and doesn’t necessarily include also-worthwhile activities like meditating, exercising, and cooking healthy meals.
If you could give yourself an ideal daily “self-care percentage,” what would it be?
Whether you’re working a traditional job at home or on-site, parenting, or juggling a combination of responsibilities, practicing self-care
can feel like just another to-do on your list. And when your routine suddenly changes in ways beyond your control, how are you nourishing your own physical, mental, and emotional health?
Thankfully, yoga therapy offers straightforward, accessible tools you can use throughout the day to stay grounded, feel whole, and focus on whatever you need to get done. The following simple tips can help you make self-care a full-time part of your day—no matter what life brings.
It really can help to take a deep breath sometimes! In yoga, controlled breathing is called pranayama, and several techniques can help you to feel more energized, calm, or balanced. One breathing practice I love for balance is viloma pranayama, where special attention is given to the pauses in the breath (kumbhaka).
Try the practice for yourself now*:
- Inhale for a count of 5, hold for 2; exhale for 5, and hold for 2.
- The breath hold is not meant to be a tight constriction, but rather a gentle pause to connect with and feel the spaces between breaths.
- You can do this practice at any time of day, but it’s especially nice if you are feeling overwhelmed or out of balance.
Perhaps one of the most impactful self-care techniques we can offer ourselves is to listen. Not just listening to the chattering mind—we probably all do plenty of that!—but listening deeply to the wisdom of the body. Yoga therapy teaches us to pay attention to ourselves through the practice and sense of interoception, the gentle art of listening to what’s going on inside. As a starting point, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I comfortable with how I am sitting right now?
- Is there anything I can do to be more present to what’s happening?
- What am I feeling in my body?
You may be surprised at what shows up. Try to welcome whatever that might be as a messenger from your body, and listen to what this wisdom is offering.
Be OK with yourself
As we move through this shifting time with so many unknowns, the yogic principles called yamas (ethical disciplines) and niyamas (rules of conduct) can be useful guides to help us remain in harmony with ourselves and others. Ahimsa (nonharming) and santosha (contentment) are two concepts you can try incorporating throughout your day.
One way to practice ahimsa is to ask yourself whether you can be more gentle in the way you talk to yourself. Our own thoughts can be just as harmful as what others may say. To paraphrase the Anguttara Nikaya, a Buddhist text, “Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.” We cannot control what is happening around us; however, we can release our grip on trying to control situations or people. Letting things come and go instead of holding tight is a practice of santosha. Experiencing a wide range of emotions is normal, and santosha allows us to be OK with whatever we are feeling.
Try sprinkling one or more of these simple yoga therapy practices into your day. You may find that unexpected balance, ease, and flexibility emerge as we move through these changing times together.
Maggie McCuiston, MS, C-IAYT, works in an integrative wellness center in Long Beach, Calif., and as a freelance editor, writer, and yoga researcher.
*As with any yogic practice, please do what’s best for your own system and follow recommendations from your personal healthcare providers. If you feel dizzy or light-headed when you hold your breath, resume your natural breath. You might try again after a few moments, decreasing the length of your pauses. Also consider working with a yoga therapist to identify a pranayama that works better for you.