Q&A: Reclaiming ease in everyday life

By Megan DeRosa, with IAYT

What does it mean to reclaim ease in everyday life, and how can we use yoga therapy techniques to do so? The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) asked yoga therapist and well-being researcher Megan DeRosa about the concept of ease and how she integrates it into her life—even in the most challenging of moments.

IAYT: Tell us a bit about yourself. As a yoga therapist, what interests you about this concept of ease? 

Megan DeRosa: People say “I’m crazy busy” like it’s a badge of honor. The hectic pace of modern life is unsustainable, but how do we change our pattern of living? Both science and yoga therapy give us the answer: Voluntary slowdowns (a.k.a., practice). 

More than two decades of studying, teaching, and experiencing have shown me that slowing down and practicing ease are essential to well-being. Science backs this up. For more happiness and less stress, research guides us to embrace voluntary slowdowns in our daily life. Yoga therapy offers an abundance of mind-body tools to help us with this. And neuroscience reveals that the mind and body communicate within and through these slowdowns to promote health and healing.

In a world saturated with burnout, it’s vital that we take time to pause. When we tilt toward ease, we experience benefits that are both powerful and empowering. Leaning into ease from time to time transforms how we move, feel, and live.

IAYT: Where does the word sukha come from, and what does it mean? Can you give us an example of how it can show up in daily life? 

DeRosa: I first found sukha in a yoga studio. The teacher shared a commonly quoted verse from a foundational yogic text, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. “Sthira-sukham asanam,” he said, guides us to find a posture (asana) that is both steady (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).” As a young athlete and self-conscious teenager, sukha meant exploring comfort in and with my body. Over the next 30 years, I came to learn that sukha is a rich Sanskrit word, which literally translates as “good space” or “happy place.” Depending on the source, it’s also been described as relaxation, joy, gentleness, softness, and (you guessed it) ease. This one word holds so many nourishing qualities. 

From a scientific perspective, the practice of sukha elicits the relaxation response (RR), which research has described as an antidote to chronic stress. We can encourage our RR through the body, which in turn influences our thoughts and emotions (i.e., neurophysiological, bottom-up processing). And, we can prompt our RR through the mind, which causes a cascade of effects in our physiology (i.e., neurocognitive, top-down processing).

Many of us are out of practice with sukha, so how do we reclaim this good space in daily life? I read something the other day that sums up my approach: Go small and show up (basically the opposite of “go big or go home”). We show up for our minds and bodies in small—yet powerful—ways, by sprinkling little drops of movement, meditation, intention, and breath into our days.

IAYT: What yoga practices do you recommend for inviting sukha into daily life? 

DeRosa: When I became a mom almost 9 years ago, I no longer had stretches of time to practice and cultivate sukha. I studied and explored the science and art of micro-interventions. To invite ease into my life and work—to meet myself where I was—I experimented with tiny doses of mind-body medicine that brought big benefits. Over time, I developed an approach I now call Notice, Adjourn, Practice (a.k.a., NAP). Here are a couple NAP examples in a typical day of mothering and working:

 

It’s 6:45 am. I’m startled awake from a dream as my son opens the bedroom door. He tiptoes in and whispers “Morning, Momma.” After a sweet hug, my first thoughts are: I wish I could sleep another hour. I’m not going to have energy for the day ahead. Will I ever get enough rest?

    • Notice. I observe the unhelpful thought spiral. 
    • Adjourn. I pause and step out of the mindset. 
    • Practice. I regulate my breath for a few rounds: Inhale 4, hold 4, exhale 4, hold 4. Slowly pushing myself up to a seat, I plant my feet on the ground and turn up the corners of my mouth. I tell myself: “Today is filled with goodness.” With a new sensation of lightness, I pad to the bathroom, wash my hands, splash cold water on my face, and make my way downstairs to prepare breakfast.

My stomach grumbles. The internal nudge causes me to drag my eyes away from the words and toward the upper right corner of the screen. It’s almost noon, and I’ve been locked into my work for more than 120 minutes. 

      • Notice. I check in with my body, and its discomfort, for the first time in hours. Legs crossed and hips twisted. Back slouched and side ribs compressed. One shoulder hiked and the other dropped. Mouth dry as the desert. Was I breathing? I must have been. 
      • Adjourn. With renewed attention, I breathe in, breathe out, take a sip of cold tea, and slowly stand up to unwind the suboptimal angles of my bony landmarks. 
      • Practice. Standing next to my desk, I close my eyes, interlace my fingers, and place them at the base of my skull. With length in my spine and tone in my core, I follow the rhythm of my breath to slowly side bend and twist. 
      • Notice. In this moment, my mind and body need more medicine. 
      • Adjourn. I leave my home office. 
      • Practice. Heading outside, I go for a 10-minute mindful walk. I look at the red tulips in my neighbor’s garden, take in the scent of crab apple blossoms, feel the sun on my face, listen to birds chirping and chatting. With the help of nature, movement, and my senses, I return to my work refreshed and renewed.

IAYT: Some things in life—challenges at work and in relationships, for example—can feel inherently difficult. Is it possible to bring sukha to these challenges as well? What might that look like? 

DeRosa: Practicing sukha in our day-to-day life—in the midst of persistent, run-of-the-mill stress and busyness—is one thing. But what about exceptionally challenging times? Science tells us that a steady practice of ease—regular voluntary slowdowns—builds self regulation and resilience for life’s more difficult experiences. 

In December 2021, I had such an experience. The Marshall Fire—deemed the worst in Colorado’s history—ravaged my town. In hours, more than 1,000 homes were reduced to ash and debris. Days later, we were allowed to return to our community. We silently drove past burned ruins that had been, less than a week ago, homes filled with families preparing for New Years Eve gatherings. A charred Christmas wreath lay abandoned on the sidewalk. A half-melted basketball hoop stood next to a foundation of rubble. By pure luck, our house was still standing. And, it wasn’t safe to live in. Soot covered the exterior. Ember burns marked black holes in our outdoor furniture. Visible ash coated the inside. The smoke burned my eyes, nose, and throat. 

A week after the fire, I’m tired and wired. I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. I focus my fumes on doing something, anything, that might bring solace to those who have lost…everything. A friend sends an article with a definition of trauma. It’s a sluggish recognition that takes days to sink in. 

  • Notice. I’m shocked, scattered, and overwhelmed. 
  • Adjourn. I stop doing. 
  • Practice. I slow down my breath and silently repeat the mantra “So Hum,” which translates to “I Am.” At some point, the words intuitively change to “I Am Safe.” My body begins to tremble as my nervous system releases a layer of stress and tension. I gently soften into ease.

IAYT: Is there anything else you’d like to share with those longing to bring more ease into their lives? 

DeRosa: With practice—in just a few moments each day—we can tilt toward ease and elevate our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. By stringing together moments of calm, comfort, and connection, we nourish our ability to respond to change and challenge when it arises (and it always does). Showing up in small ways to reclaim ease has been so effective for my students, clients, and myself, that I’m writing a book about it. In the meantime, if you’re longing for NAPs, I encourage you to experiment with some of my favorite micropractices, such as those found in a Soft and Slow Moment and Yoga Moments for Modern Stress.

Megan DeRosa, MA, E-RYT 200, RYT-500, C-IAYT, is a yoga therapist and well-being researcher, teacher, and writer who shares microdoses of mind-body medicine to tilt people toward ease in everyday life.

Help yourself or a loved one find ease through yoga therapy by locating an IAYT-certified yoga therapist here.

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