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Hunkering Down In Your Practice: How to Stay Calm Amid the Chaos

If you live in the greater Houston area, you know that this city has endured a major shock to its system. Everyone here has been impacted - some by the destructive storm and flooding that followed, and others by the anxiety and depression that came along with the floodwater. Unfortunately, sometimes, in the hurry to protect ourselves and our homes and families from external events, we forget to bolster our internal barriers, and fear and stress take over the mind and body. When our minds and bodies aren’t well, it becomes so much more difficult for us to help others. The same way many of us hunkered down in our homes in preparation for Hurricane Harvey, we can hunker down in our bodies. Through your practice, you can give yourself much needed preparation, clarity, and comfort for all that may come in the aftermath of this disaster.

Preparation

You may not be ready to move the ways you often can when you have had normal days, with spare time to stretch and practice. Ease into movement. Spend more time than usual warming up each part of the body that may have been impacted by your storm experience. Your neck and spine may feel stiff from more hours than usual in cramped positions inside - or in cars and boats, as was the case for some. Spend lots of time stretching the neck and warming up the back with cat-cows, or gentle backbends, like cobra and upward-facing dog. Protect your joints by beginning your practice slowly, with intention, and awareness of your alignment. The last thing your body needs is more awkward, strained positions!

Before you move on to a more energizing sequence, consider doing a breathing exercise in a seated position. A cleansing breath such as Kapalabhati will help you begin to clear toxins from the respiratory tract, while a more centering breath like Sama vritti will bring you into your body and out of your scattered thoughts. When you have energized the body and connected the breath, you’re ready to practice.

Clarity

Use your practice to find energy, strength, and clarity. Personally, when I am shaken up, I don’t like to try wild new things - I seek out things that make me feel stable and strong. In the next few weeks, there is a good chance that you will not finally nail your handstand or that crazy transition you saw somewhere. Open your practice with good old sun or water salutations to bring heat and fluency into the body. After the body is fully turned on, consider a clarifying balancing pose to become more alert. Since balancing requires so much concentration and uses both sides of the body, it is incredibly cerebral, engaging both hemispheres of the brain and keeping you on your toes (perhaps literally: you might turn your balancing pose into a toe stand on your standing leg to more deeply engage mind and body). When you are satisfied with your balance, come down to your mat. If your spine feels supple - and be honest with yourself - use a big backbend to cultivate positive energy. A strong, integrated wheel pose will open your heart to all that is to come. And if you are not ready for that - then don’t do it! Flow through bridge poses, or consider a fish pose to open the heart and throat.

Of course, find or plan a sequence around the parts of your body where you really need care: maybe your wrists hurt and your shoulders are round from frequent plugging away on your phone or laptop, checking in with family and friends. Maybe you’ve been pounding on sheetrock or moving heavy boxes, and you’re feeling it in your lower back. There’s a yoga pose for that. You just have to find the right one, or even connect online with your favorite yoga teacher, and simply ask her or him. There is not a yoga teacher in Houston right now that won’t take your post-Harvey questions to heart.

Comfort

You’ve done the difficult thing: you have come back to your mat and your practice when there was every reason, and every excuse, not to. Now thank your body, and offer it gratitude and comfort with restorative poses. Place blocks or books beneath your knees in reclined bound angle pose (sometimes called “reclined butterfly pose”), letting gravity open the hips and releasing the lower back; after that, relieve tension in your lower body by taking legs-up-the-wall. Stay there for longer than usual. Stay longer than you think is necessary. When you bring the legs down, they will be flushed with “new” blood. Finally, give yourself the final resting pose - the savasana - that you really need. Place a blanket over your body. Close the eyes softly, and let the breath be shallow. Stop exerting. Stop working. Tune out everything external, and indulge your need to rest. The world is sometimes a dangerous and chaotic place. Take refuge in your own ability to sooth yourself. You owe yourself stillness, and you deserve peace, whatever may be going on around you.

Until you can make it back into your studio of choice, we hope you will accept some advice from your friends at Joy Yoga Center on how to structure your own “Hunkering Down” practice. Once you’ve begun to reset yourself, we want to make it an easy choice for you to come back into our shared space. Because we know Harvey brought a lot of expenses that no one could have seen coming, we are offering 20% off all in-studio memberships and classes, private lessons, teacher training, and Kryozen. On top of that discount, you can take solace in knowing you will be helping others: an additional 20% will be donated to the Harvey Relief Fund.

…And once the work of self-care is done for the day, you can return to the even harder work of helping your city get back on its feet.

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