You know that moment in yoga class when the world finally seems to slow down and a subtle but palpable inner calm sets in? Distractions fade and worries fall away. The senses heighten, sensation reveals itself, and the breath has room to move and expand. At last—the present moment! You’ve arrived! How nice to have a few moments of calm, yes?
If your life is like mine—quite full—calm is not always easy to access. Or, I should say, easy to remember to access. Surely, a healthy dose of stress comes into play for most of us from time to time. (Or, let’s get real, most of the time.) However, prolonged stress often accumulates into feelings of overwhelm and anxiety —and these feelings drain our energy, leaving us exhausted and caught in a perpetual cycle of craziness. The crazier life feels, the harder it is to remember that we can find calm, even if for just a few minutes.
Yet even short periods of calm and inner ease are golden. Our nervous systems get a chance to unwind, which in turn allows tense muscles to relax and our thoughts to slow down. We also breathe more fully, and that alone is tremendous in creating inner calm and balancing our whole beings.
Yoga philosophy teaches that the more neutral we can remain in our lives, the less we will suffer. For example, think of a yoga pose that physically challenges you. Visualize yourself in the pose. Then, notice: What's your attitude in the pose? Are you miserable and distracted or unaffected and open to what is? When we hold a sense of calm in a pose, our physical, emotional and mental dispositions are more toward neutral than when we are impatient.
This same idea applies off the mat, too. When we are swirling in the craziness of life, we tend to embody the opposite of neutral. To be neutral does not suggest we shouldn’t care. Instead, neutral means not being over- or underwhelmed with emotion. We sort of settle into the moment and just be. When you sense yourself getting worked up and you feel stress settle in your body (perhaps in your neck, shoulders, or arms) and your mind starts to spin, that's the time to shift from distress to a more neutral zone.
To do this, purposefully relax tense areas of your body and repeat “I am neutral” or just simply say the word “neutral” to yourself over and over until you sense yourself calming down. You might also firmly ground your feet into the floor or your hands into each other and take a few deep breaths to help create neutrality in your body
Notice the pause.
The beautiful thing about breathing is that we do it unconsciously. It just happens—and thank goodness for that, considering how many inhales and exhales we take each day. But right now, consciously bring your attention to your breath—and in particular, notice the pause that happens after you inhale, and the one that happens after you exhale. These brief pauses hold a world of calm in times of constant motion. Your only task is to notice a pause. That’s it. Place your concentration on the pause between your inhalations and exhalations for a few moments the next time you’re feeling totally crazed, and just watch as the background noise fades away and you seem to effortlessly find time and space to focus on just this one thing: the pause between your breaths. Your mind will receive a well-deserved rest its frenetic thinking and doing, and your body will appreciate the nourishment that comes from breathing mindfully.
Bring your hands to Prayer Pose.
This position, commonly known as Anjali Mudra, is likely familiar to you, as it’s often done during yoga class. Connecting our hands in this way offers a point of grounding in the body. The pressure from the act of pressing your palms together creates a sensation in your hands, arms, and possibly even your shoulders—and paying attention to a physical sensation like this is a helpful way to become more present and less preoccupied with your thoughts. Firmly press your hands together and bring your awareness to the feeling of palm into palm, fingertips into fingertips. Take a few moments to stay focused on the feeling of your hands pressing into one another as you take 10 deep breaths. Count the breaths to help deepen your focus and detach from stressful worries. Stay with this hand position and your breath for as long as you need. And remember that you can return to it as many times as is helpful to feel calmer. In fact, I like to think of this hand position as a literal reset button: Each time I bring my hands in prayer it’s a reminder to take a moment, breathe, and find some calm for a few moments.
Find your ground.
Just as our hands serve as points of grounding, so do our feet. Consider how easy it is to lose connection with the ground when we are living in our heads. We find ourselves in the past or future or completely caught up in whatever thoughts that are driving us to feel crazed. Firmly pressing our feet into the ground (think mountain pose) is a powerful way to reconnect with the moment. Whether you are standing or sitting, simply plant both feet on the floor. Feel the steadiness and support of the floor (or earth), and then choose one of the practices above to seek even some inner ease. Remind yourself often throughout the day to “find the ground”—you might write this phrase down in multiple places for a visual reminder—which can help you create even a little more calm.