How To Improve Your Day With Yoga And Meditation
Let’s face it!
Meditation is an incredible way to carve out a more peaceful mind. And yoga teaches you how to breathe deeply and love living in your body. Both help to improve your day immeasurably. Indeed, a daily meditation habit is proven to decrease stress, improve sleep, and diminish anxiety. But many of us feel like we’re anxious, too busy, or just can’t sit still long enough to meditate. And even if you have established a daily sitting practice, if you don’t carry the habits from your meditation practice into to the rest of your day, you’re likely suffering. You may aspire to attend yoga classes or start a home practice, but most of us struggle to fit these in as much as we’d like to. Demands of work, family, and having a social life get in the way. If your energy takes a nosedive after lunch, if you finish the day with tight shoulders, or if you experience persistent GI trouble, your meditation and yoga habits clearly aren’t enough. Fortunately, you can improve your entire day, and your life — if you learn ways to apply the skills you learn in meditation and yoga.
And don’t worry — if you don’t meditate or do yoga (yet), you can still use these tips right now. Think about it; you may meditate for 10-30 minutes, but the rest of the day counts too. When you’re typing at your desk, cooking dinner, and fetching your kids from soccer practice, believe it or not, you have opportunities to relax your body to refresh your mind. Below you’ll learn a few easy ways to achieve peace and contentment throughout your entire day simply by paying attention to your body and applying the skills you learn from practices like meditation and yoga.
1. Stop holding your breath.
Okay, we both know no one can hold their breath and actually survive. But you can easily fall into a breathing pattern that provokes more stress on your body — akin to holding your breath.
If you hold the bottom of your rib cage in, a natural reflex when we feel threatened, you’re activating your fight-or-flight response. Your lungs want to expand as you inhale, especially the lower portion of your lungs. By holding your lungs tight, you’ll restrict your breath.
You’re probably a pro at breathing deeply when you meditate or do yoga. But what about when you’re sitting in front of your computer, driving your car, or having a challenging talk with your kids? The rest of your day can unravel the pattern your meditation knitted together.
Start by taking a few breathing breaks throughout the day. Notice your breath, put your hand at the bottom-center of your ribs, and breathe into your hand. The simple act of noticing your breathing will help you slow it down.
Slowing down your breath calms your mind, lowers your heart rate, banishes anxiety, and improves your focus.
2. Stop sitting like Dracula.
Do you consistently slump forward in your chair? Maybe your shoulders rise to your ears, and your back hunches forward like Dracula plotting his next victim.
Over time, your shoulder muscles turn into rocks, your upper back rounds, your head hangs forward, and your neck muscles tighten. When this happens, your lower back curves the wrong way, often causing back pain.
I used to slump all the time as if somehow I didn’t want to be seen. At heart, I did want to hide. I felt like my body was too big and somehow not worthy of people seeing it. Practicing yoga helped me feel great in my body and finally stand tall.
You probably don’t want to mimic Dracula or develop back pain. Most people can maintain an alert posture when meditating; why not carry that to the rest of your day?
When sitting, make sure you sit toward the edge of your seat so that your lower back curves inward. Lengthen the top of your head toward the sky; imagine a string pulling you up like a puppet. Draw your shoulder blades together toward your spine.
If you habitually slump, this may feel like hard work. But over time, you’ll build up the muscles that support your spine, and sitting upright will be a breeze.
Deeper breath, better digestion, and less back and shoulder pain can be yours — just by sitting and standing tall.
3. Pay attention to the knots in your stomach.
Do you ever hold your stomach back when you feel a sudden threat or nervous impulse? Sometimes these are real, but often we imagine the worst case will happen and then try to deny the distress in our bodies. By ignoring these knots, we miss the chance to wipe away the stress.
Tightening the muscles in your tummy due to stress disrupts your digestive process. When under stress, our bodies focus on essentials like being alert and sending blood to the periphery. Digestion grinds to a halt.
Over time, the combination of stress and holding in your tummy can cause GI problems – IBS, constipation, cramping. Learning to pay attention to how you hold your tummy is a crucial step to having a healthy body and happier mind.
When you meditate or consciously relax, you’ll notice when you carry tension in a particular area. You can use this method anytime. When sitting at your desk, especially after lunch, how are you holding your tummy?
When you hear upsetting or irritating news, how do you react? Sometimes we suppress our reaction by holding our bellies. Relax your tummy, and notice how your digestion improves, and notice how you feel less stressed.
4. Relinquish the death-grip at your jaw.
Do you clench your jaw like an alligator attacking its prey? The muscles in our jaws are powerful, and often we bite down on our teeth when we aren’t chewing up food. Many people even grind their teeth while sleeping.
Like holding your breath and tensing your shoulders, clenching your jaw needlessly can cause other problems, besides wearing away your teeth enamel. Migraine headaches, backache, and neck pain are a few of the problems linked to tensing the muscles that move your jaw.
When you notice yourself tensing, open your mouth as wide as you can, then move it left to right in a circle. Repeat this a few times per day.
Next, allow the muscles of your jaw to relax, and then move your left ear toward your left shoulder. You’ll feel a stretch along the right side of your neck. Now reverse the process, stretching out the left side.
Notice how your whole body becomes more relaxed when you release your jaw. And if you suffer from headaches and neck pain, you can expect improvements over time.
Improve Your Day
Ready to become your body’s best friend?
You’re the most qualified person to understand what’s happening in your mind and body. And the skills you’ve picked up in meditation and yoga help to deepen that understanding.
Breathing deeply, sitting up tall, and releasing tension in your belly and jaw are crucial parts of meditation and yoga.
Using these tools to achieve a pain-free, energetic body will make you happier and deeply content.
So keep up the great habits like meditating and yoga. But why not pepper these activities mentioned here throughout your day as well? Take a breathing break, pay attention to your posture, and relax your jaw.
Vibrant health and increased happiness await you.
Author: Jessica Blanchard, Registered Dietitian , Editor ,Yoga Teacher