Reduce Stress And Anxiety With Yoga And Meditation: Mornings Part 2
Yoga and meditation for less stress and anxiety
Welcome to this second of this four-part series, Walking on Mom Mornings, a morning routine for stressed moms; in this post I will share with you how yoga and meditation can be hugely powerful tools for minimizing stress and anxiety.
To do that, I had a wonderful chat with yoga instructor Amber Spear, who has decades of experience in practice herself as well as guiding others into the numerous benefits yoga and meditation have on health, mental health and your overall state of mind.
Amber is thoughtful and funny, and I was so happy she agreed to answer some questions for me about yoga, mindfulness and meditation – these words that seem so normalized these days but also a bit elusive and lofty. She boils it all down into some fundamental actions, surprisingly simple actions, that can help us all to stay just a little bit more grounded, less anxious, less stressed and more present with ourselves, with our kids and partners, and with pretty much everything.
If you missed the first part of the series you can read it here: Mornings Part 1: A morning routine for stressed moms. Remember to sign up to our newsletter to receive Amber’s FREE calming meditation.
Being woken up in the mornings sucks
If you’re coming to Walking On Mom for the first time, you can read about how I live with anxiety and postpartum mood issues. And if you’re anything like me, you may very well have come in and out of a yoga practice at the gym or made a few attempts at meditation.
I’ve dabbled in both since I was first diagnosed with panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder in 2001, and, as life would have it, I always seem to fall out of the practice even when I see the benefits. So when I began struggling with some parenting stresses, depression, mood swings, anxiety, you name it, these past five years, I have tried be more gentle with myself, with my expectations about what I can and can’t do, and allowing yoga and meditation to be part of my life whenever they can, no strict rules.
Then I got a wild hair to get more involved in making yoga and meditation a practice I would turn to daily, for just a few weeks. And what I noticed was so amazing, I wanted to put it out there for anyone else who might be in my shoes, struggling and searching for answers, for something I could do to help bring some calm into my life.
For me, it started with mornings. Being woken up every morning by yelling kids shouting their demands at you can make even the brightest morning person shrivel. I was impatient and angry, yelling at my kids because they didn’t put their socks on in the right order or because they laughed too loud before my eyes were even open. So I came up with a plan to undermine my crazy kids, and my frustration, and beat them out of the gate. It’s outlined here in the first part of this series.
While this plan works for me, it won’t work for everyone. Nothing does. But if you read through the ideas, let them roll around in your mind for a while, you may find parts that resonate with you. I hope some of these things will help make your mornings easier and set you on a good path for the rest of the day.
Two key pieces of this morning routine are yoga and meditation. This post isn’t about yoga poses or mantras. It’s about one aspect of yoga and meditation that is key to both. That key is mindfulness, a way to come into the present moment, come into your true self rather than be absorbed by all of your anxious or difficult thoughts.
A quick way to learn this mindfulness for beginners is to learn more about how we breathe. We breathe differently when we are anxious or sad or angry, and by focusing on our breath, then changing our breath, we can change our physical response to our emotions.
We can actually bring calm into our body by changing our breath.
Understanding mindfulness, with Amber Spear
In the beginning, Amber saw yoga as a practice in a gym that helped her relax during her intensive martial arts practice. But even after she hit burnout in martial arts, yoga still kept “showing up.”
“Yoga had been the silent friend that traveled with me all these years until I was ready to see it,” she said. She dedicated herself to the practice and decided she was ready to share it with others. She got her teacher training in 2003.
“One of the first tenants of yoga is Ahimsa, which is nonviolence, or, to practice kindness. And so, if you just consider this: What about how we treat ourselves, the conversations we have in our own heads that we think are real because we don’t know how to cultivate space to connect with what is real. What is real is that we are intimate, crazy beautiful beings, and our purpose is to know and love ourselves.”
Yoga is like a love affair
Walking on Mom: So how do we get to that understanding, how do we create that space to connect with what is real?
Amber: “Get to know your breath. You do it every minute of every day and every minute of every night, but have you ever just paid attention to it?
There’s a key component in self study: getting to know the essential self, who we really are beyond our thoughts and feelings. One of the easiest ways to do that is to explore the simplicity of the breath.
In the yoga school of thought we are talking about inhalation and exhalation. For me, I see yoga like a love affair. It’s like two dancing partners. The yogic terms for the two partners is Shiva, the male, which is exhalation and Shakti, the female, which is inhalation. On exhalation there is stillness at the end, the stillness is the consciousness of all that was and will be. Then, inhalation rises up, in yoga that is seen as related to power and creation. The two, inhalation and exhalation, dance together.”
meditation: watching the dance
Walking on Mom: So how do we use this idea of the dance to help ourselves?
Amber: Get yourself into a comfortable position, close your eyes and relax. Breathe and find the exhalation and deep stillness. You don’t need to do anything and an inhalation will automatically happen. At the top of an inhalation there’s so much fullness you can feel it. And without doing anything, the exhalation arrives. You can begin to notice the tiny pauses within that.
This is the dance that we watch, the back and forth movement of the breath through our bodies.
When we can experience just how much time we have in one cycle of breath, that is what pulls us into the present moment and gives us access to a clearer perspective.
“But my mind is all over the place”
Did you notice that Amber didn’t tell you that you have to stop your thoughts? If you’re stressing about your mind bouncing all over the place, check out this video about how it’s totally normal and OK that you have thoughts when you try to meditate.
How to be mindful in every-day life
Walking on Mom: How do we use our breath and mindfulness to help us not only in the moments we try to meditate, but in whatever we are doing?
Amber: Recently, I was in Australia teaching a workshop, and it was full and I knew some but not all of the students. I felt my breath was high in my chest – a physiological signal of nervousness. I stood in front of the group and I gave myself some time. And in that moment, what I called into myself was feeling my feet on the floor, and then taking a big deep breath and releasing it with a “HAAA” from the belly. The result was several people in the room did the same. And the energy in the room changed.
I said: ‘I’m nervous. We don’t know so many of us just yet.’ And just that moment of bravery, admitting what is true and what is there and coming into the being of the body — we are the products of our environment.
So we can ask ourselves: How can we recognize where we are, what we need in this moment, and address that in the most simple and natural way. If we listen, our body often tells us. Do we need to lay down like a toddler or move our hips a little?
How to stay committed to a practice
Walking on Mom: I know I do this, and probably a lot of other people as well, we say ‘Hey, this is great. I want to meditate every day!’ And then life gets in the way and we forget and feel guilty. How do we stay committed to yoga and meditation?
Amber: Think of the seasons. Maybe one season we can do yoga every day. Another season, where it’s really difficult, there’s acceptance of your current season and then there’s making something work.
It’s better to do yoga say twice a week than being overwhelmed at the prospect of doing it every day therefore doing nothing. It takes an effort to get to the mat, but it will have a profound effect over time.
If you’re in a sticky life situation and commitment is too exhausting, do it from a place of non-harming. Don’t go and beat yourself up about another thing. Let this be your solace. Try different practices, different teachers, until you find the right fit.
How can this help someone with anxiety or stress
Walking on Mom: So what’s the secret, what’s the reason yoga and meditation give us a mental health boost and support those of us with anxiety, depression, stress, whatever?
Amber: Every time we bring the mind into the body with awareness of our breath it connects us to the clear blue sky no matter how many clouds of thoughts are passing by.
When we are anxious or stressed, we do a lot of breathing high up in our chest. When we’re restricted in that upper breath, with anxiety, we’re actually existing inside of our sympathetic nervous system, we’ve got a little continuation of the fight or flight response happening. When we learn to bring the breath into the body, deeper breaths, full thoracic breaths, then we come into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is where we start to heal, untie the knots, get a deeper rest.
If there’s any stress in the body, it’s hard to connect with the breath. When we get into a relaxed physical position, where the body is not challenged, we get the “haaaaaa” and… there’s my breath. Then we can explore lengthening the exhalation.”
Amber touched on a few principles that show how interconnected yoga and meditation are through using breath to become more centered in the present. We can start to see how being centered, recognizing the truth of what you feel and what you need, can help you ease through your stressed and anxious moments. If you’re in Switzerland or Australia, you can find out more about Amber’s yoga practice here.
If you haven’t done so yet, please sign up to receive her FREE calming meditation.
Check out the first post in the series Walking On Mom: Mornings to see how you can completely rejuvinate your day just by taking a little bit of quality time in the morning to get you started on the right foot.
Next up is a look at how gratitude, particularly keeping a gratitude journal, can help you set your day on a path of openness. Then finally, we’ll wrap up with some fantastic breakfast recipes that are quick and easy and will give you lots of strength for your day and keep you on track with all of the great work you did in your new morning routine.
Your comments at the bottom of the post help me to know if you’ve found this content of any value so I hope you’ll let me know what you think? Can you see a place for yoga, meditation and mindfulness in your routine, whether it’s 10 minutes of sun salutations or a full hour once a week? Have you ever considered the power of your breath?
If you are interested in which yoga videos I turn to, you can find them here. These links below are affiliate links, so if you click through and buy any from here, I will get a small commission and you will be supporting me in my goals to make Walking on Mom a resource for mental health, wellness, parenting and all of the craziness that comes with raising little people.
- Power Yoga Collection: 3 Full-Length Programs
- Prenatal Yoga
- Tara Stiles This is Yoga 2: Beginners Yoga for Everyone