Take a Deep Breath - Relax

Posted by Whole Earth | 04.13.2020

Yoga pose


Take a Deep Breath - Relax


We’re all feeling it. Stress builds as we listen to the news, as we share close quarters with our family or roommates, as we attempt to become our child’s teacher, and as questions about the future rise up to keep us awake at night. Our options to change the situation are few. We’re doing our part with social distancing, wearing a mask, and staying at home. But how do we deal with the stress that grips our bodies and minds? Here are a few suggestions that have been helping us through this crazy time. 


Person Stretching on a Yoga MatStretching


Stress can tie us up in knots. We’re stiff, tight and sometimes in pain. Gentle movement is the key to untangling those knotted muscles. A walk around your neighborhood to stretch your legs and get some fresh air is an easy stress reducer. Try to clear your mind and enjoy the sights, sounds and scents of spring. You may have to walk longer than you had initially planned, but time outdoors can soothe if given a chance. 


For more comprehensive programs of stretching try Classical Stretch with Miranda Esmonde-White or Yoga with Adriene. You’ll find Classical Stretch on PBS stations’ early morning programming. The workouts are 22 minutes long and work to stretch and strengthen both the full body and problem areas like the back and shoulders. It’s a great way to start the day, or, if it’s too early for you, record it and let the workout be a stress-reliever later on. 


Austin’s own Adriene Mishler has a YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene that offers several series of classes for beginners and more advanced practitioners. The practice theme for April is Nurture and includes sessions on Movement Medicine, Anchor in Hope, and Yoga for Vulnerability. If you’re new to yoga or a regular who’s missing your teacher and classmates, practicing via the internet may help. 


Once you’re moving more easily, other great stress relievers are running, cycling or, one of our favorites, the home dance party. Burn off that excess nervous energy dancing to your favorite songs!



Woman Reading a BookReading 


Next, let’s stretch our minds. With an endless mental loop of news and worry, it’s no wonder we’re stressed out. It’s time for a change in direction. Reading can make the walls melt away and transport you to other lives and distant lands. And the act itself can be relaxing. Find a comfortable spot (hammock anyone?), pillows for propping, a soothing beverage close at hand, and plunge into a good book. 


What to read? Do you have a book or two you’ve set aside for vacation or a lazy weekend? Perhaps this is the time to dig in. What about rereading an old favorite? You may be surprised at what stands out on this reading. Sometimes, returning to an old favorite is a way to see how much you’ve grown since the last reading. Is there a series that looks promising but you’ve been hesitant to take on such a large commitment of time? This is the moment. Go for it! 


Anne Lamott describes books and stories as medicine – “plaster casts for broken lives and hearts, slings for weakened spirits.” Her books are often passed from friend to friend in hard times. Other authors that may lift your spirits include the poet Mary Oliver or Texans’ encourager-in-chief, Brené Brown. Looking for an escape to distant lands? Two of the best travel/nature writers at work today are Barry Lopez and Robert Macfarlane. Want to see our world from a different point of view? Try Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.  


Two other sources of inspirational reading are the On Being website and Emergence Magazine. On Being offers a collection of Krista Tippett’s thoughtful interviews with wise guests. Emergence Magazine is a free online publication that highlights the work of some of the best writers and thinkers of our time. The current issue is devoted to Trees. Highly recommended. 



Family GardeningCalming ritual 


Back before our new normal, did you have a daily or weekly ritual that helped to shed accumulated tension and stress? If you’ve let your ritual fall by the wayside, this is the time to resurrect it. Rituals help us stay in the present moment, grounding and helping us to stay balanced in the face of outer challenges. Pressing the ritual pause button allows us to gather ourselves together and return to the fray refreshed. 


Sometimes we like to head off stress with a ritual at the beginning of the day. Quietly drinking a morning cup of coffee or tea and watching the world shift from darkness to light accompanied by a dawn chorus of cardinals, wrens and white-winged doves can create a calm foundation for the coming day.   


Another morning ritual is greeting the day. Greet the sun, the oak and the elm, the wren and mockingbird, the tomato plant, the rose, the cloud, the raindrops, the distant rumble of thunder. By opening yourself outward, you’re released from a more limited self and can take your place as a part of the larger natural world. 


We also recommend the ritual soak. Refresh yourself in a tub of comfortably hot water scented with herbs or bath salts, surrounded by candles, and with a restorative drink near at hand  Water can cleanse the body and ease the spirit. Let stress melt away and flow down the drain.



Stress and insecurity are facts of our daily life. How we handle them influences our relationships, our work and our ability to fight off illness. We owe it to ourselves and those with whom we share the day to deal with stress as effectively as possible. Pay attention to tense, tight muscles, and a mind running on an endless loop of fear. When you notice it, pause and reflect on what you can do at that moment to turn the tide. Can you take a walk or stretch? Treat yourself to a chapter of a favorite book? Or is it time to soak away your stress and send it down the drain? 






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