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The Ultimate De-Stressor

Today's blogger: Janet Lee, deputy editor

In the pages of Shape, we talk so often about how you should exercise to de-stress that it’s kind of like white noise. We know, we know…. But I’m always amazed at how effective a tough workout can be at calming my mind and emotions—especially when nothing else seems to help. I’m in the middle of a break-up and those mid-day cardio sessions and post-work interval routines have really helped take my mind off all the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” One night, before a conversation where I wanted to be calm and clear, I jumped on the elliptical, cranked up the level and did hill repeats. Mission accomplished. Another night, when I felt overwhelmed with sadness, I hit the path near my apartment and ran it out. All that buzzing in my head gradually floated away with every breath.

Last weekend, however, when I felt like my emotions were ping-ponging all over the place, I went to yoga class. “Nobody can stay stressed in yoga class,” I thought. But 20 minutes in I still couldn’t turn my brain off. I was on the verge of tears, and didn’t feel like doing the vinyasas. “What is wrong with you?” I asked myself. “Get a grip!” I felt like I was just getting crankier and crankier with each sun salutation. I couldn’t bring myself to walk out (who quits a yoga class?), so I skipped some of the Chaturangas and Up Dogs, which my body seemed vehemently opposed to doing that afternoon, and went straight into Down Dog. Some of the binding postures and twists did feel good so I focused on those and tried to breathe as deeply and rhythmically as possible. It wasn’t my most successful class but I’m glad I listened to my body and made adjustments. (The teacher doesn’t flunk you if you don’t do every pose.) The lesson: Find what works for you and don’t force it. Yoga seemed to increase the chatter in my brain while higher-energy sessions eased it.

One yogic element that helps me whether I’m sun saluting or sweating buckets in cycling class is a mantra. Whether it’s as simple as “I’m strong” or something longer, like “I deserve someone who can show me love/respect/patience/_________,” repeating it during my workout reminds me to expend my energies on me, not on something that is out of my control and in the past. I think of it as building a bridge to the next chapter. Every mantra—and every workout—is another plank over that scary span.  

 

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