3 Yoga Ups For When You're Down

Hey there, MOJO Mob, just a quick note before we get into this week's blog. Normally we have a free video of the week for you here to enjoy as a little added blog reader bonus. Well, this week we don't have a free video of the week... We have 3!  They're all part of this week's topic, and hopefully serve to help pick you up next time you're down. Enjoy them here this week, and thereafter in the MOJO Member Space!

On to the blog...

What's your routine when you're down? We give a lot of attention to our everyday routines in building our ideal MOJO Life of greater health and happiness. Yet, how much thought have you ever given to what happens when you crash and burn? Whether due to illness, or a physiological condition, or a mental or emotional nosedive, we all go down from time to time. And I'd be willing to bet that you have a "down routine," meaning a set of comfort behaviors that you default to in a physical, mental, or emotional wreck. So, what is your down routine?

For me, this is easy to answer because I just spent the last few days wallowing in it. Don't worry, I'm on the upswing now. But, while I was down I definitely retreated to the safety of my bed-cave and commenced Illness Sequence Alpha1 (obviously meaning this is the foundation for any other, more extreme measures on a case-by-case basis):

  1. Loose, baggy clothes. The more closely the ensemble approximates a Snuggy without actually being one, the better.
  2. Bed with curtains drawn. Cue lazy dog who will dutifully sack out alongside me.
  3. Medicine as appropriate for the situation.
  4. Moving picture device for movies I've seen a hundred times: the kind that I know by heart, make me feel good, and don't mind sleeping through.
  5. Leave me alone until I need a medical professional or feel better.

That's it, well, the basics at least. You'll notice I didn't mention getting in the yoga room and twisting or inverting or back bending my way through it, did I? Nope. I'm not a cave-dwelling ascetic, I'm a modern woman here! So, no, I'm not going to tell you to get up out of your sick bed and yoga your way out of being down. Hell no! Rather, I say (thanks to Scott, here) snuggle down in that sick bed of yours and enjoy it...as much as you can muster.

You see, oftentimes there are many forces at work when we crash and burn. Sometimes we just need to take a break but can't allow ourselves to do it, so our bodies take over and make us stop. Other times, it's something completely outside of our control that we have to learn to work with or embrace. Whatever the root causes of our downtime, we owe it to ourselves to give just as much attention to our down routines, as wholeheartedly as we do our healthy, happy routines. If we're going to be down, we should do it well! So I say, dive into your down routine and make it as cushy as you can: comfort yourself completely. Just don't go so deep that you lose your way back...

Which is where #3 up there comes in handy. My own cocktail often includes some bed yoga that I can and even like to do when I feel like crap. These are minimal effort things I do that always make me feel better. Even if only done minimally, these crutches can help you walk the path back up when you're feeling low.

#1. Simple Yogic Breathing (Ujjayi Pranayama)

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Remember to breathe, right? This one is often the only one I'll do when I'm in the deepest depths of downtime. If you've ever stopped to take a few deep breaths you know the instant change in feeling it can give you. Yogis refer to "prana" as the life force, and it is that which we draw in with every breath. Pranayama, the name given to all of our yogic breathing exercises, translates to the drawing out or extension of the life force. And that didn't come from Star Wars. Neat, huh? Scientists studying the physiological and psychological effects of yogic breathing hypothesize that: 'the voluntary, slow deep breathing functionally resets the autonomic nervous system through stretch-induced inhibitory signals and hyperpolarization (slowing electrical action potentials) currents…which synchronizes neural elements in the heart, lungs, limbic system and cortex.' As well, investigations have demonstrated that slow pranayama breathing techniques activate the parasympathetic (inhibitory) nervous system, thus slowing certain physiological processes down that may be functioning too fast or conflicting with the homeostasis of the cells. (Source) All that to say that deep, conscious breathing helps to lower our stress response, promote our relaxation, and bring us back to normal when we're out of whack. Read: yogic breathing is a pretty essential pill to take when we're feeling down...and we don't even have to change our curled up fetal position to do it! #2. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) 

#2. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

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Anybody who knows me knows I love this one! And with good reason: it helps to clear congestion, or at least get it moving, bring our breathing patterns back into balance, calm and clarify the mind, and balance the emotions.

Nadi Shodhana translates to a clearing of the energetic pathways of the body. Those pathways are the Nadis. Now, the Nadi system is meant to refer strictly to the energetic body, or the subtle body, but if that's too woo-woo for you, starting with the tangible equivalent is certainly helpful in illustration. Just think of your circulatory and nervous systems. They're made of hundreds of millions, even billions of pathways that carry some form of energy through your body. So there you have it, Nadis are like those pathways, only in our energetic body. And this practice is believed to help clear those pathways of congestion, and keep our energy balanced...in a nutshell.

This one might be challenging if you're suffering from the green gooey kind of congestion in your respiratory pathways, but fear not! If you just give it a shot a few times a day while you're vegging out, and do the best you can, you'll find that it helps poke holes in the walls of phlegm standing between you and ultimate freedom.

You do not have to sit up to do this. Just stay in your most comfy spot and let your breath move as easily as possible. Don't try to lengthen or alter your breath, it will happen naturally if your effort remains relaxed and easy. Do as many rounds as you can comfortably, whether it be 1 round only or 10 minutes. Stop and breathe normally if you feel any heat building in your head or anxiety. If that happens, next time try shorter, more relaxed breaths. If a nostril is particularly clogged, you might even try using the tips of the fingers on that side to gently pull the nostril wider: place them just inside the opening and pull the nostril wider very gently as you exhale, then inhale out of that side.

This will get your prana pumping, and help bring you back to the world of the living. Oh yeah!

#3. Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)

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When I'm down, this pose becomes Legs Up The Headboard. Aside from some stretching here and there, this is the only asana I might venture to when I'm really socked in, as it's relatively easy to do, perfectly done in bed, and restorative to the max.

There's a reason we did this as our final pose of the Fun With Yoga Challenge. Often called The Great Rejuvenator, this pose is believed to be highly restorative of our vital energy, leaving us more refreshed than when we began every time. It is believed to be excellent for our reproductive and digestive systems, relieving of headaches, and a cure for insomnia. The inversion for our legs can be wonderful for moving stagnant or pooled fluid from our languid limbs, and may have something to do with why this pose is called Viparita Karani, often translated as Inverted Lake Pose (though Viparita means inverted and Karani means action).

In this video, I do the pose with a bolster under my low back and hips. However, if you're menstruating, you may choose to just do this pose without the bolster, as that will keep the uterus from being inverted. Note that some traditions will still advise against even this pose while menstruating, but others recommend it as helpful. I find it to be a matter of personal choice: do what feels best for your body. If you have high blood pressure or hernia, check with your doctor and an experienced teacher in person before trying this for the first time. If you have serious back problems or glaucoma, skip it and do your breathing.

So, I hope you'll remember these little Yoga Ups next time you're down. Share your "down routines" in the comments below, along with any Yoga Ups of your own that might be helpful for the MOJO Mob. We love to hear your perspective. Until next time, be well!


Mentioned in The MOJO Show:

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Conscious Breathing by Gay Hendricks

Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries