A Q&A on Mindfulness for Stress Relief with Yoga Instructor Cathy Burke
Cathy Burke, a registered yoga teacher and owner of Evolve Yoga, holds a degree in nutrition and wellness and has been practicing yoga for 20 years. We spoke with Cathy to learn how to integrate mindfulness into our everyday lives. Read on for some practical tips:
What is mindfulness—and what are the health benefits?
Mindfulness is a practice that allows us to create space between a stimulus and a response, so that we can respond thoughtfully, rather than react. It allows us to observe our patterns and stay present so that we can adjust them when needed.
In a sense, we are rewiring our brains for compassion and understanding through the simple practice of breathing and awareness. When we rewire our brain in this way, we are less likely to turn on our "fight or flight" response and more likely to turn on our "rest and digest" response. This seemingly small adjustment can have a dramatic impact on our stress levels, which in turn impact all levels of health—physically, socially and emotionally.
People living with life-threatening, chronic and rare diseases often experience financial and emotional stress in addition to the stressors of everyday life. What stress relief strategies would you suggest when feeling overwhelmed?
One simple practice is to use the parachute breath: take in a deep breath, hold it briefly and then inhale a bit more. Hold that breath in for a few counts and then slowly release the exhale through your mouth.
Never underestimate the power of talk and support. Reach out to a friend, talk to a therapist or engage in conversation with an acquaintance who may be in a similar situation. Schedule a weekly tea date with someone you trust and create a safe space where you can support one another. This can be a simple but profound source of comfort and release.
Forward folds like the rag doll pose or legs up the wall can be helpful. When we fold the body even a little, we put pressure on the Vegas nerve, which signals a sense of calm in the nervous system. Deep breathing initiates the same response, but when you are feeling panicky or overly stressed, deep breath can feel elusive. Physically folding your body to your own ability or laying on the ground with your legs resting on the wall can bring a sense of calm.
Lastly, when all else fails, write out tangible action steps and then organize those steps in order of how they can best be done. Then, commit to doing 1-2 steps each day until the list is completed. When our worries are in our head, they are much more challenging to overcome. When we write them down, we can start addressing them and moving forward.
Do you have a mantra that you live by that you would like to share with others?
"Want only what you need and have all that you want." Many years ago, I got caught up in life's overwhelm and anxiety—too much physical stuff, too many options and the feeling of being pulled in too many directions. I devised this mantra to reduce the sense of overwhelm and it is has served me well ever since.
What resources would you recommend to learn more about mindfulness?
We live in a time where mindfulness resources are abundant. Here are a few of my favorites:
- » Mindful.org
- » Headspace.org
- » Find a local mindfulness group or meetup: churches, yoga studios and community centers often have a group—and meetings are usually inexpensive or free.
- » Set a mindfulness reminder on your phone—every hour, every three hours or once a day—whatever doesn't feel overwhelming to start—and commit to a one-minute mindfulness practice during that time. A simple practice is to place your hand on your stomach and take 3 deep breaths. While you breathe, pay attention to the movement of your stomach and your hand, the feeling of your breath in your body and nothing else.