The Art of Breathing, among other stress relievers

I’m usually quite open to admit that i live with anxiety. It’s a state where my mind races with a vast number of different thoughts and worries, never resting. Sometimes this can be positive and energizing, producing new ideas and multiple new ways of viewing things. A lot of the time though, it leaves me feeling disorganized, overwhelmed and unfocussed. It can (and usually does) manifest itself in physical and mental complaints of sore chest, shallow breathing, heart palpitations, lethargy, cloudy mind and memory. It’s strange because I’m a really easy-going person generally. I try not to take things too seriously and can usually find a relaxed sense of humour in awkward and difficult situations. Oh, contradictions!

I try hard to promote a sense of relaxation in others and practice some relaxation in my daily (or weekly) life. It is becoming increasingly important for me to find alternative (or rather, complimentary) ways to manage anxiety and stress in conjunction with a low does of medication. Some ideas I’ve used:

  • Yoga

I’ve dabbled in a lot of beginner yoga. I first tried it out about ten years ago, enrolling in a class with my mom back in Whitby. The woman who taught the class had the most soothing voice I’ve ever heard. She also practiced aromatherapy so her studio smelled faintly like flowers and incense. I remember being nervous and self-conscious, not wanting  strange women to see my knobby knees in shorts and my lack of flexibility (I can still barely touch my toes without bending my knees – damn you, perma-tight hamstrings!) But as the classes progressed, I lost myself in the movement and the concentration and focussed on the feeling of my body stretching beyond what I perceived as my limits. Relaxation ensued, especially after the guided meditation at the end. I always left the class feeling completely soft and clear-minded. It was worth it, if only once a week. After that, I tried out various yoga dvds every so often (I’m terrible at keeping up routines). I tried out another yoga class in Peterborough in my 2nd year of university with a friend of mine. I left class each week feeling energized (yet relaxed). I loved the classes, but I find them a bit expensive. A few months ago I was perusing the library dvds and found one called “Kundalini Yoga to Destress and Detox”. Kundalini yoga is a bit intimidating and different from the other Hatha yoga classes I’ve taken. It’s more energy based and focusses on the power of the breath. This routine is quite intense but holy crap, when I actually get through it, I feel like a completely new person (free, clear, energized and inspired!) If you’re interested in trying it out, I found the same full length video for free at My Yoga Online 🙂

  • Drinking Herbal Tea

I love tea! I talk about it a lot! I talk about it more than I actually drink it though unfortunately. I’m trying to exchange coffee and espresso for tea these days. I love a cupboard or drawer full of different colourful tea boxes and bags. My favourite tea right now is a lemon and ginger tea, with licorice root. It’s soothing and slightly spicy/warming, helping with achey belly as well.  Adding a spoonful of honey (especially ginger infused honey) makes the perfect cuppa. My other favourite is Lemon Balm (which I bought from Porcupine Creek Farm) Other helpful herbs for a relaxing tea include the classic chamomile, valerian root (this is a sedative and probably best combined with other herbs like combined with other relaxation inducing herbs. NOTE: there are side effects associated with longer term use of this herb so use in moderation), and lavender (edible consumable lavender, not the potpourri type eep!).

Lavender Ice Tea

2 Tbsp. Lavender flowers (1 tablespoon dry)
1 Tbsp. Lemon balm (1 teaspoon dry, or one lemon slice)
1 Tbsp. Mint (1 teaspoon dry, applemint is best, but spearmint works well too)
3 Tbsp. Honey

Directions for Lavender Ice Tea:

Pour six cups of boiling water on herbs and steep for ten to fifteen minutes.
Cool to room temperature.
Add lemon slice after cooling if you’re using it instead of lemon balm.
Add honey and stir.
Add crushed ice.
Credit:  The Herb Gardener

  • Hot Baths

 I recently rediscovered how awesome baths are!! Light some soy candles, pour yourself a glass of red wine, mix together some relaxing bath oil, play some music (try the icelandic songwriter emiliana torrini‘s album ‘Fisherman’s Woman’ ) and sink into bliss.

  • Knitting

I learned some really basic knitting. I don’t follow any patterns or actually make much of anything, except for a cozy cowl scarf. It’s the repetitive motion of knitting that is relaxing. At first, I have to really concentrate on what I’m doing, but eventually it becomes a natural motion, which is good for turning off the brain a bit.

  • Nature Drives or Walks

I feel like a strong affinity with nature. I feel both small and strong, rejuvenated, energized, inspired and in awe. I’m lucky to have a lovely river right by my apartment. I just walk down to the park, find my spot off the walkway. There is a tree whose branches reach down towards the water and I can see its reflection, like a mirror. There are ducks there too that hang out, and the occasional chipmunk. Its a good spot to think and reflect and just be still. It’s a nice little pocket of calm in the middle of the city. Country drives are my favourite. I notice every little detail. Every bit of it is a image of beauty I soak in. I read this absolutely wonderful essay the other day about the importance of (seemingly) ordinary landscapes.

Many of the world’s landscapes are lost to us. They’ve vanished from our lives, become extinct. But they’ve disappeared not because of urban sprawl or the pressures of tourist development. They haven’t disappeared due to deforestation or a toxic accumulation of pollutants. Nor have they vanished because of weak legislation or the lack of political will and the funds necessary to secure them. Many of the world’s landscapes are lost to us because they’re invisible. We don’t see them for what they are. – julian hoffman

  • Breathing

I really suck at breathing! I take short shallow breathes, sometimes forgetting to breath, I swear. My chest gets sore and I feel tired from lack of proper oxygen intake. It’s funny how something so simple and fundamental to life can be so difficult to do correctly. Learning how to breathe deeply and from the diaphragm can lead to less stress and more energy. This is a helpful series of articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Make your own list! Where do you go or what do you do to feel calm?



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