Quieting the mental chatter is no easy ask during the time of a global health crisis. The uncertainty and unpredictability of the pandemic bring along a thousand unpleasant thoughts as we contemplate the outcome of it all – and it’s important to take a break from them. Which is where yoga and meditation come in.

It’s no secret that yoga is known to boost both your mood and physical well-being. Yoga postures help relieve the tension accumulated in the body due to stress and anxiety, while the right breathing techniques and being in control of your thoughts through meditation help reduce the anxiety that triggers it in the first place.

Dubai-based yoga instructor Akhil Mohan, a lifestyle consultant at Dubai Police Officer’s Club and Anantara Dubai The Palm, says yoga makes you both physically and mentally stronger ‘because yoga means the union of body, mind and soul. It’s a massive challenge to keep the mind strong during these difficult times, but practising yoga and meditation can help, making a difference by helping you build a positive approach towards life, besides the physical benefits of flexibility and building your immunity. Being aware of our actions – mindfulness, a key tenet of yoga – helps us to reconnect ourselves to the present. Mindfulness also makes one a much better decision-maker.’

Akhil says you can club a yoga routine with your regular fitness routine of aerobics and strength training, but yoga can just as well be a standalone exercise. However, very importantly, please consult a doctor or a qualified yoga instructor before attempting any yoga posture/exercise routine at home.

Tips for an at-home yoga routine

Akhil recommends keeping in mind these seven tips before you start:

1. The place where you practise yoga is very important, so choose a separate, clutter-free, silent area for it. This will help you focus, be calm and enjoy the routines.

2. Yoga must be practiced on an empty stomach or at least three hours after food.

3. It can’t be a one-time exercise. Make it a daily practice – or at least three times a week is recommended.

4. Attire is another important point of effective practice. Your body must be able to move effectively to do the asanas. So junk your jeans and opt for a loose fitting pair of pants. Your attire should allow you to sit comfortably – so not too tight and not too loose.

5. Yoga is about being steady and comfortable, and working according to your limits. You don’t have to arch your back as much as the person next to you, particularly if you are practising at home without expert supervision. Do not overdo or stretch beyond what you can safely do.

6. Keeping your mind calm while practising is important, so prepare yourself before you start to help keep runaway thoughts at bay.

7. Remember, yoga is not just an exercise pattern, it is a lifestyle, so gain knowledge about it along with practising it. Seek a reputed teacher.

Breathing

Breathing is everything. ‘Yoga teaches you to have perfect control over your breathing with pranayama, to breathe with full awareness,’ Akhil says. Use the nostril, not your mouth, except for certain practices. If you suffer from a bout of anxiety or a panic attack, Akhil recommends remembering the 4:16:8 ratio – hold one nostril closed and inhale through the other counting till four, close off both nostrils and hold for 16 counts, exhale through the other nostril for eight counts. ‘This lowers your blood pressure and anxiety, also helping for deep sleep due to a relaxed state. It also improves capacity, helping expand your lungs and strengthen them, which is especially important to mitigate the devastating effects should you be affected by coronavirus.’

Yoga exercises that can help calm anxiety

Akhil recommend two exercises: the Janu Sirsasana and the Marjaryasana.

For Janu Sirsasana, or the head-to-knee pose, sit with both legs extended forward, back straight, then bend your left foot so the sole of it touches your right inner thigh. Rotate slightly so you are facing your right foot, then bend forward with your torso resting on your thigh, and hold onto your leg’s ankle or foot.

Marjaryasana or cat stretch: kneel and keep your arms perpendicular to the floor, with shoulders on the same line as your wrists. Your wrists, knees and feet should be in line. Round your spine to the ceiling, pulling your belly into your spine – basically making your spine as flexible as a cat’s.

Getting the kids involved

Activate the fun mode so you can hold your child’s attention, Akhil says – ‘they must enjoy while practising. Schedule family time for yoga sessions. Make up a storyline involving animals to teach them, because of the numerous yoga poses named after animals – think the cat stretch, the snake pose, the elephant walk. Don’t force the child who doesn’t want to join – let them see you enjoying doing it, and they’ll want to join in every family bonding session too.’

Tips for a meditation routine

Akhil says overthinking is often a main cause of anxiety, which can be countered with meditation, helping you find inner peace. Like yoga, he offers seven tips for an effective meditation routine:

1. Finding the right place to practise meditation is an important step – calm, no clutter, cosy.

2. Avoid all electronic devices, including the watch. Don’t wear one, or sit in a room with a clock. Setting a time limit means you’ll be clock watching regularly, and that won’t allow for deep meditation.

3. Have a background of some soothing music or chants.

4. Ensure dim lighting.

5. Find the pose you are most comfortable to sit in, or use a chair.

6. Sit on a mat, don’t forget pranayama and breath control, and use one focal point. Think about your favourite colour. Develop focus, feel the colour. If other thoughts come, let them be, but keep repeating your favourite colour in your mind. As each day goes by, you’ll find less of the other thoughts and more of the colour, which means you’re progressing.

7. Every day, try to meditate at the same place and the same time. Regular practice of guided meditation will lead you to a deep level of Dhyanam, where you forget about your body – in short, a withdrawal of all senses.

For more information on yoga asanas and meditation, call Akhil on 055 737 4892.

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