A Mindful Relaxation You Can Do in the Grocery Line
It seems like we’re always waiting—for the computer to reboot, the web page to open, the checkout line to move, the traffic to clear, the red light to change to green. We wait for a plane or a taxi, a doctor or a test result. We wait on hold, online, in the car, the office, and even at home. And usually, we wait with impatience and a tinge of anxiety.
According to ayurveda, frenetic mental states (which can be sparked by periods of waiting and other potentially stressful situations) jangle our nervous systems and deplete ojas, the vital sap or energy that sustains our immune systems. Over time, this can lead to chronic illnesses such as insomnia, recurrent infections, chronic fatigue, or autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Luckily, ayurveda is a preventive medicine that encourages us to take our health and happiness into our own hands. Ayurvedic physicians (and yogis, too) believe that we should nurture our nervous systems whenever we can. They would argue that we have a choice about how we handle these in-between times: we can rattle our nervous system with anxiety and resentment, or we can view waiting as an opportunity to ground ourselves in the present moment.
Ayurvedic physicians (and yogis, too) believe that we should nurture our nervous systems whenever we can.
Here are some yoga techniques that can balance you from an ayurvedic perspective—you’ve probably heard them before. We often perform them on the mat or meditation cushion, but as the day speeds up we may forget about them.
Whether you’re in a grocery line or a waiting room, here’s a simple but effective trick for using your time wisely: a systematic relaxation. It is so simple that no one will know you’re doing it.
Step 1: The Arms
To begin, sit or stand with your head, neck, and trunk in alignment, breathing deeply. Mentally relax your face, neck, shoulders, and arms. As you inhale, visualize your breath beginning at your fingertips and moving up your arms to your head. Then reverse directions, slowly exhaling from the crown of your head all the way down to your fingertips. This is called the “sweeping breath”; repeat it two more times.
Step 2: The Torso
Next, relax your head, neck, shoulders, and torso. Perform the sweeping breath three times: inhale from the base of the pelvis to the head, then reverse directions as you exhale.
Step 3: The Whole Body
On the third exhalation relax your hips, legs, and feet. Visualize your breath sweeping across the entire body three times, inhaling from the toes to the head and exhaling down to the toes again.
This practice helps you let go of stress and emotions and connect with the body.
Tune Into Your Breath
Once your body is relaxed, breath awareness is the next step in reducing stress and building ojas. Diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the body’s fight-or-flight response to stress and puts us in rest-and-digest mode instead.
Once your body is relaxed, breath awareness is the next step in reducing stress and building ojas.
To practice breath awareness, bring your attention to the sensation of your breath flowing in and out of your nostrils. You will notice that the exhalation is slightly warm and the inhalation is moderately cool. Be sure that your breathing is diaphragmatic and that the transition between your in and out breaths is smooth and without pause. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to the breath at the nostrils. When thoughts arise, let them go.
This practice leads to a relaxed, clear state of mind and a more balanced nervous system.
Manage Your Mind
If your mind is still agitated, here are some simple tips for regaining mental balance.
Change Your Perspective
The world isn’t going to end if you’re ten minutes late for a meeting. And it will go better if you’re breathing deeply and feeling centered when you arrive.
Step Back and Observe
Another way to pull yourself out of triviality is to step back and observe your surroundings objectively. For example, while you’re sitting in traffic, pay attention to the shapes, signs, and colors around you, as if you were going to draw a picture or describe the scene in writing.
When we’re aggravated by waiting we’re prone to criticism: “Her pants are too short, that clerk is stupid,” and so on. Instead, view your neighbors and surrounding environment with loving kindness—and try to laugh at your predicament.
Say a Prayer
Lift your mind to a higher state of awareness by saying a prayer. It will test your memory and nourish your body, breath, and mind.