Gentle Yoga for Stress Relief by Cyndi Roberts
WEEK 4: Shifting Focus
This week we will practice shifting focus. By shifting the focus, we can let go of the old and invite in the new. Technically, we can never really let go of a thought. We can only shift our focus and give it less attention. In this process, we let go of our attachment to the practiced thought or belief that may have been stressing us out.
We have spent the past three weeks becoming aware of stressors. That awareness now gives us the opportunity to allow, accept what is and refocus. It is only when we bring it to the light of our awareness that we most effectively move away from it and tell a new story. In my opinion and experience, the most effective way to be aware of thoughts we think is to focus the mind and clear out the noise of incessant thinking.
Practicing yoga and breathing exercises will focus the mind. They cultivate body awareness bringing the attention to feeling, rather than thinking. Stress occurs in our minds, then that stress shows up in our bodies. The physical manifestations of stress, like fatigue, aches and pain, send signals back to our brains and gets us caught up in a continuous loop of signals.
Thoughts feed the emotions and emotions feed thoughts and so on. To shift this lightening speed response in the body, we must first witness it is happening, stop the current cycle of thoughts hat are creating more emotions. Each time we practice, we are on our way to feeling better.
Practicing how to witness the mind allows us to become aware of circular, repetitive and negative thinking. Once we become aware, we can more easily release thoughts and change the story we are so used to thinking. We break attachment to thoughts that create suffering and stress. We break down parts of our belief system that no longer serve us. We find freedom and use the mind as a tool to feel better, not feel worse.
Want to learn how? Start a meditation practice
If you would like to try an additional practice—other than the ones in this program—to more effectively focus the mind, begin a meditation practice.
This week, be gentle with yourself and practice one or all of the following steps to create lasting change and new habits:
Set aside time to take a break from thinking about problems
As you observe thoughts, notice which thoughts cause you stress. Use this as an opportunity to shift the focus. Shift the focus away from stress so there is room for peace. This can be especially helpful when you are in the middle of a stressful event or situation. By clearing the mind of worried thinking, solutions and better feelings are more able to come in. After all, the mind that is obsessing over the problem cannot see the solution. Also, the mind that created the problem is different from the mind that will receive the solution. Rather than replaying or over-analyzing, shift the focus, ease suffering and make space for the solution to come in.
Practice self compassion
Life is a series of experiences that shape who we are. Our response to situations determine our happiness or misery. Our inner world determines those responses. If we are gentle and compassionate with ourselves, we are gentler with others and events. We must go easy and reaffirm that we are doing our best and we are all worthy of feeling better. We can let old, negative beliefs be and gently shifting the focus to better feeling thoughts that create new, positive beliefs. Self-compassion lowers stress levels and improves relationships.
Forgive yourself as often as you can
Self-compassion is the precursor to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a releasing of resistance. That resistance is the stress we are feeling. Resentment from the past or fearful anticipation of the future are also resistance. As we release that resistance and forgive ourselves for past actions, we lighten up on ourselves. Naturally, we lighten up on others, which will make for more peaceful relationships. Peaceful and cooperative relationships that lift us up are less draining. Having the support of yourself is one of the most important things as you travel on the road to transformation.
Make time for yourself and self care
Taking care of yourself is the best way to take care of others. As Eleanor Brown says perfectly, “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” You have already made this program a priority in your life. Now put it into action and receive its benefits. Make self-care a new habit. Even if it’s going for a 10-minute walk or sitting quietly for 2 minutes. Find things that are good for your soul and do them often.
Stop wasting time worrying or trying to control the uncontrolable
Remain in the present moment as often as possible. Take a moment (or moments) each day to notice where the focus is. Shift thinking from past or future to present moment awareness. Use the senses to feel your experience, rather than listening to the judgments of the mind. Identify any external and internal stressors and notice which are in your power to adjust. Let the light of awareness create new habits and lasting change.
Each chance you get, take time to notice all of the wonderful things going “right” in your life. There is well-being all around us and its our choice to focus on those good things. Isn’t it nice to know that our hearts beat and our blood is circulating without having to think or do anything? The earth is spinning perfectly in its orbit. Nature is blooming right on time. There are so many processes that are happening right now that we are unaware of but life is going on. Finding appreciation brings us back to the goodness that is our life. Life is truly a miracle. Once we tune into that gratitude and those miracles, we get more miracles and stress disappears. We woke up this morning. We are breathing. We have clean drinking water and food. Life is good. Truly. Let’s give thanks.
Practice body awareness
Practicing the yoga sequences and breathing exercises in this program strengthen our body awareness. The quickest way to shift focus away from the stress of the mind, is to feel the movement of the body — to feel rather than think. Extend this practice to everyday life. We can make it a practice for every moment we are conscious of old patterns. Then little by little the shifts become easier and easier. As we settle into our bodies, we become aware of posture, both sitting and standing. We feel our feet on the earth. We feel ourselves moving. Go for a walk. Exercise. Play a sport. Try pilaties, chi-gong or any other body oriented activity. Ground in your physical form.
“Life is simple and easy.”
Even if you don’t believe this statement, keep silently repeating it and let this powerful, positive statement fill up the cells in the mind and body.
Affirmations are a powerful tool we use to change the emotional energy we are emitting. Emit peace, rather than stress and you will receive more peace.
Gradually, it will get easier to believe as you notice more moments of peace and ease in your life. It’s normal for distractions to come in as you practice. Gently guide the focus back to the mantra and begin again.
Find a quiet place with no distractions and have your journal nearby. Take a few deep breaths to settle in before you read the questions. When you are ready, contemplate the question below. Take notes of your insights and reflections. Spend as much time here as you need and come back to the questions at another time, if you like. Try to listen to what the body is saying as well. Notice the breath, emotions and places of tension or ease.
Take some time this week to create a healthy and soothing environment
Notice your surroundings – where you practice, where you work and where you live. Take a few moments to really look, notice how you feel and incorporate change if need be. Clear up clutter. Donate things. Create order. Set aside time to clean and use it as a meditation practice. If clearing or changing your surroundings isn’t accessible, find a space that you have access to and create calm there. Write about how you feel before and after.
Are there any external and internal stressors that I can change?
Are there any stressors I can stop focusing on? What can I focus on instead? How can I change the current momentum of thought?
What are gradual shifts I can practice each day to soothe my stress level?
How can I incorporate these changes both on my yoga practice and in everyday life?
How can my yoga and breathing practices support these shifts and changes?
How do I feel about beginning a regular meditation practice? Are there small things I can practice daily to break out of stressful thinking?
What am I grateful for?
Both in my yoga practice and every day.
Let It Go Detox Flow – 90 Minutes
This week’s practice is a detox flow that creates space for acceptance of what is, letting things be and release. Be sure to lengthen before each twist for the most benefit. If you have an SI injury, avoid deep twists.
Breath with presence and mindfulness to release resistance and stagnation buried in the cells. Practice deep and full breaths imagining that you are releasing on the exhale. Drink plenty of water after you practice.
Tense and Release
Most of us are unaware that we are carrying tension in certain areas of the body. This chronic state of muscular tension tends to gets tighter when we are faced with stressful situations. This exercise is meant to bring awareness to those hidden areas of tension. It is then, in the light of that awareness that the tension we carry, will dissolve.
We will simply exaggerate the tension, by clenching certain areas of the body and then release it. After the tension is released, the body will naturally develop a new muscle memory to release and let go, rather than holding on and tightening. It will also help you become aware of what tight muscles feel like and what relaxed muscles feel like.
In the future, when you feel stress coming on, you can connect to tension in certain area of the body, that were brought on by the stress. Once you notice, you can let go – compassionately inviting muscles to soften. The more you practice, the more memory will develop.