I never expected to learn about emotional stability from chickens. Yet when our family welcomed three hens a few months ago, it amazed me how quickly they settled into a regular routine. Every morning at 6:30 when my husband opens the door to their coop, there they are, waiting expectantly to hop outside. At 10 a.m. they unfailingly have three eggs for us, always laid in the same nest (I guess they take turns). Every evening they perch on the same ledge, huddled together as the sun sets outside their window. If I only had the time to watch them more closely, I’m certain there would be many more examples of such consistent behavior.
I admit that I sometimes envy them—my life rarely feels predictable these days. Despite my best intentions to create stability, more often than not unexpected circumstances arise daily that need to be navigated and responded to. The uncertainty can sometimes leave me feeling ungrounded, stressed, and worried.
Fortunately, I have something our chickens don’t—my yoga practices. Yoga helps to anchor me, to bring me back to a place of stability inside myself. A boat at anchor stays in place no matter how great the storm. In the same way, the disciplines of yoga serve to keep us in place, center us, not only in the present moment but also to a deep and abiding internal awareness. Yoga teaches that beneath the stormy seas of outer circumstances there exists a calm and consistent core. It gives us the tools to access this core for greater emotional stability as we weather the ups and downs of life.
Anchoring is about getting grounded. When we release the energy of the body and the breath downward, we can tether ourselves to that unchanging, underlying essence of our being, the deep, calm ocean of unchanging awareness that’s always there regardless of what’s going on in our everyday life.
One of the best ways to experience the gravitational pull downward, and the stabilizing effects associated with it, is by awakening the lower body through asana and breathwork.
Yes, it’s wonderful to walk, hike, run, cycle, and climb. But beyond engaging and strengthening your muscles through these kinds of activities, it’s also important to spend time practicing poses that build awareness in your feet, ankles, shins, legs, and hips. As you do this, your attention will naturally be drawn out of your mind and down into your body in the most grounding and settled of ways.
Here’s a lower-body-focused sequence to help anchor you when life feels unmoored, which is followed by belly breathing and capped off with savasana.
1. Child’s pose (balasana): Hold for 6 to 12 breaths.
2. Downward facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana): Hold for 4 to 6 breaths.
3. Thunderbolt pose (vajrasana): Hold for 4 to 6 breaths.
4. Hero pose with clasped hands overhead (virasana with parvatasana): Hold for 6 to12 breaths.
5. Cow-face pose (gomukhasana) legs: Hold for 4 to 6 breaths each side.
6. Downward facing dog pose to one-legged downward facing dog pose (eka pada adho mukha svanasana) to lunge: Hold each pose for 3 to 4 breaths, then switch sides.
7. Step forward into standing forward bend (uttanasana): Hold for 2 to 3 breaths.
8. From standing forward bend, step your left leg back into intense side stretch (parsvottanasana): Hold for 4 to 6 breaths. Step your left leg forward and your right leg back to change sides. After you’ve completed both sides, return to standing forward bend, then stand up. If you like, you can turn to face the long edge of your mat for the next pose.
9. Step your feet apart and fold forward for wide-leg standing forward bend (prasarita padottanasana): Hold for 6 to 8 breaths.
10. Eagle pose (garudasana): Hold for 4 to 6 breaths each side.
11. Standing forward bend: Hold for 4 to 6 breaths.
Come to seated for these poses:
12. Bound angle pose (baddha konasana): Hold for 6 to 12 breaths.
13. Staff pose (dandasana): Hold for 6 to 12 breaths.
14. Wide-leg seated forward bend (upavistha konasana): You can remain upright (as shown) or fold forward if you like. Hold for 6 to 12 breaths.
15. One-leg folded forward bend (triang mukhaikapada paschimottanasana): Hold for 6 to 12 breaths each side.
16. Seated forward bend (paschimottanasana): Hold for 6 to 12 breaths.
17. Take legs up the wall pose (viparita karani): Hold for 3 to 10 minutes.
Then finish with . . .
Belly Breathing (5 to 10 minutes) and Savasana
Belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure and lowering stress levels. This is why when we release tension in the belly and feel the movement of the breath there, it can help to calm and ground us.
Here’s how to practice it:
• Lie down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
• Relax your shoulders, lengthen the back of your neck, and allow your throat to soften. Relax all the muscles of your face.
• Place your hands lightly on your lower belly, between your navel and pubic bone.
• You may close your eyes if you wish, or just keep a soft gaze.
• Bring your attention to your breathing.
• If possible, breath in and out through your nose.
• Without doing anything to change it, notice the natural rhythm of your breathing. Notice how your breath might naturally slow down or even out as you observe it.
• Feel the breath in your belly. Notice the way your belly gently rises on the inhalation and falls on the exhalation.
• For the next few moments, allow your awareness to rest on your breathing and enjoy the gentle rise and fall of your breath in your belly.
• Take a deep breath in, and a long breath out. When you’re ready, open your eyes if they were closed, and take a moment to notice the effects of this exercise.
Complete your practice with a three- to five-minute savasana.
Photography: Andrea Killam