Release. Relax. Reflect. Recharge.
What does that even mean?!
A guide to the modern yogi’s Rs.
Prologue: happy place yoga retreat
At the end of July, I hosted my first yoga retreat in Kühtai, Tirol (Austria) – and it was incredible. You just read our motto up there – the four Rs, which are thrown around a lot in the yoga (Instagram & Pinterest) world. and while the participants of our alpine yoga by now know the answer, I thought I’d help with a brief definition & action plan on how to tackle these concepts.
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.“
sometimes life just gets too much. when you feel overwhelmed with tasks, social appointments and don’t seem to get your sh*t together – maybe it’s time to retreat. to take yourself out of the noisy surroundings of everyday life and into stillness, solitude and silence. and you do not necessarily have to go on a yoga retreat to accomplish that…
action plan: choose a quiet spot to spend time by yourself
– a bench in the woods? a hike in the mountains? an afternoon under your favorite apple tree? ideally without electronically devices, connect to the noise within yourself and try to quiet your thoughts by focussing on one of the tasks at a time. if possible, even disconnect from your everyday life and spend a few hours in idleness! to quiet your senses and prepare yourself to get back out there. that’s what a great retreat is all about.
asana to retreat: diamond shape.
start seated in butterfly pose with the soles of your feed touching, your knees wide apart. while keeping your feed together, push them further away from you to create a diamond shape (duh) before you. bow your head, release any tension you may hold in your body, enjoy a back body and outer hip stretch and retreat into the soothing space you have just created for yourself.
“To cry was to release all sorts of ugly little pressures and tensions. Like waking out of a long, dark dream to a sun-filled day.”
we bottle up a lot of tension in our bodies – both physically and mentally. however, we weren’t made to hold so much stress. we were meant to escape the predator (picture a saber tooth chasing your ancestor) and then release all of the fight and flight responses from our body to relax again. in today’s society, our predators are oftentimes our own thoughts and worries. the stress to deliver and perform at work. the stress to balance our work and social life. the stress to stay on deadline, hydrated, physically fit, eat healthy and maintain a social life at the same time as making sure to sleep 7+ hours per night and establish a moisturizing skin care routine – phew I got exhausted just from typing this list. it’s time to let go! time to release! but how?
action plan 1.1: find your exit valve!
for some – actually many – the ideal way to release tension is to excersise. To actually give our body the physical flight and fight response it craves. Have you not before felt like a good run (i.e. „running away from your problems“) cleared your head? We can let go of stress a lot better if we release through a good workout every once in a while. that’s also why savasana feels so f**king amazing after a dynamic yoga lesson. #yogasm
action plan 1.2: purging!
some of our stress, however, won’t even leave us by sweating it out. these are the more mental components of our tension – anxiety, sadness, worry. from experience, I suggest doing what I call an emotional clease. yup it’s what it sounds like: open that valve of tears and/or anger and open the floodgates. for women this works especially well right before our periods. use that hormonal emotionality to channel all of the negatives, really diving into your feelings and letting it all go. the best way to do that is to write it all down. whatever bothers you. whatever annoys you. to whoever hurt you. to whoever you can’t forgive.
asana to release: half pigeon pose.
there is a thing to be said about the connection of a deep and comforting stretch having an impact on our ability to let go of negative emotions. in addition, as this pose to many is a challenging stretch, it symbolises how sometimes we have to breathe and think into the sore spots in order to make them better – and release.
„Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.“
relaxation is about being in the now. unclenching your muscles, unclenching your mind. forget about the climb, forget about the way down and just enjoy the view on top. it is about letting go of yesterday and letting go of tomorrow. about accepting and appreciating this very moment. so…
action plan: right now – relax your shoulders, relax your eyebrows, take a big deep breath.
what does it feel like to be alive right now?
asana to relax: savasana
(ok I think everybody saw this one coming) or reclined butterfly pose supported by a bolster. work on learning to actively relax your shoulders, legs and the space in between your eyebrows. focus your breath on your lower belly to imitate your sleep breathing pattern and indicate to your body that it’s time to unwind. in savasana we allow ourselves 1-10 min of letting the world keep turning while we keep still and relax. take that time! even if it’s just for a minute – ignore what comes next and enjoy.
“When our mind is in shambles and we dare to reflect on the story of our life, we may discover, in the stream of our thoughts, the fault line between what we have underfelt and what we have overthought on our way.“
now that you are calm and free of tension (see previous steps) it’s time to discover yourself: reflect on your values, your ideals, your plans! where can you put boundaries in place so that no unnecessary stress enters your system? where have you been out of your integrity, i.e. acted in a different way than your values suggest?
action plan: journaling, list-making, finding your values.
now comes the hard part – pinpointing the essence of who you are. at least once in your life, you should actively think about an answer for the following questions
- what are your 3 most important values? what do you stand for?
- what are your top 5 qualities?
- how would you describe yourself as a whole?
- what are you grateful for?
- can you find negative behavioral patterns that you have repeated?
- if you could improve anything about you, what would it be? and what are the steps to improve it?
- what are your dreams? what do you live for?
(asana) to reflect: meditation.
to some, this might seem like a contradiction („Am I not supposed to not think during meditation?“) but: during meditation we can truly reflect on one aspect of ourselves. pick a question or topic close to your heart and close your eyes. first, observe your breath. then observe your feelings. examine your thoughts on the issue. draw your mind back to this one answer you are trying to find and watch „your brain storm“ for the solution (see what I did there).
“Self-care is how you take your power back.”
we have eradicated everything that is draining energy from us – now let’s refill! But what does it even mean to recharge yourself? It means applying enough self-care so that you may walk into whatever task is at hand energized, optimistic and in your power.
action plan: what gives you energy? do that!
yup, let’s do another list! we all have people in our lives, that make us feel refreshed as if we have just come back from a spa weekend; places that let us forget about everything that seemed so important before; we all have favorite things to do that make us realize how good life can truly be. write your’s down. put at least 10 items on the list. then try making space for these rechargers in your weekly schedule, strategically and mandatorily.
asana to recharge: (supported) bridge pose
backbends such as the bridge pose are said to be extra awakening and thus recharging. I chose this super comfy pose as it allows our blood to flow back towards our centre with ease and while we can turn this pose into a challenging workout-backbend, the supported version is accessible to all energy levels and also helps us recharge post-workout.
„your attitude determines your direction.“
― pinterest 🙂
none of the steps above will yield longtime success if with all the energy you have regained and all the insights into yourself you have gathered you do not adapt your life to fit your needs. this is what refocussing means: to redirect your attention to those things that matter to you.
action plan: prioritize!
check your values! deriving from what you expect from life, what you stand for – is what you are busying yourself with truly helping you create the life you want to live? Or are there other things you should be doing instead? start saying no to distractions and yes to tending to yourself and making your dreams come true. sometimes this takes baby steps – but in this way you will still move forward.
asana to refocus: dancer’s pose
focus on your breath, gaze over the palm of your hand, determinedly pointing ahead. you got this! if you just focus on what’s truly important.
Epilogue: Sources & Thank You’s
I am a product of the people who taught me. So a lot of my ideas aren’t new (are there any new ideas on this planet?). A huge thanks goes out to my teacher Rachel Hanberry who aquainted me with Journaling, to one of the best teachers I ever had, Dr. Ron Steiner, for his insights into yoga movement and stress management. Also I would like to express my gratitude to my friend Lara, a fellow yoga teacher and blogger, who introduced me to the idea of an action plan in my blog posts! I love that Idea.