A year in lockdown takes its toll. According to a recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about four in ten adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic, compared with around one in 10 who reported the same symptoms from January to June 2019. Maryam Ovissi is a trauma-informed yoga therapist and director and founder of Beloved Yoga, a 6,000-square-foot space in Reston that’s the largest yoga studio in the DMV region. She’s also the author of the new book Care of the Whole Self: Yoga-Inspired Practices for Befriending the Self. The effects of the pandemic on our physical, mental, and emotional selves can’t be overstated, but Ovissi wants us to know that it’s simple to incorporate yoga- and Ayurvedic-inspired tools into our daily lives. “It only takes five to 15 minutes to soften and add kindness to how we interact with others,” she says. Here are some tips for reducing stress, building connections, and improving our range of motion:
Cover and above photo by Bita Ghavami
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
I was really affected by how the CDC has reported that our life expectancy in the U.S. has been lowering over the past four years. I believe in human progress and was reflecting if this is a sign that we are progressing as a species, are we getting healthier? The answer was no, so instead of pointing fingers, I wanted to be part of the solution and do my part to uplift the collective. I have been following the trends of well-being in our community and I was inspired to provide an accessible and inclusive guide to the tools of Yoga and Ayurveda that have been proven to be effective to support the nervous system and overall mental and health well-being.
How has the pandemic affected our bodies, minds, and spirits in ways that yoga can help?
In a recent article I wrote, I said that “Yoga is a therapeutic tool that can address secondary trauma, such as that brought on by our collective experience with COVID‐19. There are things that we can do now to help mitigate the current spate of dysregulation associated with the pandemic. Supporting mental health well-being is essential during this time. As we are now in the midst of collective trauma, it seems appropriate to bring yoga back to help us deal with what is called secondary traumatic stress. Yoga-inspired tools can support you in your journey through COVID-19 and also help you to navigate re-entry into your life as we begin to emerge from the pandemic.”
What are a few clear and simple yoga tools to add to our daily lives to regulate stress and help our immune systems?
My number one recommendation to incorporate daily are the seven movements of the spine, which moves the body, organs, and fascia. When you wake up in the morning, sit on the side of your bed, on a chair or stand to lengthen, twist, side bend, back bend and forward bend your spine; there is an appropriate range for each person—enjoy exploring kindly. Also add a breath practice that incorporates healthy diaphragmatic movement. There are free videos on my website for people to follow and eventually just do it on their own
What else can we do right now to reduce stress levels?
Connect. We are engaging in the care of our whole self so that we can care for one another. Connecting with communities that offer self-care encouragement and community care are important. The key is to keep them small and intimate so that everyone can be seen and heard with value.
Can you share an idea for basic breath work to reduce stress?
Our breath is our life and our breath also manages our life. Bringing our breath into balance and alignment can potentially bring our minds, our bodies and our lives into balance. If we pull in our bellies and diaphragms when we inhale, or keep our breath in the upper lungs and never expand the mid or lower lungs and chest, this places stress on the body; posture plays a tremendous role as well. Begin by finding a comfortable seat, bring your attention to your chest/rib cage, diaphragm, and notice the natural expansion through the entire chest region on the inhale, and natural release on the exhale. Repeating for 10 to 15 cycles of breath is a great starting place. Yoga can’t satisfy all the needs of exercise. However, it offers a way to move and breathe with awareness that cultivates relaxation and ease.
How can someone get started with yoga if they are a newbie?
I wrote this book and created an online platform to make it accessible; not everyone can afford to pay a teacher and work one-on-one or even take group classes. The book offers a path that includes an online platform offering a free course with videos. Anyone that picks it up also receives a free 30-minute consultation with myself or a member of the Beloved Yoga private team. If you are interested in private classes, I recommend seeking a Yoga Therapist accredited through IAYT.
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