I was recently interviewed by “Live with Upasana” on Instagram. She lives in Mumbai where they are still in lockdown and she asked me to share some practices to support people who are struggling with their mental health.
You can listen to the interview HERE (it’s only 15 mins) or if you prefer reading, here is a summary:
Q: How has your work changed in the last 12 months since we last spoke?
A: Before Covid my work was very active and community-based. I spent most of my time running around from place to place teaching classes and workshops.
When Covid came along I was suddenly locked up like all of us, and my work became much more internal. I began to work more with the subtle body, going into deeper practices.
Q: Why is working on the subtle body important for us?
Firstly it’s important as a way to develop better awareness. When you’re aware of what’s going on in your body, you can do something about it and take action. Through action you create karma and empowerment.
The more in touch you are with the deeper layers of your body, through the chakras, meridians or other energy work, the more you can notice where you may be blocked, where you may have excess energy, when you may need to charge, or discharge. It’s all about being aware.
Your body is a self-healing organism, you just need to work with it. It’s very easy to get distracted by the external world and external opinions. By learning to really feel your own body on all levels you become empowered to do what’s right for you, and that’s going to look different for everyone.
This is why working with the subtle body is important. It creates more awareness, more knowledge, and more connection to the deeper layers and to spirit.
Q: What tips can you give to our listeners today?
A: Mental health often manifests as worry, anxiety, being really sad, or depressed… there’s a spectrum within those states. Under normal circumstances I would say: move your body, breathe, go out in nature, be around people that you love. All those simple things become more difficult when you’re in lockdown, so you need to be innovative and find practices that can still bring you nourishment.
In lockdown the main thing is to connect to Earth, even if you can’t go out in nature (which is always the best thing to do) you can do that at home by connecting to Muladhara the root chakra.
If you don’t have a lot of space to practice asana, you can still sit in a pose that brings you courage and stability. I would suggest Virasana (hero pose), in Yin it’s called Saddle pose. This is a very grounding pose that also lifts the spine, and opens the chest for better breathing.
For listeners who may not know what Virasana is, it’s sitting with the knees together and feet are out wide and you sit your bottom on the ground (or a block or cushion) between your feet. This pose might not be available to everyone, if your knees are tender they may come apart which is fine, you don’t need to be rigid about it. It’s about finding a seat that makes you feel courageous. Vira comes from the rasa (emotional tone) Veerya which means courage, so when you’re in this seat you come into your own power. Whenever you feel despondent, in a ‘doom and gloom’ state, simply sitting this way opens the heart and lifts your spirit. So my number one tip would be to find a seat that makes you feel open to the world and strong.
My second tip is to work on the stomach meridian which runs along top of the thighs. In Virasana / Saddle pose you are stressing that meridian channel. Come to an edge where you can feel a bit of stress there, that’s what we do in Yin yoga. Then bring your hands in a fist and rub them up and down the top of your thighs, it will stimulate chi flow along the stomach meridian. This meridian is about nourishing yourself, giving yourself love, the love of Mother Earth. All the things that you receive from Earth are connected to the stomach meridian, so you can open that channel by rubbing your thighs with your fists.
Once you’ve done that for a while, bring your thumb and ring finger together in Prithvi mudra. The ring finger represents the Earth element, the thumb is the individual self, by lightly pressing them together you are connecting to Earth. Place your hand like this on your thighs.
Now focus on your energy body and notice whether you feel over-charged which can happen when you feel anxious and there’s a lot of energy in the mind, there’s rumination, there might be tension around the heart chakra or around the sacral chakra.
If you’re feeling sad or depressed, it could be the opposite, it’s a lack of energy, there’s not much there, no resource to draw from.
Feel into where you are on that spectrum, hone in, listen to your body. If you have excess energy, have your palms facing down so that you are more grounded and still.
If you feel that you need some spark, some extra ooomph, have your palms facing up so that you connect to spirit and invite energy in.
So my second tip is find out where your energy levels are and what you need. This is where connecting to the subtle body and empowering yourself comes in. Once you know what you need then you are able to give it to yourself.
The last thing we will do is with sound so either close your eyes or keep the gaze low so that you’re not distracted by vision. Open the doors of your ears, to invite vibration in. When we work with sound we harmonise the vibration of the healing bowl with your own vibration. I’m using the Muladhara chakra crystal bowl and you can choose to chant the bija mantra for this chakra which is LAM. If you’re in a space where you can chant, I encourage you to chant.
When you chant you’re releasing energy, it’s an extension of the breath and very relaxing for the body. The repetition of the mantra is very good for stilling the mind because it gives you a point of concentration. If you’re are not able to make sound where you are, you can chant silently in your mind, or you can use your own mantra. Close your eyes, take a big breath in from the base to your crown, open your heart and listen to the vibrations and chant LAM over and over again at a pace that matches your own internal rhythm.
Depending on how you feel in your body, you could sit like this in meditation and just breathe, which is the best thing for your nervous system. Inhaling up the spine, exhaling down the spine and releasing the tension and giving it up to the Earth. Each time you inhale you take in the goodness of Mother Earth who is there to support you. Whatever it is that you need, breathe it in, visualise and imagine how it would feel to be fully nurtured, to feel secure, all those things you may have lost. Get into the feeling of it, and as you exhale, release all that stuff going on in the mind, the rumination, the worry etc… give it up. Breathing is excellent and if you want to do more Yin practice in this pose, you can lean back in reclined saddle pose / supta virasana putting more stress on the stomach meridian line.
I hope that at least one of those tips is helpful for you. It means that if you are confined in a small space you can still practice and empower yourself.