3 soothing yoga poses for when you're carrying the weight of democracy on your shoulders
We are all trying to figure out how to come out on the other side of this election without getting completely swept into a whirlpool of anxiety, but none of us need any more bullshit advice to take a bubble bath. Are you really going to transcend strife stewing in a melange of your own dirt and a bergamot bath bomb? No. What you need is to do something really hard that requires all your attention and makes you feel empowered for at least a minute today.
Hi, I’m your yoga teacher and I’m here to help. First things first, as a person who has been teaching and practicing yoga and meditation for over 20 years, I think all this advice to “do something relaxing,” is a #selfcare marketing hoax, and I am not trying to sell you anything. There’s no meditating your way out of this capitalist hell we live in. But you can deal with it with more strength and ease. Here’s what to do.
Plank pose is kind of like voting for Joe Biden — no one loves it, but you know it’s the right thing to do. Plank is great for grounding you in your body — and reality — because you simultaneously get low to the ground and also use almost every muscle in your body to maintain it. It’s also a great starting point for other poses.
There are a lot of ways to make plank more accessible. If this pose is really hard for you, put your knees on the ground, press the soles of your feet against a wall, put blocks under your shoulders for support, or all of the above. There is no shame in modifying poses. I am a firm believer that doing yoga in a way that is smart for your body is what makes you an advanced practitioner.
If you want to add in some complexity, start from a straight-armed plank and try putting one forearm on the ground. Then try the other. Then try putting them down at the same time. Try lifting up to plank from the ground or lifting your hips into downward facing dog. However you plank, make sure your body is basically in a straight line. Press out through the soles of your feet and reach forward with the crown of your head. It’s easy to sag out in this pose, but doing so makes an empowering pose into one that feels totally defeated.
Tree pose is great for anxiety because it requires a lot of concentration. Even if you’re really strong or really flexible, you still have to balance, and that takes a lot of mental energy. No matter who wins the election, your response will require focus. Build the body of your pose around your attention by making your gazing point the focus of this pose.
If balance is challenging for you, set yourself up an arm’s length away from a wall in a way that lets you fully extend your arm and receive the support of the wall. If you are tight in the legs, you can put the heel of one foot on the calf of the other and leave your toes on the ground. As you feel stronger, try lifting the foot to the belly of the calf and then maybe to the inner thigh. Just don’t press your foot against your knee because it can throw that joint out of whack.
If you want to try some more difficult variations, try keeping your gaze steady on a fixed point and moving your arms. Bring your arms out to the sides or over your head or bring the palms together at the center of the heart. If you’re feeling really stable, you can try swaying in this pose or closing your eyes. I fall out of this pose all the time, and you might too. Try making falling into a game by falling differently every time.
Okay, look, I know that this pose is supposed to be easy, but for most people, it’s actually not. When yoga teachers call this a resting pose, what they mean is that this is a great pose to rest in if you are skinny and flexible. If that’s you, great, there are still ways to activate this pose and make it into more than naptime.
If this pose is difficult for you, as in, you can’t rest your butt on your heels or put your head on the ground, you’re doing great and it will be easier for you make this pose into a powerful one. Do the work of reaching your spine forward and simultaneously pressing your hips back to create length in the spine. If you want to rest your forehead on the ground but it doesn’t reach, grab a pile of blocks.
I love child’s pose because you can make it into an amazing shoulder opener. Try reaching your arms forward, like so far forward that your wrists and forearms lift up off the ground and you can only touch the mat with your fingertips. At the same time, resist against that reach by pulling your shoulder blades in towards each other and back towards your hips. Hold that stretch for five breaths, release, and repeat that five more times to get your shoulders to relax a little. You’re already carrying the weight of democracy on your shoulders, you can let go of the rest.