5 ways to relax

Whether you need to wind down from a big trip or a bad day at work, try these Yoga-based tips to chill out fast
By Suzan Colón  Published on 06/07/2018 at 9:00 AM EDT
Kitty is unwinding; you can, too! Illustration by Suzan Colón

I have just come back from leading a yoga, meditation, and art retreat. Sounds relaxing, right? For the students, yes, but not necessarily for the teacher. I traveled six hours each way. I spent four days with a big group of delightful people I’d never met before in a town I’d never been to, teaching for many hours a day. I woke up at five and went to bed at 10, and in between I thought about All. The. Things. All the things I needed to do, wanted to do, did, should’ve done, and would do the next day—if there was time.

When I finally got home, my body was exhausted, but my head was still excited and buzzing with all the great moments of the trip. I’ve also been on trips that didn’t go as well, and that’s just as difficult to process, if not harder. This isn’t restricted to business trips, either; you can have a single big day at work and feel like you need to come down when you come home.

There’s a term for it: Decompression. It’s what scuba divers do when they’ve spent time in great depths. They resurface slowly to adjust the amount of gases in their blood so they don’t get the bends. We need to recalibrate our mental and emotional states or we’ll be up all night going over everything too many times.

RELATED: Meditation made easy(ish)

These adaptations of Yoga tools are my favorite ways to get grounded and return to a balanced state, and they work any time you need to stabilize.  

  1. Do a breathing meditation. Pranayama is a series of Yoga breathing practices that bring body and mind into harmony. Use Deergha Swasam, the Three-Part Breathing practice, as a form of meditation. Slow, steady breathing and meditation both help to reduce stress levels. When your mind starts to wander, gently steer it back to the cool sensations in your nostrils on each inhalation, the warmer sensations of your exhalations.
  2. Have a little nosh. In Yoga, there are three states of being—rajasic, which is high energy; tamasic, or lethargic energy; and sattvic, the perfect balance between the two. These descriptions also apply to food. Fresh veggies and whole grains are sattvic, while food that’s too stimulating is rajasic, and heavy food is tamasic. If you’re feeling over-stimulated, a little tamasic chow will bring you back down to sattvic town. Have a little pasta, some rice, cereal with banana, or a couple of slices of toast, and let it help relax you.
  3. Put it on paper. Getting grounded is easier when you put your feelings on the page. After your big event, trip, or day, do some writing about it. If things didn’t go well, list them in a positive way; what would you do differently if you had to do it again? For balance, write down the things that went well, too. Add little details, like what you ate, who you met, things you saw. Svadhyaya is the Yoga tool of self-study, and through writing, you may learn things about yourself that weren’t in your conscious mind. Just a few paragraphs is fine, and on paper, please; using an electronic device will over-stimulate your system, while writing by hand increases neural activity in the brain in a way similar to meditation.
  4. Work it out. If you’ve been traveling, you’re probably stiff. If the day was full, you’re probably tense. Unkink and relax with a gentle workout. Refrain from stimulating things like a run or the gym, unless you’re angry and need to sweat the feelings out. Decompression usually calls for calm activity like yoga (keep it gentle, rather than power yoga), tai chi (you can follow along with videos on YouTube), freeform dance to new age-y music, or just some slow, simple stretching on the bed or floor.
  5. Be creative. Recalibrate your sense of self by spending time with your favorite form of creative expression. Knitting, drawing, playing guitar, baking, welding metal sculptures—even if you’re tired, a few minutes of whatever you do for fun will restore a sense of balance. If you don’t have something like this, write down three things you’d like to try. Visualization, another form of meditation, is very powerful; even thinking about creative fun will put you in a better mood and restore your sense of self.

Use any combination of these tips, or, if you really need to get grounded, all of them. You’ll sleep better and be your normal superyogi self, ready for whatever the next day brings. Jai! (Victory!)  

Suzan Colón is the author of  Yoga Mind:Beyond the Physical: 30 Days to Enrich Your Practice and Revolutionize Your Life From the Inside Out

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