Back-to-School and Back on your Mat

Now that it's September, many of you are probably going back to school or going back to work after Labor Day Weekend. Regardless, summer vacation is done and it's back to work. But there's no need to dread it...

When I was in school, I dreaded the first week. I would have painful anxiety and it would manifest into stomach pains. The reason for my anxiety was simple: I wanted to do well, and I thought it meant I had to know everything and do everything PERFECTLY in order to succeed. (Humanly impossible, I know!)

  • I had to know what to wear
  • I had to know my bus schedule
  • I had to know what building and room my classes were in
  • I had to be on time and on top of everything

I had to be pushing myself to perform my first week as flawlessly as possible! I was already adding stress to myself before my professors added any stressful assignments.

Here's the truth: When I was not at the yoga studio, my mind totally forgot how it felt to be in downward dog or chant "om."

When I wasn't consciously practicing mindfulness, my mind would lean toward stress and anxiety inducing thinking. Chances are, your mind does the same. It's the human condition.

So to ease your back-to-school or summer ending angst, I wanted to share some lessons and a sequence. These are the lessons that I eventually learned to do for myself... by my senior year.

LESSON 1. STAY GROUNDED

Don't lose yourself in the middle of stress.

Don't forget yourself. If you are unable to stay grounded, you will struggle and find it hard to keep up. You will eventually experience exhaustion and burn out.

The key to avoiding the pitfalls of being overwhelmed, is to stay grounded. That calls for self-awareness, enough to realize when you are not grounded.

It doesn't mean liking that you're stressed, it just means acknowledging it and then taking steps to ease the overwhelm from building momentum.

The easiest way to stay grounded is to notice your breathing and practice pranayama, or controlled breathing techniques.

Some simple guidelines: If you notice that your breath is short and shallow, you're likely stressed. To ease your nervous system, you can simply count the length of your inhale and exhale. Try to either increase your out breath, or make it even with your in breath. If you're noticing that your breathing a ratio of 3:2, see if you can increase the numbers by one making it 3:3.

LESSON 2. REMEMBER WHAT'S IMPORTANT

Most things are urgent, but few are important. What's the difference?

Urgent things are the tasks that you have to do because there's a deadline to meet and it usually exists in a short-term timeline.

Example: The online quiz that's due this Friday at midnight.

Important things are the tasks or projects that are valuable to you, and can be part of your own long-term goals.

Example: The term paper that's worth half your final grade.

While the list of urgent things are endless in a semester or quarter, one way to reduce stress is to remember to work on the bigger, important things along the way. Believe me, deciding to visit the Tutoring Center to work on the term paper ahead of time saved me so much pain near the end of the term. I only regret that I didn't implement that strategy until my senior year.

LESSON 3. PLAN FOR YOUR SELF-CARE

In the same way you include exam dates and study sessions on your calendar, I highly recommend planning self-care dates for yourself. I'd like to think of this tip as encompassing both lessons 1 and 2.

In order to stay grounded, you have to plan for self-care. 

In order to remember what's important, you also have to plan for self-care.

How can you expect yourself to be performing in a grounded way, for both important and urgent tasks if you DON'T also take care of yourself? Believe it or not, we are humans and not mere workaholics.

During my senior year, my calendar did not only include classes and work hours, but also time for visits to the yoga studio and gym. It was what kept me grounded and going toward my most important goal: do everything it takes to graduate.

getting back on your mat

Yoga has proven benefits for students. It's likely you're here because you already know that and lucky for you, I have some pointers below.

I wanted to give you a sense of how you can apply the lessons above to your own yoga practice. I've listed a few examples of how you can apply the lessons of grounding, remembering what's important, and self-care when you're on the mat.


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Hien Hong