Peace of Mind On the Go

How can you slow down when you’re always on the go? Here are 6 simple tips.

Posted Dec 19, 2014

"I'm traveling home for the holidays--I don't have any yoga studios in town that are easy to get to."
"I have family in town, so I won't be able to go to the gym as much."
"It's the holiday rush, so I don't have any time left for myself."

Whether you’re traveling for the holidays or rushing around the city, you might find yourself out of routine during the holidays and transition to the new year. During transition periods, it’s all too easy to put taking care of ourselves on the back burner. How can we take a moment to slow things down? How can we access peace amidst all the movement and change? Here are six simple, portable tips and resources that can help you find a calm way to transition through busy times and the new year.

1)    Resolve to prioritize taking care of yourself.

You can still be a very giving, compassionate person and also put yourself first—these are not mutually exclusive principles. Balance is key. The risk of always putting other people first is that you may end up burning out and wearing yourself thin, which can result in it being more difficult to be fully present for other people. So, at the end of the day, taking care of yourself is both good for you and the people who rely on you.

2)    Keep a routine.

Being away from home, traveling, or having visitors can disrupt your normal routine. Try your best to maintain a sense of structure for continuity. Keeping a physical calendar that maps out your time and events can help you keep track of how you are spending time, set expectations for the week, and also help you feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.

3)    Make relaxation easy and accessible.

What can you do if you can’t get to your usual gym or yoga studio? Fortunately, yoga and exercise aren’t practices limited to the mat or the gym. You can do shorter periods of time—even ten to fifteen minutes a day and your practice can even happen at airports or on the train.

Yoga has eight branches or “limbs,” including the postures (asanas), breathing (pranayama), concentration (dharana), and meditation (dhyana). Yoga and breathing practices have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in multiple studies.

Here are some ways to take these practices with you:

Music-Based

Free Music Playlists for Yoga from 8tracks.com – free music playlists for your own practice or meditation

Guided Meditations- You can download these podcasts ahead of time if you won't have access to Wifi when traveling

Meditation Oasis podcasts (also on iTunes)- 10-15 minute podcasts ranging from meditations for insomnia to creativity to stress reduction

UCLA Mindfulness Research Center Podcasts

Guided Meditations (15-25 mins)

Guided self-compassion podcasts

Dr. Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s website on mindfulness

Breathing practices

Pranayama (Breathing) Practices – free video examples

Yoga Posture Practices

Yogadownload.com – includes video and audio classes, free classes available including flow, restorative, Forrest yoga

Doyogawithme.com- free video classes available

4) Be willing to engage in relaxation practices without focusing on outcome.

When people try and practice yoga and meditation, negative judgments often come up (e.g., “I’m not doing it right.” “I’m never going to be flexible enough.” “I don’t have enough time for it to be worth it.”) Acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass, as the practice is not focused on outcome, competition, or achievement. Think of practicing these relaxation techniques as exercising a muscle: It takes time to tone and strengthen and the more that you practice without worry about the outcome, the more accessible and stronger your ability to relax (i.e., the relaxation response) will become.

5) Be open to troubleshooting what is getting in the way of relaxing.

If meditation or yoga is unfamiliar, it is completely normal that it might be frustrating or difficult at first. If you can maintain curiosity when you run into barriers (e.g., you don’t like the voice of the person on the guided meditation, you feel like you’re not flexible enough for yoga), then you might find different solutions to make the practice right for you.

For example, if you find the guided meditation voices distracting and prefer non-verbal instrumental meditations, coherence breathing is a simple practice that paces your breathing and induces relaxation without the interruption of words. It has been shown to improve heart rate variability—a measure of your nervous system’s resilience or ability to tolerate stress) in people with anxiety and depression. A sample instrumental track is available at coherence.com. You simply inhale at the high tone and exhale at the low tone. Four free sample downloadable tracks can be found here.

If you find that your body is not comfortable* in certain positions or types of yoga, try experimenting with different variations. Some practices like restorative yoga can be useful if your goal is to relax your body and mind. (*Note: If you have injuries or health issues, it’s always important to talk with your doctor first to make sure the practice is safe for your situation.)

6)    Carry a touchstone or find other ways to stay connected.

Feeling grounded can be related to being connected to a place like home or around supportive friends and family. Reflect on what makes you feel most centered and find a way take that with you—whether that means taking a photo of someone you care about or an small meaningful object that can serve as a positive reminder of home. Try to find time to call back a friend or family member or write that email you've been putting off. Connecting with other people takes effort, but is well worthwhile.

Are there other resources you like to use when you're on the go? Share your thoughts in the comments.

This is part of a series of articles on the Urban Survival blog, examining how to manage the stress of city living.

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Copyright Marlynn Wei, MD, PLLC 2014