A wellness expert on how to use yoga to your benefit, whether you’re on the front lines or working from home.
California-based wellness expert Stephanie Ingrid Phelan has spent decades studying and practicing yoga. Amid the pandemic, she’s moved her vinyasa flow classes online, and is leveraging the power of global connections to help her students get through this. Phelan talked to us about why this is the time to tap into yoga, and described some easy poses that are accessible and helpful to anyone looking to soothe pandemic-induced anxiety.
Wake-Up Call: I know right now a lot of people are having to deal with a lot of uncomfortable feelings just in terms of what’s happening with the world around us and in our own lives. So why do you think now is a good time to tap into yoga?
Stephanie Ingrid Phelan: Well, precisely for that. You know, in a way it’s an opportunity that we’ve all been given and it might not feel like an opportunity, because it might feel very challenging to sit with oneself and to get quiet. But the depth of our joy, creativity, and connectivity comes in that quiet.
We tend to layer on top of it — we keep ourselves so busy that we can’t be still and be alone with ourselves. We live in a culture that’s constantly making us feel like we need something outside of ourselves to make us happy. We need to look a certain way, live a certain way. That keeps us in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. But there’s an intrinsic joy, equanimity and contentment that resides within each of us that’s not externally driven.
Why do you think yoga, the movement itself, can help people get in touch with their inner selves?
I think moving, and sweating everyday is really important. What distinguishes yoga from other forms of movement is the connection to your breath. The way you breathe through your practice is very calming for the nervous system. It allows for that control
And the movement is so beautiful because the movement creates space for this breath to happen. Moving in the poses helps you build strength and sweat, but at the same time you have conscious, specific attention to your breath, which helps calm you down and sit more comfortable among things that are happening — the chaos, confusion, anxiety.
What’s going to calm your anxiety? You can eat a cake, drink a bottle of wine, do some drugs. But if you get calm and steady through your yoga practice, you’re able to ride the pace of what’s happening without pushing it away or avoiding it.
What type of yoga practice or poses do you think is best for someone who is working from home right now, and feeling a bit stiff and stir-crazy?
I think when people think of yoga, they think it’s sleepy. But I love a Vinyasa flow, which is a constant moving motion. So you’re stretching your body, toning your body, and moving the energy through you. I’m teaching virtual Vinyasa classes right now. I think that the vigorous practices are great if you’re sitting all of the time, for your posture, your hips, and other parts of your body. Many of the poses help you get blood flow going to your head, which is very calming and grounding.
And then on the other side of the spectrum, we have first responders and people who’ve been at work, standing on their feet, often in stressful environments. What do you recommend for them?
First of all, if you’re feeling anxiety, are exhausted, stressed or overwhelmed, it’s beautiful you can give your yoga practice over to someone else. A teacher can say, ‘Rest, I’m going to talk you through this.’
People doing hard psychological and physical work, like Firefighters, nurses, doctors and other first responders, can really benefit from yoga, especially restorative poses. Here are a few great options:
- Put your legs up the wall, lie on their back with your palms open, focusing on the breath. It can be very grounding, and it’s good for your legs and back.
- You can lie back on a bolster, with your soles and feet together, knees out to the side, and your palms open. That opens up your chest.
- Child’s pose is great if you’re feeling anxiety as it opens up your hips.
- Doing a forward fold gets your head below your heart, and your blood flowing.
Are taking online classes just as beneficial as in-person classes?
Yes — it’s been profound to see how beneficial! The online classes have allowed us to feel connected to one another at a time where we feel so disconnected. And they offer reprieve for people who are living alone, or for people with children or in stressful situations.
It’s also convenient. You don’t have to go anywhere to practice. I’ve been starting to teach now for YogaWorks and students from around the country have been logging in, and my family and my friends from all over, can connect.
You’re also a life coach! What have you been telling clients during this time?
It depends on the person and situation they are navigating.There is always a re-frame that allows for a more spacious vantage point.
For some of us, this time is a gift to explore our deepest desire, dreams, and what’s possible if we get quiet and listen to that inner whisper. For others, it is about survival and completely terrifying. We are all in the same storm, not the same boat. So how I coach, support, honor someone depends upon what boat they are in.
Definitely more chocolate, less news. And self care is a gift we can all give ourselves. It’s accessible. Call a friend who is uplifting, lay on the floor. Listen to music or meditate.
This originally appeared on Medium.com