by, Lori Boggan, RN
The closing of one year and start of a new inundates us with self improvement posts, the year’s super foods, super exercise, or super drink. According to The Global Wellness Institute, wellness is a trillion-dollar industry worldwide that we buy, eat, and drink up.
We want so badly to find a quick solution to weight loss, health, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s a fact that Americans suffer from stress related diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, numerous studies have shown that stress in the workplace can be linked to cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, workplace injury, and impaired immune function, to name a few. This is a very strong and clear indication that we are stressing ourselves to death!!
It is no secret that a nurse’s job is stressful. We work long hours, sometimes without a break. We witness domestic conflict, sickness, trauma, and death sometimes on a daily basis. Our adrenalin can be instantly tapped in acute situations. We are a culture that bullies one another. Many of us stress eat, smoke, drink alcohol.
So what can we do this year to improve our well being? We know the benefits of the relaxation response or work of the parasympathetic nervous system. We lived and breathed the nervous system’s function in nursing school. How about we tap into it right now?
Yoga is gaining popularity exponentially in the western world. It is an ancient practice from India that’s goal is to relieve the mind of it’s chattering and thus suffering. Practicing yoga the last fifteen years and teaching the last five has taught me to take time out, be present, breathe more deeply, and think and speak more positively-especially to myself. Nurses can reap the benefits. It should be as necessary as clocking in to get paid.
The yogic lifestyle is not exclusive to the bikini clad gymnast as seen on Instagram. It does not require a trip to India to practice. It is not for only flexible, skinny, and enlightened people. It is not a religious practice. It is a journey inward that guarantees (with practice) a healthier, happier you. More and more research is pointing toward meditation and yoga (moving meditation) as a way to relieve depression, anxiety, headaches, and other stress related diseases.
The following is a simple beginning. Let’s start very basic and simple. One pose, five-ten minutes. Here we go…
What you need
A yoga mat or a large beach towel, a hand towel, and wall space. Wear comfortable, stretchy pants or pajamas and a t-shirt.
When should you practice?
This one pose sequence can be practiced first thing in the morning before your shift, when you get home, or both. Your feet will love this pose at the end of a long 12-hour shift. As a general rule, it is best to wait 1-2 hours after eating when practicing yoga.
Create the space
A clean, warm, and uncluttered room is best. Natural light is ideal. Light your favorite candle or essential oil burner for a little aromatic effect.
Our pose of the day is called Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall), one of my absolute favorites. If you already have a yoga mat, great! If not, the towel is your yoga mat today. Lay your towel or mat perpendicular to the wall. To get into the pose, sit on the edge of the mat closest to the wall. Plant your right or left hip up against the wall, bend your elbows behind you, and swing your legs up the wall. Keep your feet about hip distance apart and just allow your ankles to open naturally. Those with open hamstrings can move a bit closer to the wall. Those with tighter hamstrings might find they need a little space from the wall. Place your folded blanket underneath your pelvis allowing a little space between the wall and blanket. Your sit bones should fall off the blanket down toward the floor accentuating the natural curve of your lumbar spine. Broaden across your collar bones, lift your chin away from your chest (natural curve of cervical spine), and draw your shoulder blades in and down your back. You can also place a small rolled towel under your neck for cervical support if needed. Stretch your arms out along side you, palms facing up. “Plant your right or left hip up against the wall, bend your elbows behind you, and swing your legs up the wall so that the backs of both legs are up against the wall.”
Benefits & Contraindications
Viparita Karani is a pose loved by all from beginners to the most advanced yoga practitioners. It relieves headaches, migraines, PMS, tired or swollen feet, anxiety, and depression among other things. There are different schools of thought against this pose during menstruation, but this yoga teacher loves it. Take caution in practicing this pose if you any serious neck or back problems. This pose is contraindicated for anyone suffering from glaucoma. When you practice this pose, if you feel lightheaded or uncomfortable at any point be sure to come out of it. If you’re pregnant, talk with your nurse, midwife or physician about practicing yoga and ask about this pose. This pose is not recommended after 36 weeks of pregnancy and after 20 weeks it’s recommended you don’t maintain it for more than 5 minutes.
Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply in and out of your nose. This is the most important part of the practice. Try to deepen and lengthen the inhale and exhale with each breath. Your jaw is soft and relaxed. Your neck, relaxed. With each breath, try to lengthen and smooth out any tension in your breath, tension in your body. There is a direct link to your breath and the relaxation response. Stay here ideally for 5 minutes working up to 10 minutes with time.
Set an Intention
Yoga teachers sometimes encourage students to set an intention for the practice. My mantra of 15 years is still to this day, “Let go.” You are welcome to borrow mine. We have a tendency to hold on to things in life that do us no service and that we have absolutely no control over. Letting go of what we can not control saves us from unnecessary stress and suffering. It is a life long intention.
It’s a simple commitment of 5-10 minutes at least 3 days a week or every day if you can. A simple, achievable goal. Try it for one week and let me know what you think. Really make the commitment. I think you will find that at the very least after 5 minutes you will find that your mood is elevated.
A Hindi word meaning the light in me recognizes and respects the light in you. It is a tradition at the end of every yoga class where the teacher and student bring the hands to the heart, in front of the chest and bow with the word Namaste. Looking forward to our virtual practice again soon, nurse yogi friends!! Namaste!
Lori Boggan, RN
Lori is a NICU Staff Nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. After becoming a nurse, Lori traveled across the country to work a three-month travel contract in San Francisco, California. Nearly five years later her journey continued to Gothenburg, Sweden, where she now lives and works. She also write her own blog Neonurse at https://neonursetravels.com/