Feeling Stressed? Try These Ayurvedic Techniques to Get Back in a Calmer Headspace

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For wellness expert, writer, and cook Mira Manek, Ayurveda—a holistic medicine and wellness practice from India—played a major role in her upbringing. From cooking with her grandmother to going to Ayurvedic health retreats as a teenager, it was just simply how she lived.

Here in the U.S., Ayurveda isn't quite as well-known among the mainstream population, and when it does come up, it's most mostly in the context of food. The wellness-obsessed cook uses Ayurvedic spices, for example, and maybe washes down their food with lukewarm water. But as Manek discusses in her book, Prajna: Ayurvedic Rituals For Happiness ($18), Ayurveda is a holistic lifestyle, with a lot more to offer than just helpful tips on how to eat.

In fact, Ayurvedic practices can be especially helpful when managing stress, Manek says. (Surprised? You shouldn't be.) Here, she shares her tips on how to use Ayurveda to feel more peaceful—even when your to-do list seems miles long.

Next time you're stressed, try these Ayurvedic lifestyle practices:

1. Take a deep breath

Ever heard the advice that deep breathing can help quell anxious feelings? It stems from Ayurveda. "‘Prana-yama’ means the stop or control of the breath," Manek explains. "It's a set of breathing techniques that regulates the frequency and depth of the breath, falling into both yoga practice and meditation."

If you feel stressed or anxious, Manek recommends slowing the breath down and holding it for a few seconds before exhaling. "You could also place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest to feel that expansion in the belly and sense the slowing down of your heart rate," she says. This simple ritual has been linked to physiological changes, such as lowering blood pressure, slowing heart rate, and balancing oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood—all of which calms the mind, reducing stress levels. "It's amazing that we have this power!" Manek says.

2. Seek the company (and advice) of elders

While not *technically* an Ayurvedic ritual, Manek says connecting with older generations can help combat stress. Not only are older generations full of wisdom, they also offer a fresh perspective. "It’s a wonderful way of taking you away from your own reality and into another era, bringing to life another life from the past; and in some way, this can provide a new perspective to your own life," Manek says. "By taking us away from our own story, giving a different perspective on life, even if momentarily, and by making connections, it can loosen the stress or mitigate it just a little even by momentarily forgetting it."

3. Ground yourself in the present

Manek says practicing the Ayurvedic ritual of staying present can help ward off stress. "As a holistic system of medicine and healing, the mind-body-soul connection is central to Ayurveda. Being present in this moment, being fully in the here and now tunes us to our own self and connects us to all that is around us," she says.

Instead of dwelling on something that happened in the past or worrying about something that may or may not happen in the future, Manek says to try and focus on finding joy in the present moment. "Be engrossed about where you are and who you're spending your time with," she says.

A grounding exercise to help fight stress

Sounding easier said that done? Excerpted here from Manek's book is a short exercise to try to help bring you to the present during a stressful moment:

I imagine thought bubbles floating around me, bouncing above my head as I walk. One becomes larger, inspires another to form, then drifts as it makes space for yet another that has appeared. It pops before I get a chance to capture the thought, moving somewhere into the abyss, hidden until a time when I rummage though zillions of bubbles to find it again.

The odd thought makes a random appearance, maybe pushed forward by the sheer number collecting up there, and falls straight into my hands. I make an effort to take note, send an email to myself, then will it to float away. It's incredible how many thoughts we have, so many that we often don't know where they came from, a train of bubbles, just like a conversation where you stop for a moment and wonder how you got there.

And that's the beauty of it. Not understanding or being able to rewind or unwind. Having faith that where you are now you are meant to be; being content with the thoughts and conversations you are having, the place you're in and the life you're living. Not fighting it, allowing yourself to be content in the now and yet working for and believing in where you're going, all the while allowing and accepting bits of unknown to insert themselves in different parts of your life, taking solace in the fact that there is a reason for them and someday you may or may not understand that reason. Just like those bubbles that lead to other thoughts and led to an amazing idea, but at the time when you had the first thought you might have thought nothing of it.

The above section was excerpted with permission from Prajna: Ayurvedic Rituals For Happiness.

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