Life as a nurse – even life as an aspiring nurse – is stressful for both the mind and the body. Whether you’re on your feet all day caring for patients or hunched over your text books preparing for the next big exam in our accelerated nursing program in Indianapolis, the nursing lifestyle takes a toll on the body. In addition, your mind and spirit are constantly under the pressures of recalling information and acting with precision, all while providing compassionate and personable care to your patients.
Fortunately, there are ways to cope with this daily stress – and one of the very best ways to do so is the daily practice of yoga.
Yoga is an ancient practice that keeps the mind-body-spirit connected and in balance, and in doing so, can make you an even better nurse by helping you achieve clarity, rest and peace of mind.
Here are a few simple ways to implement a yoga practice throughout your day to alleviate stress and help you provide exceptional care to your patients:
Backbends give you energy for the day and open your heart. Your spine is the most powerful line of energy in your body and provides you with stability; everything stems from a strong spine. However, the spine is often the most taxed body part, suffering from the demands of constant standing and poor posture. Consistently performing restorative backbends will not only release tension in your neck and spine, it will also give you energy and increase flexibility – both in your body and in your mind as you deal with the challenges of your day.
- A great and safe backbend pose is the Cat-Cow Flow, or marjariasana in Sanskrit. Situate yourself on your hands and knees, keeping wrists in line with shoulders and knees in line with hips. As you inhale, drop your belly towards the ground and gaze up as your arch your back. As you exhale, round your spine and tuck your tailbone and draw your chin to your chest (like an angry cat). Continue this flow and make it feel good. You can modify this posture by trying it standing up when you get a spare moment during your day.
- If you have a more advanced yoga practice, try Bridge Pose, or perhaps even a full Wheel Pose in the morning after a brief warm-up. This will give you energy for the entire day.
Inversions send blood to your brain, increasing circulation and calming the nervous system. Getting upside down, or placing your head below your heart, is something that not many people do very often. However, it has tremendous benefits for your mind and body. In addition to being restorative to your worn out legs, it improves circulation, particularly to the brain, leaving you more physically and mentally energized. Plus, there’s no better way to gain a new perspective on life than to hang upside down for a bit!
- A gentle and restorative inversion can be simply lying on your back, tailbone against the floorboard, with your legs resting vertically against the wall. Try staying in this position for several minutes, careful not to turn your head from side to side. This will improve circulation and reduce stress on your lower back. You may also want to try a simple Downward Dog Pose, or adho mukha svanasana. Starting on your hands and knees (just like the Cat-Cow Flow), lift your hips to the sky as you straighten your legs and let your heels begin to fall towards the ground. Think about lengthening your spine as your press your chest towards your thighs. Be sure to release any tension in your neck.
- For a more advanced yoga practice, incorporate forearm stands, handstands, shoulder stands and even headstands. A great way to gain confidence and stability is to practice inversions using the wall for support.
Breathing is the key to making it through the day. Deep diaphragmatic breath, or prana, is defined in Sanskrit as the life force. To focus on the breath requires concentration and stillness of the mind from all thoughts and distractions. This allows for mental clarity and calms the nervous system. Deep breath also supplies oxygen throughout your body and assists in detoxification, invigorating the body and the mind.
- Check in with your breath at any time throughout the day, especially if you begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Is your breath shallow and inconsistent, or is it deep and steady? Simply taking a moment to note your current state can provide you with a sense of calm. When you have a few moments, perhaps even in your car on the way to work, try elongating your inhales and exhales, filling up your lungs completely on the inhales and emptying them completely on the exhales, perhaps pausing in between. Keep your mouth closed and breathe only through your nose.
- To go deeper in this practice, consider meditating in the morning to prepare for the day or in the evening to decompress after a long day of work. Start with just five minutes of focus on the breath. Before you know it you will work up to 20 minutes or more of peace and breath!
Keep all of these tools with you throughout the day. By tapping into your inner yogi, you’ll keep your body and mind balanced and prepared to perform at your best and provide exceptional care to your patients. Most importantly, keep attitude of gratitude to get you through the day.