When I'm in a really foul mood, my first inclination is to call my mom and whine for a solid 15 minutes. Sure, sometimes it's nice to vent, but more often than not, continuous complaining just digs me into a deeper hole of misery and stress.
I've been thinking a lot about the power of positivity lately, which led me to start researching other, more productive ways for breaking a bad mood, like unrolling my yoga mat and flowing through the frustration.
"If you've ever taken a yoga class when you've been stressed or down, you've probably felt firsthand just how helpful a yoga practice can be to shift your mood," Tiffany Cruikshank, L.Ac, a yoga instructor, and founder of Yoga Medicine, tells me.
I was reminded of yoga's mood-boosting benefits one Saturday morning when my grumpiness and my anxiety completely took over. I left without a tension headache and in a much better mindset, but I didn't understand why yoga had this effect on me.
"There are so many elements of a yoga practice that support this shift, like the present moment awareness that allows our nervous system to focus on just one thing, and the breath as a medium to shift the stress response through its influence on the sympathetic nervous system," she explains.
Cruikshank also believes there's an energetic shift that happens as we are moving and stimulate energetic pathways or meridians.
Next time you're feeling down in the dumps, give this 15-minute flow, curated by Cruikshank, a shot.
Instead of fighting your emotions, Cruikshank says to use this practice as a way to "meet yourself where you're at, acknowledging what you find and then transforming it through breath-inspired movements."
And in turn, she says, you might just walk off your mat with a clearer, uplifted mind.
"What's important here is to take a moment to drop in and notice how you feel," Cruikshank recommends.
- Simply sit back on your heels and walk the arms and torso forward to rest your body on the ground.
- You can have your knees close together or wider apart, or grab some pillows to bring the ground closer to you. Find what feels best to you.
- Once you're there, Cruikshank says to notice how the stress and negativity show up in your body, acknowledge what it feels like, and perhaps you'll even notice that the emotions could serve a purpose.
- Stay in the pose for 1-2 minutes until you feel ready to continue.
Rib Breathing in Child's Pose
"This one is a great way to start the mood transformation process as the meridians associated with stress resilience run through the side of the ribs," Cruikshank says.
- From Child's Pose, simply walk both hands over to one side of the mat — just enough to feel a gentle stretch through the side of your ribs.
- Then, rest your head and arms on the floor to relax here.
- As you stay, imagine you could breathe through the side of your ribs like the gills on a fish.
- Stay for about a minute on each side.
Low Lunge Breathing
"This gentle movement is a great way to create some warmth and circulation through the chest, heart, and lungs to get things shifting," Cruikshank explains.
- Start in low lunge with your back knee on the floor — feel free to put some padding under your knee here.
- Inhale for a count of four as you let your pelvis sink toward the floor and take your arms out to the sides like a cactus.
- As you exhale for a count of four, release your arms by your sides as you lift your hips out of the lunge.
- Repeat five times moving slowly with the breath, then do the same on the second side.
Wide Legged Forward Fold
"This standing inversion can be a great way to calm the mind in times of stress and intensity and a great way to shift your mood and perspective," Cruikshank notes.
- From a wide-legged standing position, fold your torso forward and place your hands on the ground.
- Feel your torso drape off of your pelvis as you hang here — feel free to bend your knees here if your hamstrings are resistant, or you can rest your head and arms on a nearby couch or chair.
- As you stay here, feel the grounding of having both feet firmly on the floor and the changing awareness that this inversion creates to shift your mood.
- You might also visualize any stressful thoughts dripping off your mind, leaving them on the floor.
- Stay for 5-10 breaths.
Reverse Warrior Breathing
"The key to this one is the focus on your breathing once you're in the pose," notes Cruikshank.
- Start in a standing position at the top of the mat, and step your left foot back three to four feet so that your feet are in line with each other.
- Bend your right knee so your hips are a bit higher than your knee.
- Turn your torso toward the long edge of your mat.
- Then, reach your right arm up and back until you feel a gentle stretch through the right side of your torso.
- Stay here and imagine breathing through your side ribs, inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for the count of four.
- Feel the steadiness of both feet on the ground and a sense of ease in your breath here.
- Repeat for 3-5 rounds. Then, come out and repeat on the other side.
"Once you're in the pose, let your attention shift to focus on whatever or whoever comes to mind first that you're grateful for," Cruikshank suggests.
- Start on your knees with your knees hip-width apart and your toes flexed back underneath you.
- Inhale as you open and lift your chest.
- As you exhale, use your quads to lean back and bring your hands to your heels.
- If that feels too far away, simply put your hands on your sacrum — the large triangular bones at the base of the spine — and see if you can open and expand the chest there with your hips over your knees. Focus on the sensations that the awareness of gratitude brings to this pose.
- Stay for 3-5 breaths, then use your quads and core to bring you back up to come out of the pose.
Supine Butterfly Pose
"This calming pose gives all the work you've done a chance to sink in," Cruikshank says.
- Come onto your back to begin.
- Place the soles of your feet together, and let your knees move away from each other to relax there.
- If you want, you can grab some nearby blankets or pillows to wedge under your knees to support them so you can relax there.
- Place your arms wherever you like that feels comfortable — to your sides, on your heart, or on your belly.
- Soften the eyes, and let your attention turn into the inner landscape of your body.
- Notice what you feel here as you stay for 1-3 minutes.
At the very end of your practice, Cruikshank says to take a minute and think of five things you're grateful for, and then slowly continue your day.