If you’re currently in the process of getting divorced, chances are you’re dealing with tension that has been accumulating for at least a year. Left untreated, this accumulation of stress can be very detrimental to your health. You might already know this, but the truth is that when you’re stressed out, you rarely take the time to care for yourself. “When people go through a divorce,” says Amanda Whitney, a massage therapist and massage education coordinator at Canyon Ranch Spa in MA, “they spend most of their time focusing on external issues. They are concerned about other people in the family, especially their children, about having to change homes, or about dealing with lawyers. They rarely take the time to pay attention to their own health.” For the past 5,000 years, the eye of the storm for many people has been the practice of yoga.
According to Suzanne Deason, renowned yoga instructor for Gaiam (the leading producer and distributor of yoga videos) and herself a child of divorce, yoga is an ideal way to handle divorce-related stress. “Because stress affects you on every level — physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually — you must make some decisions first and foremost about your health,” she says. “You need a tool: something to help you connect with yourself, something you can turn to on a daily basis to steer you in the right direction. This tool should help remind you to listen to yourself, to eat right, and to treat people as well as you can. Yoga is the best tool I know of to help you do this.”
In fact, yoga’s list of health benefits is quite impressive, including stress relief; lowering blood pressure and heart rate; and improving cardiovascular endurance. And although it’s vitally important to check with your doctor before undertaking any new physical activity, most people can enjoy the benefits of yoga, regardless of how early or late in life they choose to begin.
Yoga also offers mental and spiritual benefits. “There is something beyond the body when you do yoga,” explains Patricia Walden, one of the world’s top yoga instructors and head of the B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Center of Greater Boston. “Yes, we can become more fit, our bodies can become more toned, we can learn to relax and even feel peaceful. But there’s something much more. We have the opportunity to find our Self with a capital ‘S’ through the practice of yoga.”
Hatha Yoga is the most widespread type of yoga in North America. Among its various styles, the most common for beginners are Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Kundalini. According to Gaiam, Ashtanga (also known as “power yoga”) is the most physically demanding form of yoga. It aims to create heat in order to cleanse the body and build strength, flexibility, and endurance. Kundalini focuses on breathing, chanting, postures, and meditation to awaken energy in the spine and channel it through your body, cleansing and energizing your system. Iynegar, the most well-known out of these three, combines physical postures — called asanas — that exercise the body with breathing techniques that calm the mind. Iynegar emphasizes proper body placement and alignment. Most yoga classes offer a combination of these three types, and unless you become a very advanced yogi, chances are your practice won’t be too specialized.
The best way to get started is to take a class to learn the basic poses and how to do them correctly. Once you’ve done that, you can take advantage of all the products and materials that are available for you to practice in your own home. All you need is a quiet, comfortable place and about 20-40 minutes each day to breathe and stretch your stress away.
In this time of uncertainty and confusion, yoga can help you take a step back from the overall events of your life and place you in the present moment. When you practice yoga, “you’re not in the past or worried about the future,” says Deason. “Being aware of where you are in space and how you feel helps you make quality decisions about how to spend your time, take care of yourself, treat those around you, and to establish boundaries with others.” In short, it can provide you with the clarity of mind and a stabilizing tool you need to survive — and even thrive — during and after your divorce.
If time and finances permit, consider booking regular therapeutic massages. Some of the many advantages of massage include: relaxing muscles and releasing tension; increasing the flow of endorphins in the body (which make you happy); improving circulation; aiding digestion; soothing the nervous system; satisfying the need for a caring and nurturing touch; and promoting restful sleep. The most common type of therapeutic massage in North America is Swedish massage.
For optimal well-being, Maureen Moon, past-president of the American Massage Therapy Association and owner of a freelance massage business in Boulder, CO, recommends combining aromatherapy with massage therapy to create a truly relaxing experience. (For more information about aromatherapy, see “Scentsual Pleasures”.)
If booking some time at a spa simply isn’t possible, here are some simple moves you can try at home. While these can’t equal the benefits you’d reap from a visit to a professional massage therapist, Moon believes that they can contribute to and prolong the effects of one. Moreover, she says, self-massage gets you connected to yourself and allows you to learn more about your body.
- Face and Neck: Rub your hands together to warm them up. Place them over your face for about 30 seconds. Bring them to the nape of your neck, and moving your fingers in firm circular motions, work around the back of the neck and the entire scalp. Repeat this a few times, then move from the top of your head to your face, starting between your eyebrows and moving up your forehead and down to your temples and the side of your face. Linger wherever you feel tender spots. Lastly, make sure to put a little pressure around the corners of your eyes and massage the chin, jaw, and neck. And don’t forget to massage your ears — they’re full of acupressure points and will help you increase circulation and warm up the body. Moon recommends doing this two or three times a week.
- Feet: Sit on the floor and cross your legs. Using your knuckles, your thumb, or your palm (or a combination of all three), stroke the bottom of your foot from heel to toe, applying a comfortable amount of pressure. Pay special attention to the inner arch, and progress to the outside edges of the foot, moving your hands in a circular motion. Make sure to massage your toes by placing your fingers around them and moving the toes around. Moon suggests doing this three times on each foot, and using a lotion such as Aveda’s Foot Relief scrub. To finish it all off, soak your feet for 15 to 20 minutes in warm water filled with bath salts or try The Body Shop’s Peppermint Foot Soak.
- Back: Sit on the floor with your back flat against a wall. Place a tennis ball between your back and the wall. Lean against the ball, and maneuver it behind your scapula or any other part of your back that feels tense. The tennis ball will help to apply some pressure to these spots and loosen your muscles. (To double the benefits, use two tennis balls in a small sock or net bag.) If you’re not comfortable with the idea of self-massage, Whitney recommends learning some yoga stretches. Practiced correctly, these create effects similar to that of a Swedish massage.
Ultimately, what matters most is not how you release tension but that you start doing so regularly. Treating yourself to a little at-home spa pampering — having a hot bath with aromatherapy oils, making yourself a fresh cucumber eye mask, meditating, performing a relaxing yoga routine, or listening to soft music — is a way to help relieve some of the stress created by this time of transition, and to remind yourself that you’re worth special treatment.
Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils for medicinal or aesthetic purposes. Essential oils can be applied to the skin during massage, and they can also be used to create an atmosphere in your home: you can find essential oils in room mists and candles, or you can place the oil on a diffuser (above a candle or electric lightbulb) to fill a room with a scent you love. Soothing scents include chamomile, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, neroli, and rose.
For more information about aromatherapy, including what scents to use to relax or invigorate, visit www.aromatherapy.com.
If you’re eager to experience the advantages of yoga, breathing exercises are safe and easy ways to soothe your nerves and experience inner peace.
The next time you’re feeling stressed, Suzanne Deason recommends trying the following exercise.
Give yourself 3-5 minutes (even if you just go into the restroom or pull your car to the side of the road). Close your eyes and take 10 long, smooth, complete breaths. Your inhalation and exhalation should be the same length. They don’t need to be deep, but they must be consciously felt in your body. As you breathe, bring your awareness to your forehead and your temple area and exhale any tension you feel in your head, your temples, your neck, your shoulders, and all the way down your body through the soles of your feet. As you complete this, tell yourself you have choices about how to respond to stressful people and situations. By taking this time to connect with yourself, you decrease your physical and emotional stress, allowing you to make better decisions about your present and future.