While overwhelm certainly isn’t my favourite state of being, in a funny way, I owe it a big thank you. That swamped feeling of having too much to do, too much to think and too many strong emotions to deal with led me to my very first yoga class over 20 years ago. As an anxious 20-something in a new city with my first ‘real’ job, I was struggling to find my feet. I teetered between excitement and worry while I navigated life as a ‘grown up’.
Yoga helped me to relax deeply, to trust and to sink into the quiet spaces inside, which I now know are always there for me to tap into, anytime I need.
In the couple of decades since those first yoga classes (#feelingold) feelings of overwhelm have crept up frequently in my life. From the garden-variety overwhelm that sometimes sits beside me on a hectic city commute, to the more consistent version that landed the moment the sonographer said ‘It looks like twins’; overwhelm affects me often and in many different ways.
My personal brand of overwhelm feels like 101 random thoughts jammed up in my mind, all fighting for air-time. Every cell feels awash with an unsettled, uneasy sensation. My heart rate gallops along and my tummy’s going for gold in a back-flipping event. With short, quick and jagged breaths, my eyes dart all over the place (#crazyeyes). Sometimes my overwhelm comes with a side of headache and I can’t sleep properly. Absolutely everything seems too hard - it’s mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting.
Feeling overwhelmed is certainly no picnic, but there is a way out. Here are some yoga-inspired tips that have helped me tame my overwhelm over the years. I hope they help you too.
Interview your overwhelm
Imagine pulling up a chair and sharing a cup of tea with your overwhelm. (Or maybe your overwhelm is more of a double-shot of espresso kind of overwhelm..) Start a conversation with your overwhelm and get ready for some insights.
What does your overwhelm want you to know?
What messages do you have to share with your overwhelm?
How does your overwhelm make you feel? Perhaps, tired, angry, disempowered?
Where does it manifest in your body? Headache, constipation, tightness?
What does your overwhelm look like? An angry heavy boulder, a hot red flame, a dark storm cloud?
Life without overwhelm
Now imagine what it would feel like to be free of overwhelm. How would that feel within your body? What would that look like? Lean into this picture for a bit.
Get it on paper
Lists aren’t just for the supermarket, you know! Take pen to paper and perform a therapeutic ‘overwhelm dump’. Write down EVERYTHING that feels daunting to you right now - the big, scary stuff, the silly little things and everything in between. The very act of transferring these items from your head to paper can free up mental bandwidth and diffuse their power over you by making you more objective.
Now take an honest inventory. Can you cross anything off your list? Delegate it? Break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks? What overwhelming tasks are actually in your control and what are not?
Return to the breath
Redirecting an overwhelmed mind toward the breath is a sure-fire route to feeling calm and clear. The mind likes to keep busy - that’s its job, right? But is also likes to wander off track from the present moment into the murky waters of ‘what-ifs?’ Better to get bossy and give the mind a constructive, real-time task that will draw you closer to your ideal state of balance.
Sama vritti pranayama is a perfect choice to redirect overwhelm. In Sanskrit, ‘Sama’ means 'even, smooth, flat, equal or same' and 'Vritti' refers to 'fluctuations or modifications'. The phrase then suggests a slowing of the fluctuations of the mind toward stillness. As the name indicates, this breathing method cultivates 'evenness' or balance in the flow of thoughts. YES!
To try Sama vritti pranayama, first, sit in a comfortable posture and start to notice the natural flow of your breath, then introduce a count.
Breathe in for a steady count of 4.
Breathe out for a steady count of 4.
One complete round consists of one inhalation and one exhalation. Practice sama vritti pranayama for 7-10 rounds, then return to the natural breath. Check in with how you feel - hopefully a little calmer, clearer and more present.
Overwhelm antidote yoga sequence
Overwhelm takes a toll on the physical body too. Mental tensions can show up as tightness through the jaw, shoulders and neck, for example. Pamper your weary body with this pared-down restorative sequence designed as a perfect antidote to a full plate.
Prop being used on this pose: Earth Fusion Yoga Mat
Overwhelm can swamp the senses when you are switched ‘on’ for long periods. Grant yourself permission to take a break from extroversion, noise and busy environments. Child’s pose invites us to literally turn our back on the world and go inside to reflect and reboot. It’s beautifully soothing for the lower back and hips, too.
Going upside-down can help us see things from a different perspective. With the legs and feet elevated, blood flow is reversed giving the brain a nice fresh supply of nutrients to sweep away the cobwebs!
Supported fish pose
Prop being used on this pose: Earth Fusion Yoga Mat
Overwhelm can cause a heavy heart. Practice this supported heart-opening pose to lift and lighten the heart.
For yoga’s ultimate pose of surrender, you may like to contemplate what tasks, emotions, worries and relationships you can let go of.
Practice notes - Enjoy your sequence in a warm, softly lit and quiet environment, free from distractions. Move gently between poses and aim to stay in each pose for 10 minutes or more. Be generous with your use of props to ensure your supreme comfort.