You Can't Give from an Empty Cup: Yoga Therapy and Burnout

You Can’t Give from an Empty Cup: Yoga Therapy and Burnout

We live in difficult times, and for many of us trying to get through the pandemic, especially those working on the frontline, this means more than ever we need tools to help us navigate what appears to be, relentless challenges.

We also live in a society that values ‘doing’ and competing over ‘being’ and relaxing. However, our bodies adapt to the addictive nature of stress – we scroll constantly through social media and chase never-ending to-do lists, whilst pushing through the pressure-barrier helped along by stimulants such as sugary snacks, fast food, alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine, until eventually we hit a wall and collapse. In the long-term, stress can become chronic and damage the body through wear and tear.

What helps is by becoming witness to how stress affects our bodies by noticing our triggers and by checking in on how we feel emotionally, mentally, and physically, and labelling what we detect. This also means setting boundaries, but this can be a challenge for those who care and are responsible for others, personally and professionally.

Symptoms of ‘burnout’ can include a loss of empathy, feeling helpless, numb, and being shut-down. However, those with burnout can benefit from restorative yoga postures and breathing exercises that work with the psoas, deep core muscles that stabilizes the back and which can become tight with stress, and the vagus or ‘compassion’ nerve associated with our stress response.

Tapping, squeezing, and massaging our body, stamping our feet, shaking, feeling the ground underneath, being aware of our navel-centre, and vocalising through sound such as by humming and singing, can help us to sense the skin as a boundary, be more self-aware, feel calmer, and more empowered.

Here’s just a few techniques to get you started:

Psoas Release 1: On your back, feet flat to the floor and wider than hip distance with arms in cactus position, move bent knees from side to side very slowly like windscreen wipers: Inhale up; exhale down. Try to lift the pit of the abdomen upwards especially when the knees are dropped to the side.

Psoas Release 2: With hips elevated on blocks/cushions, straighten the right leg with the heel on the floor, and on the exhale bring the left knee to the chest, interlacing fingers around the shin. Work on deep breathing down into the lower abdominals, alternating legs after one minute.

Vagus Nerve Bee Breath: Sitting with a straight back and relaxed upper body, close the lips whilst keeping the teeth slightly apart. Take a long, deep breath in through the nostrils down into the belly and as you exhale slowly, make a steady, effortless, low-pitched ‘hmmm’ sound. Start with 7 cycles and gradually increase to 20. Afterwards, observe the sensations in the body and your surrounding space.

Tristessa Moore is a registered Yoga Therapist and Trauma-sensitive Practitioner: For staff and pupil well-being in education:

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