How to Deal: 3 Healthy Coping Strategies

As a yoga teacher, you’re taught to show up for class no matter what happens in your personal life and hold the space – sacred and safe – for your students. There are days where this is much harder than others. Today is a tough one. Really tough.

Like many of you out there, I am shocked, disappointed and admittedly a little scared of what the future holds for this amazing country I call home. While I am devastated on many levels, I am proud of that Nasty Woman I admire for handling the outcome with such grace, humility and strength. In light of her calm and peaceful processing of this momentous and painful turn of events, I too am inspired to cope with the fallout in the best way I know how. Time to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps (or shoelaces)!


Here are my 3 Healthy Coping Strategies for Shock, Disappointment and Fear:


1. Move your body. Not surprising this is my number one, but exercising is a powerful way to redirect your energy in a positive way, increase dopamine (feel good hormone) in the brain, and do something immediately good for yourself. It can be as simple as a brisk walk or run (no equipment required!), or your favorite yoga, HIIT or spin class. Get your mind off it for a while and come back to your reality with a more level-headed and peaceful disposition.



2. Read something that inspires you. Now is not the time to watch CNN, Fox News or whatever media outlet you prefer running 24/7 post-election coverage at nauseam. We have to move forward, one foot in front of the other, and must try to do so with an eye toward the change we can affect and the gratitude we can experience. My sweet mama reminded me of two such readings – one a quote, one a poem – that helped me immensely as I woke up to the news this morning:

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
~Desmond Tutu


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~Jellaludin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks


Remember to remain open, loving, accepting and hopeful. We cannot control what others do – though we can certainly do our part to try and influence them for the better – so we must turn the focus onto our individual roles in affecting a greater good.


3. Do something of service. Whether that be putting together a basket of food for a thanksgiving meal drive; offering to watch your friend’s dog or babysit their children so they can have some time for self-care; volunteering for an organization like Girls on the Run; or any other compassionate act you can dedicate to someone in your community, near and/or far.


We all have something to give – time, money, talents – so put yourself out there. As Gandhi once said, we can make the world a better place one small, kind act at a time, and those small acts combine to radiate waves of love and acceptance far and wide.

Fall Into What Scares You

Amy Flipped Dog in Florida

While laying on Florida’s Bicentennial Beach on the first Saturday in months where I’ve had literally nothing I had to do, I got an insatiable urge to move. It might have had something to do with the fact that I was writing out yoga sequences–something I love to do but rarely set aside the time for–or perhaps it was simply the setting. The beach definitely brings out my playful side. Somewhere between the memories it evokes from growing up a half mile from the ocean and the sound of kids giggling as they danced in and out of the waves not far from my towel, I got caught up in the fancy-free energy and had to play.

What better way for a yogi to play than by practicing yoga drop backs?

I hadn’t done a yoga drop back since the summer, before I injured my hamstrings and before my life became beautifully more complicated with the new adventure I’m on. At the time, what had always held me back from attempting this deep back bend was all fear–the fear of falling and getting hurt.

What good did that do me? How could I ever grow if I was too afraid to push my boundaries?

I’ve always been good at challenging myself mentally (e.g. in school and at work), stretching myself emotionally (like living abroad in different cultures and falling in love a time or two), but physically, well physical challenges have always stopped me in my tracks. For some reason, the the possibility of physical defeat has always been most daunting to my otherwise risk-embracing psyche.

Yoga has been a huge part of my openness to attempting new physical challenges–like training for my first half marathon–and to not only accepting but embracing this so-called “defeat.” Through falling (as I’ve now done countless times in crane, handstand, forearm stand and almost every balancing pose) I’ve learned my edges. It also shows me where my work is. That’s the fun of falling because you get to keep working to push that impermanent line of limitation farther and farther back. It takes dedicated effort and a lot of self-forgiveness to keep at it, but it is well worth it when you reach a new level and feel that ineffable sense of accomplishment.

On that sunny, carefree Saturday, as I sprang from my towel and without hesitation leaned back falling blindly to my hands, they were met with the receptive give of warm, soft sand. In that moment, I realized that I’m neither now nor ever that far from where I was the first time I faced this frightening transition from firmly grounded upright on two solid feet to topsy-turvy, upside-down. I still have the same healthy amount of fear critical to the resulting rush of achievement. I’ll always be scared of the fall. More important than having that fear though is not being paralyzed by it. By pushing through and just doing it–falling, failing, whatever it is that scares you–you realize just how capable you are and ultimately you’ll want to do it again and again, and again.

The ability to fall, be defeated or however else you personally define facing an uncertain outcome becomes a positive and transformational experience through repetition, perseverance and the joyful embrace of all that is possible.

Find Freedom with Backbends this Summer

Though it feels like spring here in DC, the summer is still upon us. Summer is the perfect time for backbending postures like full wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana) which require warm muscles and an open mind. Backbends are intended to broaden and expand the chest and rib cage to enhance the body’s ability to perform breathwork (pranayama). Backbends can be exciting and empowering. They can also, however, be intimidating and scary. If backbends are not a freeing experience for you, your approach—both mentally and physically—may need some fine tuning.

Flipped Dog
Photo Credit: Leo Matsuo / Wardrobe Provide by Endless Summer Design

When performed correctly, backbends increase your range of motion. Many of us spend hours upon hours sitting—and let’s be honest, most of us don’t have the best posture when doing so. As a result, we lose a few degrees of the normal curve in our lumbar (lower) spine. That curve is part of our natural architecture as bipeds, distinctly purposed to provide us humans with the ability to carry our own body weight without damaging our joints and overall health. When we lose that gentle arch in the lower back we increase our likelihood of lower back, hip and knee pain because we aren’t properly stacked to handle our body’s mass as it moves through space.

Backbends help counter our daily damage by increasing extension and restoring that lumbar curve. They have also been linked to arthritis prevention, increased stamina and energy, depression relief, and  improved lung capacity, circulation and digestion. On a more emotional level, many practitioners believe that backbends help them let go of the past and focus on the present, and open their heart when fear has taken it hostage.

Whether you’re looking to improve your emotional or physical health—or both for that matter!—look no further than yoga backbends. From the milder baby cobra and sphinx poses to the more intense camel and king pigeon poses, there is a backbend for every level.

Check out my Favorite Eight:

  1. Sphinx Pose
  2. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
  3. Bow (Dhanurasana)
  4. King Pigeon (Kapotasana)
  5. Camel (Ustrasana)
  6. Wild Thing (Camatkarasana )
  7. Full Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
  8. Dancer (Natarajasana)

If you fall into that “intimidated/scared” category when it comes to attempting backbends, here are a few helpful hints to do them the right way:

  • Warm up your body! A few Sun As and Bs should do the trick. The key is to move the body in ways that open the chest, hip flexors, quads and hips.
  • Focus on maintaining length in the front body. True, backbends increase extension in the lower back but people have a tendency to collapse in these poses, crunching the lumbar spine. To avoid back pain, focus on keeping a broad chest and long front body, and bending from the middle and upper back instead of hinging from your sacrum.
  • Don’t squeeze your booty. Squeezing the muscles of your rear end counteracts internal rotation of the hips which is essential in all backbends to avoid compression of the spine. When you activate your gluteus maximus, your hips externally rotate causing your knees to splay wide. To develop the muscle memory needed to encourage internal rotation of the hips, squeeze a block between your thighs when practicing full wheel, camel, and other belly-up backbends.
  • Breathe. Fear can be paralyzing in a backbend and the more you resist the more likely you are to tense the muscles that lead to compression and ultimately discomfort. When going into backbends, focus on your breath and allow your mind to calm down and enjoy all the goodness a backbend can bring.

Just a quick note of caution (safety first!): If you have any back issues, please consult with your yoga instructor and doctor before performing any backbends.