Model/Photos by Katie Nava
I’ll be the first to admit that my yoga practice does not always end in a blissed out savasana. More often than not, I start out being so excited that I got to the part of the practice where I can finally relax, but then - boom, my mind always finds a way to start whirring up again.
Sometimes the endless internal chatter is relatively benign and I can call it back to focusing on my breath until the end of the pose. Other times, when I’ve had a particularly stressful week, I’ve found it pretty hard not to run off with my more anxious thoughts. While I recognize that this is completely in line with the “monkey mind” nature of yoga and meditation, I’ve also started to look into gentle ways to assist me with clearing my head so I can be in a more relaxed place before I step onto the mat in the first place.
Pre-Yoga Calming Techniques
One immediate change I’ve made is to give myself more time than I need to get to my local yoga studio. I have definitely noticed that I struggle more during the session when I’ve pushed through traffic to arrive, sweaty and breathless, after releasing a long line of four-letter words. I’ve also been giving myself some extra time to prepare for yoga through small rituals. Listening to calming music on my way to class, drinking plenty of water, and acknowledging the fact that I am taking care of my body and mind by doing yoga: these are all things that help me gain a sense of calm even before I begin.
Herbal Based Tinctures to Help You Relax and Center
I’ve also recently learned about the effectiveness and ease of using herbal tinctures as another means of helping me start out with a more peaceful state of mind. A tincture is made by dissolving an herb into a liquid, like water or alcohol, for a long period of time. Tinctures are commonly used for a variety of purposes, including aiding common ailments such as your stomach being upset, feeling under the weather, or for stress and nervousness. You can take tinctures orally by dropping liquid under your tongue or by putting the tincture into another drink like water or tea, for example. Some tinctures will have an immediate effect, and others are best used over time, similar to a multi-vitamin, to help supplement and regulate your body.
One of the reasons you might turn to tinctures over other ways of ingesting herbs (oils, pills, etc) is that when you prepare tinctures in liquids like alcohol, it’s supposed to preserve the beneficial properties of herbs, make them more resistant to contaminates, and help them become more potent because the herbs are so concentrated. And since tinctures are quick and easy ways of accessing the healing properties of plants, I was especially intrigued when I learned that skullcap, passionflower, and kava kava were common herbal tinctures for stress, which is why I felt so excited to see if I could incorporate using one of them into my pre-yoga ritual.
My Pre-Yoga Ritual Combining Calming Techniques and Herbal Tinctures
Ultimately, I selected kava to try first because I read that it has been used in Polynesia for a long time, ritually as well as medicinally, and because it has been reported to have the most calming effects. I chose this kava tincture because it’s ethically sourced and easy to take. I’ve found it to be especially handy in the situations where I haven’t had time to unwind and relax before I get to class.
What I like to do before my evening yoga class is use my kava tincture right before I drive there so that it has time to fully absorb. Usually I’m coming out of work so I try to make leaving the office a little more deliberate as well by using a modified Shutdown Ritual. (It turns out that closing my browser tabs helps clear my mind as well.) Then, if I’ve timed it correctly, I arrive at the yoga studio with enough time to change, gather my props, then lay on my block as a chest opener because I’ve likely been sitting hunched over my keyboard all day.
I’ve found the kava definitely helps settle my mind during these first few minutes before class so that I’m less likely to ruminate on or catastrophize anything from earlier in the day. Since one dose of kava pretty much lasts me the duration of the class, it lets me spend more time feeling aware of my posture and breathing rather than peeking at what the yogi next to me is doing. Being more in tune with my body’s sensations helps me appreciate the pleasantness of the present moment more, which is a pattern I’m hoping to cultivate more this year, rather than turning to external devices like my phone for dopamine hits.
At the end of the day, I’ve learned to never expect to have a “perfect” yoga class or meditation practice, and that just showing up can be enough. Some days are going to be better than others and for the days that are less-than-great--which are inevitable--I’m learning to equip myself with the right tools in my toolbox so that I can ride out the waves with less distress, less attachment, and more ease. My yoga and meditation practice have taught me that making space for these rituals and plans aren’t selfish, indulgent, or over-the-top: they are vital skills that can help me keep moving in the right direction.
Have you ever tried a tincture with your yoga practice? What are the rituals you’ve grown to love? I’d love to know!