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06.26.16

FIVE STEPS TO CHILL |MENTAL|

Long gone are the days of our youth when "Summer" meant three months of chilling with friends, vacations with family, and overnight camps with strangers. As much as we look forward to summer now for the warmer weather, lunch breaks taken on the park bench, weekends at the beach, and long nights spent grilling on the porch; there's also a hustle to these few months that can cause the stress levels to spike. With a full social calendar and work that doesn't stop, we wanted to offer some tips on how to decompress. Who better to ask than our friend Sarah Oppelt PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology by day, and yoga instructor and photographer in her free time. Homegirl understands a thing or two about how to manage stress.

 

We talk a lot about a fighting mindset. Do you consider yourself a fighter? What does it mean to be a fighter in your opinion?
 
I don't really consider myself a fighter in the physical sense (though I'd love to learn how to box), or in any "me vs another person" sense of fighting. I think of being a fighter as being resilient, persistent and hard-working, and putting everything you have into conquering opportunities and goals you set for yourself, even when (or especially when) conditions aren't ideal.

How did you get into practicing Yoga? And how soon after practicing did you notice a different in your day to day life?
 
I've always done a lot of stretching and calisthenics for whole-body strength and to prevent injuries when running. A friend got me an unlimited two-week pass to her studio for my birthday a few years ago, and it was amazing. I learned a lot of new things, not just on the physical side.

What I really love about yoga is that it challenges you to move in a way that might not be intuitive, and to try new things that seem scary (like standing on your head, or arm balances where you think you're going to eat the floor with all of your body off the ground and limbs in every direction) but then you surprise yourself by being stronger than you thought you were. You also learn that most things are about balance - the most important factor in whether you can hold an arm balance or inversion is not how strong you are, but how balanced you can be and how much you trust yourself. Because of that, yoga really helps teach you to stay calm and not be afraid in situations that are out of your comfort zone, and how much of the time our fear of hurting ourselves or failing is over-exaggerated. 
What activities do you do besides Yoga to help keep your body and mind in shape?
 
My philosophy is that life is fun, and it's more fun when you feel good in your body. Besides yoga and running, I generally try to lead an active life style - living in the city is great for that, because I can either walk or bike everywhere I'm going. I also love back-packing/hiking and swimming, though I don't get to do either enough. Being outside (and getting out of the city, if I can) is always great for peace of mind. I always have a creative project I'm working on to challenge myself and stay mentally engaged - either an art or design project, or creating new things that meld science and art. I also love reading.
5 tips for getting back into a chill mindset when things are stressful:
 
1. Taking a break and allowing your mind to go over a situation when you're not in the thick of it is really important. It gives you a lot of clarity; you can almost always figure out a smarter, more effective way to deal with something if you take a break and let yourself get creative. I'm naturally introverted, so I always do better coming back to tasks and saving time working if I can plan in an hour or so during the day to sit by myself in the quiet  (actually I sit on the floor and do hamstring stretches). I end up getting more work done if I take that hour out to mentally reset.
 
2. Eat more vegetables and fruits. When things are hectic or stressful, it's easy to just grab foods and eat them out of convenience so I can move on to the next thing, but few things derail me and how my body feels at the end of the day than not eating well.
 
3. I like to have an alternative small goal - usually something physical - that I can take a quick break and do to break things up when I'm really stuck in the middle of a stressful job. Moving your body around helps you move your mind around! Right now, I'll either try to do some pull-ups (if I'm around a pull up bar), or I'll do a set of push ups in different styles to break up a difficult task. Even taking a walk around the block makes a big difference in resetting my mood.
4. Make sure you get enough sleep and drink water, even though that's obvious, it's also so easy for most people to put off.
 
5. Have fun. When things are hectic and stressful, I try to remind myself why I'm doing it in the first place. There has to be something fun or creative about a challenge, or it isn't worth it. Reminding myself what is beautiful and exciting about what I'm doing makes it fun again, and helps me be more productive in difficult times.

 

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