Stress levels around New York State have spiked in the last week and the Capital Region has not been immune. As the number of local diagnoses of COVID-19 rises and as officials encourage people to stay home, the Gazette spoke with a few local experts about how exercising at home is helping people cope with the stress of the constantly-shifting situation.
One of the most common at-home exercises that can with stress-management is yoga, and, despite having to close earlier this week, The Hot Yoga Spot hasn’t stopped offering classes; they've just shifted to virtual ones.
“We’re going to be putting up a bunch of classes for free on our website,” said owner Jessica Fuller.
Fuller and several other yoga instructors from across the five Capital Region locations, started filming classes earlier this week with Saratoga Springs-based Fyvie Films. The videos include everything from guided meditation to beginner and advanced flow classes. Fuller plans to add on to the available classes each week. Instructors will also hold live classes once or twice a day for those who are looking for more interaction.
“It’s been challenging. There’s so many people in the last week or two who’ve been thanking us for being open and saying how much classes are keeping them sane right now and how scared they are of being alone and feeling isolated. . . . We’re just hoping that having these classes for them and these outlets are a nice way for them to feel like they’re not really alone even if they are physically alone in their homes,” Fuller said.
Beyond classes, instructors will also hold workshops and even a book club via Zoom, a video communications platform that allows people to interact with the instructor and with one another.
“[We want] to be engaged, be committed and really use this time at home alone for growth instead of stagnation. We hope that that will help people stay connected, stay engaged. I think it’s important now for businesses to put the community first and figure out how they can be there and serve people when they need it because this is a scary time and nobody’s been in this situation before,” Fuller said.
To view the classes and for more information about upcoming virtual events, visit thehotyogaspot.com.
Another common method of coping is meditation. Pierre Zimmerman, a Saratoga Springs meditation and mindfulness expert, has practiced meditation for more than 40 years. He runs a free meditation session every week at One Roof in Saratoga Springs. He starts the sessions with an introductory talk to get people in the right mindset.
“You sit with dignity, strong back, soft front, relax the body, pay attention to the breath. Be mindful of your feelings in the moment. Be mindful of your mindstream. Just pay attention to whatever relationship you have to whatever rises and accumulates,” Zimmerman said.
Then, he encourages people to try and meditate in silence for about 25 minutes. However, he recognizes that it can be difficult for some.
“Our minds are very busy,” Zimmerman said. “My theory is that if you can sit for 15 minutes and be present and not go shopping that works great and it helps us deal with the day.”
He also encourages people to direct their minds to focus on the things they’re grateful for.
“We have a default mechanism in our brain where we just see the bad stuff. Anything that’s unpleasant or unwholesome goes into long term memory which is hard to retrieve. Where something pleasant will last for about 15-20 seconds. So we have a default mechanism where we’re really wired to see the unpleasant stuff more so than what’s pleasant. It’s a good idea to remember what was great during the day. Maybe when people sit together at home [they can] talk about what was very enriching for them,” Zimmerman said.
With the spread of COVID-19, he had to cancel the weekly sessions through the end of the month. However, Zimmerman plans to share meditation posts on One Roof’s Facebook page each week.
For those who would like to start meditating at home, Zimmerman recommends creating a designated space for the practice.
“I think what’s important is [to] have a little space at home where the husband, the wife, the kids don’t run around; a place where they can have some quiet,” Zimmerman said.
One simple exercise Zimmerman uses to help focus the mind is inhaling to the count of three, holding it to the count of three and exhaling to the same count.
"That’s a really good way to focus the mind and be able to have an object to focus on. The breath is a good anchor," Zimmerman said.
For those who need a bit of extra guidance, he recommends finding a few tutorials on YouTube to get one started.
For those looking for a more active way to reduce stress, tai chi is the way to go according to Mark Tolstrup.
“Tai chi as a meditation [practice] is quite effective for many people who have a hard time doing sitting quiet meditation. In sitting quiet meditation what you’re trying to do is relax the breathing. . . .However, for many people, if they try to just sit quietly and just breathe their mind runs wild. It’s harder to calm down. In the tai chi form, you have something to focus on. You’re thinking about your posture, you’re thinking about the precision of the movements, the shifting of the weight. Because you’re so involved with that it’s a little easier to not get distracted,” Tolstrup said.
He’s taught tai chi for more than 30 years and runs The Tai Chi Center in Saratoga Springs. Tai chi is a low-impact meditative form of exercise, where each movement fluidly connects to the next.
“The difference between tai chi and other things is that in tai chi you’re actually learning the first move and then the second and then the third. So you have to start with the beginner class and then progress your way through. . . . People sometimes think of it as a workout or like a yoga class and it is a little bit like that but it’s also like any college course that you’re learning a method that has a logical sequence to it that starts from the beginning and goes all the way through,” Tolstrup said.
While there are many different styles — the style that Tolstrup teaches contains 60 movements — the benefits have been well documented. According to Peter Wayne, the director of research at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Harvard Medical School, tai chi will give people the benefits of meditation as well as physical exercise. It increases flexibility and it improves joint health and balance.
In any beginner class, Tolstrup focuses on flexibility and warm-up exercises, qigong breathing (or deep breathing) and standing meditation. Then he’ll also teach some of the basic movements.
Last week, Tolstrup had to temporarily close the Tai Chi Center, however, he still plans to hold classes at local parks along with online classes.
“One of the great things about the tai chi form is it can be done anywhere, with any kind of clothing, with no preparation. You don’t need a mat, you don’t need anything special. You can just show up and start doing it and that’s one of the great benefits,” Tolstrup said.