As we approach the final week of February, many of us seem to find ourselves caught in the same current we usually do as we move deeper into the year, with the pace of life carrying us along and the momentum picking up week by week. This is intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and how many of us feel that we did not get the rest we needed over the festive season, and the constant stress and pressure we feel from financial strain, lack of social activity or increased work hours. Sometimes I feel that the pace and weight of it all is a bit overwhelming and other times I feel completely lost in the complexity and chaos. We may also feel anxious or afraid that if we slow down, we might lose out on opportunities. So where does that leave us? Do we give in and lose out on the progress we have worked hard to achieve until this point? Or keep pushing and hope that we don’t hurt ourselves? I propose a healthy middle ground, a set of habits that we can cultivate to give us the strength and sense of calm that we need to continue. Quite simply, I propose that we breathe a little deeper. Right now.
Sometimes it feels as though the only solution is to get away from whatever intensity we find ourselves surrounded by or that which is inside our own body and mind. However, if we can balance the pace and intensity of each thought, emotion, family or work culture or activity we are engaged in with a feeling of grounding, of being in touch with nature and simultaneously our true deeper selves, this can offer us a tremendous sense of true stability and power. I think the physical health benefits of exercise and yoga are often seen as the most significant, and while your general health and physical strength and suppleness will increase significantly if a yoga or exercise routine is adopted, I would argue that it is the effect of feeling grounded in the moment and in tune with your surroundings that brings true power into your life.
So how do we go about this, right now? How do we find more control and stability without making it another item on our to-do list, adding to our feeling of being overwhelmed and exhausted? I suggest trying one or more of the following practices whenever you have 2-3 minutes, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or have a sense a of lack of control. If you feel a stronger sense of stress, anger or irritation – I would recommend the fourth activity followed by the first. You can also watch the video at the bottom of the page on Youtube for guidance.
- Focused breathing might not be for everyone, but it is very effective and the easiest way to meditate. Simply take 5-10 deep breaths, focusing on the sensation of air in your nose, mouth or throat. Focus on the temperature of the air, focus on the expansion of your chest, ribcage and belly, allowing the sound of the inhale and exhale comfort you. You might even close your eyes and visualise a calm, beautiful scene of nature such as a waterfall or forest. Before you know it, within 1-2 minutes, you will feel more centered, relaxed and energised, all at the same time. And that might be enough.
- Becoming aware of grounding and your posture is another powerful practice. If you are seated, wiggle around and really feel the chair beneath your pelvis. Sit up tall but relax your shoulders. Whether you are standing up or seated, spread the toes wide and really press your feet into the ground. Let your arms hang by your sides or into your lap and release tension in your forearms and hands. Becoming conscious of the points of contact and the weight of your body on the earth can give you a sense of energy and stability. It also makes a tremendous difference to practice this in nature – whether that means simply standing or sitting outside, or actually in a natural environment such as near a stream, the beach, or a forest. Stay here with eyes closed for 30 seconds feeling into that stability and after a while, open your eyes, lift your chin and feel a sense of confidence, lifting into the crown of your head. Engaging a wakeful posture plays a significant role in uplifting our mood and energy. Try to maintain this posture throughout the day.
- Gentle and coordinated movement is another effective method of shifting your energy. Simply lift your arms and hands from your sides upwards in a big semi-circular motion, with hands meeting way up above your head, and then release them outwards and down, the same way we lifted them up. Ideally, breathing in as you lift the arms up, and breathing out as you lower them. You could do this as many times as you like, but try go for at least 5 to get the blood flowing, deepening into your breath and feeling the earth beneath you.
- With increased stress comes the need to engage in more intense movement. Walk around, talk to someone, practice 10-20 squats or push ups. We need to let go of intense energy rather than keeping it inside. Maybe even grab a cushion and scream into it without straining your voice. Do what feels natural in letting go of some steam whilst avoiding hurting yourself or others emotionally or physically with that build up of energy. Once you are done, go back to activity 1; and re-focus on the breath.
It is that time of the year when we must take control of our energy, whether it is low energy such as laziness, anxiety, fear or sadness or a high type of energy like stress manifested as anger or irritation. Trust that you do have the strength to manage your energy and that you can take simple, proactive steps in stabilising and regaining that control. If none of these practices work, go back to what you know deep down works for you, as long as it is going to help you, not hurt you. You might also decide to talk to someone, ask them to be there for you. Having someone truly listen can be incredibly healing and if it is someone you are in close contact with regularly, ask for a hug. Give yourself the self respect and time you deserve and you might be surprised as to just how much control and power you have available to you at any time.