This week in The Weekly Minute, two guided grounding practices, so the winds of life (and outside!!) don't blow us away.
It's important to have a grounding practice so we feel stable and rooted within ourselves. As we know, life can be full of surprises, and change is inevitable, but if you feel grounded, you'll be more able to face challenges without falling.
Think of a tree, they grow so tall and sturdy because they have strong roots under the earth.
Practice these a few times this week, so you get familiar with them, and they are in your toolbox, ready for when you reach for them.
“Flying starts from the ground. The more grounded you are, the higher you fly.”
My niece was wearing a sweater with this slogan on it: "When nothing goes right... go left."
I loved it, it's good advice. BUT, how do we actually do that? What does "going left" actually look like? Slogans like this, and inspirational quotes we see online are great, but how we use them to actually make our lives better?
Here are a few practical ideas for "turning left" when nothing seems to be going right:
Whichever method(s) you choose, the most important thing is to remember to take that step to the left, and ignore all the reasons your mind might have to not take that step!
"An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching." - Mahatma Gandhi
We are moving into what can be a busy and stressful time of year, and it's important to remember your relaxation techniques.
A super simple breath technique to stimulate the body's natural relaxation response is 4/7 breathing.
The beauty of this breath is that it can be done any time, waiting in traffic, waiting in a queue, at your desk at work, anywhere.
"But when you make one part of the breath cycle, either the inhale or the exhale, longer than the other, and you do this for several minutes, the accumulated effect is that you will either slow the heart rate down or speed it up from where you started." - Baxter Bell MD
This practice lets you take back control of your ‘monkey mind’. Often our minds are darting around from one place to another and it can be difficult to focus. You might have noticed yourself that your thoughts tend to wander off to the same places, perhaps to something bad that happened last week, or something you’re worried about in the future. Spending too much time in the past or the future not only steals from what is happening right now, it can also feed depression or anxiety.
A practice such as this one strengthens your attention muscle, so you can make better choices about where to put your attention.
Aim to do this several times a day for the next week. (It may help to set a reminder on your phone.) Each time you practice, know that you are doing a little more to break the habits of your automatic thinking, and take control of your life.
“Most people don’t realize that the mind constantly chatters. And yet, that chatter winds up being the force that drives us much of the day in terms of what we do, what we react to, and how we feel.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
The 3 Minute Breathing Space is a fundamental part of all mindfulness programs. It trains us to step out of the auto-pilot mode we spend so much of our time in, and see where we are at inside.
Checking in with our internal weather in this way opens up the opportunity to make adjustments as necessary. If we find we are stuck in thoughts of the past, or worries about the future, we can reconnect with the present moment. If we find some areas of the body are holding tension, we can invite the breath to relax those areas.
Set a reminder on your phone or smart watch to pause for a 3 Step Breathing Space at least 3 times a day, and if you feel a strong emotion, see if you can remember to use the practice.
Step 1 - Become aware of your inner experience in this moment.
What thoughts are in your mind? As best you can, see them as mental events, don't get involved with them. Label them, 'thinking'.
What feelings are present? Acknowledge whatever is present, and if it's unpleasant, try to turn toward it, and not away.
What sensations are in the body? Quickly scan the body to see what you notice, are there any sensations of tightness or contraction?
Step 2 - Focus your attention on the breath at the abdomen.
As best you can, focus on the sensations in the abdomen as it rises and falls with the breath. Remain here for at least three full breaths. If the mind wanders, gently and kindly bring it back to the breath.
Step 3 - Expand the attention to the body as a whole. Expand the attention again to include the body in the room and any sensations of touch or pressure on your chair or the floor. Gradually begin to open your attention to sounds in the room, the feeling of the air around you, and when you're ready, open the eyes and continue with your day.
"The breathing space sets us up to encounter life in a different frame of mind, coming fully home to the present, rather than just giving ourselves a break from thinking." - Teasdale, Williams, & Segal
When you notice yourself getting caught up in your thoughts or emotions, pause for a minute, and take a couple of belly breaths, then:
You just moved out of story and emotion, and made contact with what is actually here right now. This practice is grounding and calming, and a nice reminder that right here, right now, everything is ok.
"Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence."
A simple way to calm down from a stressful event, or during an anxiety attack, is to use something you always have with you–your breath.
When we are stressed the Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, this is the body's ancient method of helping keep us safe; if we met a predator in the old hunter-gatherer days, we had 3 options: to fight them, flee from them, or freeze (play dead). We are no longer hunted by wild boar, but the body responds in the same way to any perceived threat, real or imaginary. The same systems are activated whether we are in a fender bender, or a friend blanks us on the street.
You can probably tell your Sympathetic Nervous System is activated if your heart rate has sped up, your breath has quickened, and possibly your limbs are tingling or shaking (they're ready to sprint to safety!).
In the old days, once the threat disappeared, the Parasympathetic Nervous System would kick in and restore balance. This system reduces the heart rate and blood pressure, returning the body to a relaxed state. Now however, our faster pace of life can have us in a low level of stress, making it more difficult for the Parasympathetic Nervous System to do it's thing. We can add to this by keeping the threat alive in our minds, replaying the scenario over and over in our heads. The body doesn't know the difference between a thought and reality, so it responds in the same way, activating the Sympathetic Nervous System active against the perceived threat.
A simple way to calm down is by making the exhale longer than the inhale. Doing this, you consciously activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, telling the body it's safe to relax, the threat is gone, all is well.
If you count the breath as you go, your mind is kept busy and doesn't have time to go over the event, keeping it alive in your thoughts.
The next time you find yourself feeling stressed, or after an upsetting event, thy this:
"If prolonged, however, the stress signals whizzing through the body wreak havoc. Besides maintaining a mental feeling of constant stress, the extra epinephrine and cortisol damage blood vessels, increase blood pressure and promote a buildup of fat. So, while the fight-or-flight response serves a purpose, you don't want it switched on all the time." - Live Science
Self-trust is good thing. It can help us act more confidently and wisely in daily life, it can reduce anxiety and indecision, and it allows us to make better choices for ourselves based on our own needs, and not what others want of us. But, it depends on which part of yourself you trust.
We are all made up of many parts, and they tend to reflect what's going on inside and outside of us. If I'm in a hurry I can be impatient/dismissive Claire, if I'm feeling insecure I can be miserable/defensive Claire (she's not much fun). If I am in a good mood I am kind and generous Claire.
Trying to remain consistent in life, and the choices I make is pretty challenging with all these different selves at the steering wheel on different days!
Making a simple decision like going for a walk every day becomes a roulette depending which part of me is in charge of getting off the sofa and putting my coat on. Impatient Claire sees it as just another thing to squeeze into my day and does something 'more important', Miserable Claire thinks it is all pointless so doesn't bother, Kind/Generous Claire dances around the walk no bother (if only she was around every day...).
There is another part of me that I can trust consistently though. Sometimes, it speaks so quietly I have to strain to hear it, sometimes, I can be too caught up in being annoyed or sad or busy to listen for it, but as time passes, and painful lessons are learned, I have come to realise the importance of it.
It's the part of me that sits back and observes all my other selves squabble over what's best for me, and, when I choose to listen, offers me the most loving response.
Daily meditation is how to hear it. When I meditate every day, the volume of the other parts of me dims, and I get to hear my own steady inner wisdom.
This part of me is loving and kind, patient and forgiving. It wants the best for me, and waits calmly for me no matter how many times I ignore it, mess up, or repeat old mistakes. It knows me well, and will show me the way, whenever I choose to ask.
See if you can sit in awareness every day. Try not to strain or reach for your inner wisdom, just see if you can quieten enough to make room for it. Notice what comes. You might find some real self-trust.
“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”
When you feel tension in the body or in your thoughts, spend a minute (or longer if you have it) doing the following:
This really simple exercise works to bring equilibrium back to the nervous system, and you can do it anywhere!
"When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace." ~ Author Unknown
Instructions for "Tight Spots"
We are entering a busy time of year, I have noticed the traffic in Galway begin to increase this past week, as well as the queues in the shops! Being stuck in traffic, or standing in a queue, are great opportunities to practice mindfulness and let a little stress go. It's not serving you, it never makes your day better, so let it go.
Set a reminder to do this practice several times a day wherever you are, and you'll notice the benefits.
Remember, the more often you do it, the more natural it will be come, and you will find your stress diminish over time, and your mindful calm increase.
"...the brain changes physically in response to experience, and new mental skills can be acquired with intentional effort, with focused awareness and concentration. Experience activates neural firing, which in turn leads to the production of proteins that enable new connections to be made among neutrons, in the process called neuroplasticity." Daniel Siegel
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing legitimate tools to help promote positive mental health.
The collection of short, practical mindfulness and therapy tools for self-reflection and self-improvement, can equip people to take their mental well-being into their own hands, and improve their quality of life.
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