Stress has a powerful effect on our immune system. So caring for our mental health right now also has a flow-on effect on our physical wellbeing. Here are some powerful techniques you can do at home to support your mind and body in keeping as calm as possible during these challenging times.
Conscious control of the breath, when done properly, can have a powerful effect on the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
The ANS is responsible for all the functions your body does automatically, like breathing, circulation, and digestion, among others. Depending on how we perceive our experiences and environment, the ANS responds by activating one of its two branches: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)—also known as “fight-flight-freeze”—or the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)—nicknamed “rest-digest-repair-and-reproduce.”
When we are freaking-the-fuck-out, no amount of thinking about the situation will calm us down in that moment. However, intentional breathing can work like a tripwire that triggers calm vibes. The breath can actually shift us out of the fight-flight response (SNS) and into rest-digest (PNS). As your breath becomes calmer, your body and mind follow suit. Your heart rate lowers, your blood pressure drops, and your digestion and circulation improve. Feel-good hormones flow freely. And you can think more clearly.
For that reason, particular breathing techniques (and the calm breathing we practice when we meditate) are powerful tools for getting out of the spin-cycle of stress.
I recorded this 4-minute Calming Box Breath practice for my new app which comes out later this year, but given the circumstances, I've decided we all need this shit now! This technique called Box Breathing or Square Breathing is beloved by yogis and special ops army dudes alike for its incredibly powerful effect on our body and mind. I use it anytime I need an SOS calm down. Listen to it and let me know what you think.
Shocking that I'd suggest meditation, I know. So predictable aren't I? Haha. Well, folks, there is literally NO TIME BETTER to commit to a meditation practice than NOW. This is it. Not only does meditation calm our nervous system (see above) and boost production of happy hormones like serotonin and endorphins, but it also trains us in equanimity, a word derived from the Latin aequus and animus, which translate to “balanced” and “internal state” respectively. In plain English: equanimity is even-mindedness. Fair to say we need that kind of mindset now, right? Meditation also trains us in the practice of presence. Yes, the practice of presence. Bringing our attention back to the here and now is one of the most soothing things we can do for ourselves anytime, but particularly during times of extreme stress and anxiety. Given the current circumstances, it's very easy to get caught up in fear of what might happen in the future. Staying present helps us stay calm and keep things in perspective, helps keep us focused on the fact that for right now, we have everything we need.
Make sure to download my free guided meditation app, Heavily Meditated , now. Plus, my book Heavily Meditated: Your Down-to-Earth Guide to Learning Meditation and Getting High on Life will teach you everything you need to know to make meditation into a habit that sticks!
You are also invited to join the Heavily Meditated group on Facebook so we can share resources and experiences. I'll also be answering any questions you have in that group, so please do join us. It's so important to create community any way we can now!
If you already have a strong practice, this is a nice time to double down on your daily dose. ;)
If you know me you know that yoga is a big part of my life. I'm doing my teacher training (in my free time, LOL) and I practice a very specific style of yoga called ParaYoga. It's incredibly powerful and has a clear, ancient lineage which I deeply value. You can practice with my teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker on Glo or Yoga International from home.
Below I've rounded up a few practices that are ideal for restoring a sense of calm in the body and mind. They all use particular categories of poses and specific techniques to soothe the nervous system, direct energy in the body and create a sense of calm.
Practices on Glo:
Practices On Yoga International
Note: Both Glo and Yoga International have free trial periods so you can try it out!
Also on Glo, you can find Yoga Nidra (AKA yogic sleep or enlightened sleep) practices. Basically, you grab a comfy blanket and something cover your eyes, lay down and listen to a guided relaxation for 15-30 minutes. 20 minutes of Yoga Nidra is said to be as restorative as 3 hours of sleep and there are also some compelling studies coming out around its benefits in treating PTSD.
Here are two practices with Yogarupa Rod Stryker you might try:
Resting deeply is incredibly nourishing for the body can support the immune system as well. Make sure you're sleeping well also. You can find my tips on sleep here.
It's also important to nourish your body, inside and out. I'll be eating lots of warming, easy to digest foods like soups, dahls, kitchari, broths, and slow-cooked meals. I'm a big fan of eating through the lens of Ayurveda and I can highly recommend Jasmine Hemsley's East By West cookbook which has lots of information and recipes.
I also think this is an excellent time to adopt another Ayurvedic practice - self-massage with warm oil. This is incredibly nourishing and fortifying to the tissues and can calm the body and mind. Read this poston how to do it.
While you're at it, start dry-brushing, which is amazing for the lymphatic system.
Anxiety is a hungry beast. It wants you to feed it with more. More bad news. More worrying information. More reasons to be concerned. More proof of its usefulness as a protective force.
Yes, this is undoubtedly a time for vigilance and conscious, educated interaction with the world around us. But there is a difference between equipping yourself with useful information and arming your anxiety with provocations. There a limit to how much “more” information is helpful.
A gentle question for your consideration: How are you feeding your anxiety? And are there ways you can soothe it instead? Are there opportunities to not just limit your exposure to this virus, but to limit your exposure to inputs that feed your anxiety? Are there opportunities to create more spaciousness in your mind by feeding it less? Keeping calm has a lot to do with where we are choosing (yes, choosing!) to place our attention. Consciously choosing the direction of your attention is the most powerful thing you can do right now.
ALSO: I LOVE YOU. Thank you for showing up in this world with heart and courage and care for yourself.