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.
1. Box Breathe
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.
2. Meditate, Meditate, Meditate!
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. 😉
3. Move Your Asana
If you know me, then you know that yoga is a big part of my life (and that I’m a certified teacher.) I practice and teach Tantric Hatha yoga. It’s incredibly powerful and has a clear, ancient lineage which I deeply value. For keeping calm, some of the most powerful asanas (or poses) you can use are twists and forward folds. These categories of poses are grounding, calming and help us surrender. I offer monthly classes that include asana so please do subscribe to my newsletter to hear about the latest classes!
4. Rest Well
Another of my favourite restorative practices is Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra (known as yogic sleep or enlightened sleep) is an ancient technique that has got the goods for our modern life. The simplest way to describe Yoga Nidra is a guided relaxation, but it’s so much more than that (I’ll save that for another blog post!). Suffice it to say that it’s incredibly nourishing for the nervous system and the word on the street is that 20 minutes of yoga nidra is said to be equivalent to 3 hours of sleep. It’s a supercharged yogic nap that will give you wings (especially when you’re sleep-deprived.)
My app Heavily Meditated has an entire category of Yoga Nidra practices for you to try. Pop on a track and lay down for 20 minutes in the afternoon to support your energy after a sleepless night. You can learn more about Yoga Nidra in this post.
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.
5. Nourish Inside & Out
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 post on how to do it.
While you’re at it, start dry-brushing, which is amazing for the lymphatic system.
BONUS. Choose The Direction Of Your Attention
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.