I wish I could tell you how good spring time in England smells. I don't think I have ever, or at least not for a very long time, really appreciated the smells of this time of year; the scent of the morning mist while I sit in meditation; the subtle seduction of the spring flowers as the sun begins to heat them in the afternoon sunshine, and the birds.... I didn't know Britain had so many birds. Tapping into the 5 senses has been one of my main practices since we started lockdown. It's one of the practices that really helps me with Present Moment Awareness, it reminds me over and over again as I forget - when anxiety of 'WTF?' begins to rise - that this really is the only moment we have. Trying to predict what will happen in these coming weeks and months for all of us is not useful, particularly not if it triggers you. No one knows, so let's find a way to connect to the NOW. For those of you that have read Eckhart Tolle's 'The Power of Now', you will know that he repeats over and over about time being an illusion. He urges us to “Realise deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
Easy for me to say, I imagine some of you are thinking. I know many people's lockdown doesn't include access to outdoor space and for some it might be too hot or too wet or too cold to spend a huge amount of time outside.
So I thought it would be useful in this blog post to spend less time pondering the philosophies of life and all things yoga and share some other more practical related practices that help to connect us to the present moment. Many of you have written to me over the last few weeks and talked to me about your anxiety and some about your lethargy. As I mentioned in my latest newsletter some of us are 'do-ers' (one of my teachers calls us 'ON' people) - we respond to stress by needing to do something about it. We can't sit still. This behaviour can make us (and others around us) more anxious if we don't manage that 'doing' energy into something productive. Some of us are 'OFF' people - stress might shut you down, slow you down (binge-watching Netflix is all you can find the energy to do). You might suffer more with depression, a lack of motivation. Whatever kind of person you are - recognise that and see what you can learn from those who are not like you.
I have listed some simple techniques below some of which will be useful to help ON people self-regulate and some that will be useful for OFF people. Anything that helps you to feel safe and supported at this time can be used as a resource.
Present Moment Awareness (PMA) Techniques PMA is about focusing your attention on what you are doing and your surroundings so your mind is not in the past nor is it in the future. It is right here, right now. How to connect to the present moment? 1. Remind yourself of who you are now. Say your name. Say your age now. Say where you are now. Say what you have done today. Say what you will do next. 2. Feel the clothes on your body, whether your arms and legs are covered or not, and the sensation of your clothes as you move in them. 3. Listening - if you are in the company of another person, try listening to them completely with 100% of your attention, rather than letting your mind wander. 4. Observe objects and the textures, colours, size of them. You can name them out loud e.g. “I can see a blue ball” 5. Touch - take your time to touch objects in your current environment and describe to yourself how they feel.
If you are a super ON person and struggling with anxiety some of these Grounding, Centring and Orientation techniques will probably be useful for you.
Grounding Techniques Grounding is about helping people connect to the earth and by doing so this helps people connect to their bodies. Being grounded doesn’t necessarily mean feeling good. Instead it means we feel like we are able to be with what is difficult or uncomfortable. The goal is to stay out of overwhelm and immobility. Simply asking yourself, “can I be with this right now?” can help. When we are able to stay with the feeling, it can lower the volume of intensity. How to ground? 1. Feel your feet on the floor, or feel your legs. This can be done standing, sitting or lying. If sitting, feel your sit bones on the floor. If sitting you can have one hand on the floor and one hand on your body. If lying, feel the earth beneath the back of your body. 2. When standing soften knees and push your feet into the floor, this can make the leg muscles turn on so the legs feel strong. 3. Stand like a tree - using the imagery of a tree can often help to connect to the floor. Imagine you have roots that are reaching deep down into the soil. 4. Cover your crown - placing one or two hands over the top of your head can help have this sense of drawing the body into the floor. 5. Walking slowly - Walk barefoot and be sure to use your whole foot when you walk: heel, ball, toes. Orientating Techniques Orientating ourselves helps us to know where we are in time and space. When we become orientated we can focus on the present moment. If we are triggered orientating ourselves can help you calm down quicker. How to help people orientate? 1. Looking at your surroundings - simply looking around the room - using your senses to notice your surroundings - listing 5 things you can see, 5 you can hear, asking what you can smell? Noticing what you can touch. a. moving the head from side to side - this motion helps take us into present-time. b. scanning the environment - when we look at the environment we bring about physiological relaxation in our bodies and engage the social engagement system. 2. Observe objects and the textures, colours, size of them. You can name them out loud e.g. “I can see a blue ball” (same as PMA). Centring Techniques Centring is about being able to feel balanced and present - when we are balanced, physically, mentally and emotionally we are able to feel calm, content and still. The main physical centre in the body is just below the navel, the main emotional centre is in the heart region. How to find centre? 1. Touching the belly - Place your awareness in this area and breathe naturally. Sometimes it’s helpful to put one or both hands over your navel as you breathe. 2. Touching the heart - Place your awareness in this area and breathe naturally. Sometimes it’s helpful to put one or both hands over your heart as you breathe. Often one hand on belly, one hand on heart is more preferable for people. 3. Shifting centre of gravity - in a standing position move your weight back and forward across your feet and try and find a central point of balance between the ball and the heal. 4. Imagine that you have a plumb line the travels down the centre of your body - try walking around the room keeping your attention on the line, and allowing your movement to start from this line. 5. Writing / Drawing - often writing or drawing about your experience can bring you back to a still, calm point. 6. Observation after practice - taking time to observe after you have been practicing any of these techniques and how they affect your mind, body, emotions. 7. Anchoring the positive results - if you feel lighter, calmer, more clear - try and anchor this feeling into your body and mind - allowing you return to it, or call on it in the future. The final resource I am going to talk about here is the Breath. Breathing is probably the most important tool available for you to help relieve stress and anxiety and also to encourage relaxation. It affects how you feel in your body in each moment. Breathing can be a way to connect to yourself. You can use it to energise yourself or to calm yourself. It is important to try different options and see which ones work best for you. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable you must stop.
Nasal breath Take your attention to your natural breath. Eyes can be open or closed. Close the mouth and become aware of the breath as it comes in and out of the nose. If this feels uncomfortable in any way then you can always breathe through your mouth.
Focusing on your exhalations and making them longer than your inhalations allows the body to settle and soften.
1. Start by becoming aware of the natural rhythm of your breath 2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 3. Exhale through the nose for a count of 6 - drawing out your exhale in a long, slow, deep 4. Repeat this pattern for a number of rounds.
3-Part breath 1. Place your hands on your belly and breath into your hands - the belly will expand and rise on the inhale and fall with the exhale. 2. Next time you breath into the belly keep inhaling so the breath expands into the ribs and then the chest. 3. Then exhale chest, ribs, belly - until the body is empty of air. 4. Repeat this pattern for a number of rounds if it feels comfortable.
Cooling breath 1. Open the mouth and form the lips into an “O.” 2. Curl the tongue lengthwise and project it out of the mouth (about 3/4 of an inch). 3. Inhale deeply across the tongue and into the mouth as if drinking through a straw. 4. Focus your attention on the cooling sensation of the breath 5. Withdraw the tongue and close the mouth, exhaling completely through the nostrils.
Alternate nostril breath 1. Lift your right hand up toward your nose. 2. Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril. 3. Inhale through your left nostril and then close the left nostril with your fingers. 4. Open the right nostril and exhale through this side. 5. Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril. 6. Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side. This is one cycle. Repeat. Connecting breath to movement By connecting movements to breath it helps you to bring together different aspects of your experience. In yoga we connect movement to movement and movement to breath. Bringing together movement and breath creates a sense of “flow” through the body and mind. You can try this by: 1. Lift you arms on an inhale 2. Fold forward on an exhale 3. Roll through your spine to standing, sweep the arms up as you inhale 4. Arms down as you exhale
Directive breathing Breathing “into” specific parts of the body e.g. directing the breath to your hips helps to release tension or tightness that you might feel.
Our self-development, self-awareness and self-acceptance is a constant process of weeding and replanting. When you begin to to realise that all negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present you speed up your healing journey. Remember unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry - all forms of fear - are caused by too much thinking of the future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much thinking of the past, and not enough presence.
As the world shuts down for weeks, maybe months, of clock time - make a commitment to yourself to work on honouring the present moment and when you do the struggles in your mind will begin to dissolve.
There are undoubtedly bigger questions that need to be addressed as we lock ourselves away, as the planet makes it clear that our collective behaviour can't continue the way it has been. Capitalist consumerism, development, success - what do they look like?
For me it becomes clearer and clearer that we can't alleviate our pain through purchasing - it becomes clearer and clearer that to dampen our distress and soothe our loneliness we need to use the resources we hold within ourselves. Reaching for the resources provided for us by our bodies, searching for our truth, constructing community, healing ourselves will in turn heal the planet.
Use these techniques to begin to heal.
Act out present-moment awareness.
Use the mantra: Forever is Composed of NOW.
Forever is Composed of NOW.
Forever is Composed of NOW.