In Zen there is an adage that says do one thing at a time. Finish what you are doing before starting the next thing. I learned the true power of this, once, during a particularly stressful time, when I found myself operating from a place of fear and worry, unlike anything I had known before.
On this occasion, I found myself jumping from one worrisome thought to another, before any single thought could be adequately processed by my mind-body system. Each new thought would ramp up the tension in my body, and, instead of taking the time to slow down and feel it, and allow that tension a natural release, I found myself spinning off into the next worrisome thought before the first one was even truly complete.
This destructive thought pattern had all of my intuitive health alarms going off. Stacking tension, on top of tension, on top of tension, I knew this pattern could cause me serious harm if I allowed it to continue.
Thankfully, interrupting the cycle was actually quite straight forward. It involved slowing down, enough to allow the feelings and physical sensations that were in my body, at that moment, to be recognized consciously, and given the space needed to settle. By focusing on the physical sensations, I focused on the Reality, the REAL Reality, not the story of Reality, of the moment. Naming items in the room out loud can also help ground the thinking mind, enabling one to go into the completion of this cycle of stress.
The technique I used to complete the cycle of stress that worrisome thoughts had brought about, is based in yoga, is also validated by modern understanding of the nervous system, which we know takes time to deactivate, whether it's been ramped up by exercise, or by thought patterns. It wasn't hard, and who among us can't use another tool for an emotional and spiritual reset during a time of stress?
If you've ever taken a yoga class, you'll have done this technique at the end of class. It's called Shavasana, where we "take rest." Done with intention, and a focus on Being-ness, it can heal on every level. Here's how to do it:
Lay down in a dim, quiet place, with your legs relaxed opened in a narrow V shape, and your arms parallel to your legs, palms up. Bring your shoulders up to your ears, back toward the floor, then "lock" them down. (This drawing of the shoulders back and down will introduce a protective arch into the lower back, to allow one to comfortably extend the legs.) Feel the support of the floor, and let your body begin to sink into that support. Notice the sensations in your body. Allow them to just be what they are. Breath deeply, allowing the belly to rise and fall. Again, feel the support of the floor and earth beneath you, and continue to relax into its receiving support. Stay here for ten minutes, or until you feel rested.
Note: if focusing on the body's sensations like breathing activates further stress for you, try focusing on a mantra--affirming words--with each breath. For example, breathing in say the words your most loving ideal parent would tell you; tell them to yourself. "I am safe. I am good." Breath this in for a few breaths, then sigh "Ahhhhhh" breathing out. Eventually, breathing out, say the words that you, as your Highest Self, know to be true going forward. "I trust in Love." "I am the change." Whatever is meaningful and resonant for you.
Here are the things I rely on the most to stay centered and peaceful every day.
1) A daily physical practice. This is a baseline that I always return to.
Creating a daily yoga practice, in particular, could be its own post, and if you're interested in my writing that, let me know. For now, suffice it to say, yoga asanas have a particular magic to them. A physical practice teaches the body a direct knowing that words cannot, and yoga asanas, put simply, teach one to embody inner peace.
My recent Aikido practice has also been deeply instructional for me, as it is rich with lessons on maintaining a sense of connection between two people. The practice is one of embodied connection, even during conflict, and the spiritual root of that martial art is quite solid, at least in my dojo. Good stuff!
2) Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, is a pranayama (breathing) technique in yoga, which works exactly as its name implies: Nadis are the channels of flowing energy in the body, just like the meridians of acupressure, and Shodhana means "cleansing." So this breath literally calms and cleanses the whole nervous system. For me this feels like re- booting my brain and recalibrating it to my spirit. All the mental whirlpools that my mind gets caught in get reset, and suddenly things make sense again; I can think clearly. I find Nadi Shodhana easy and fun, and on a hectic day I've been known to do it sitting in the car for a reset.
For additional stress relief, try teaching Nadi Shodhana to your four year old, who will entertain you with variations like sticking his fingers up his nose. Or even better, blowing out so hard you have to dodge flying boogers. (Unless you're a germaphobe; then maybe skip that one. ;)
3) Pressing on accupressure points known to release anxiety, depression, and stress. Check out this illustrated article on the topic, and see which points work for you. I've personally been loving the ear point Shen Men. It's so easy, and it seriously helps! At least it does for me!