Within just a few weeks, the world has changed. For some, spring trips and holidays had to be cancelled, while for other others (not naming any names…), they might have even been stuck abroad longer than intended. On a more serious note, people have been laid-off while others are working overtime, and, sadly, some have lost loved ones.
On the other hand, there has been a great reduction in pollution; in the air, the water, on urban streets. The canals of Venice are running clear and air pollution has decreased in numerous countries. Wildlife is thriving, hanging around in places normally bustling with human activity. It feels like the earth is breathing again!
And that’s the way the life is. Though negative things may be happening, there are always positives to find! I get to enjoy time in the sunshine, tend to the flowers in my garden, and spend a whole bunch of time with my teenage son (who is loving every second of it just as much as mum). People are finding new ways to communicate and be together, regardless of distance. Wine night over video chat, virtual coffee dates, living room dance parties, and lots of time in nature! Plus, pets are loving having their people around all the time!
Even in dire situations, there are always stories about people shining their brightest, offering help and support, and being there for their community. People are finding ways to help: buying groceries for those who currently cannot, checking in on elderly neighbours, and being mindful of the health and safety of their community.
Opening The Toolbox
Along with being there for your community, it is just as important to feel like your community is there for you, and that can be difficult during a quarantine. Whether you have friends or family with you or you’re on your own, being stuck at home can be frustrating, worrisome, and just downright boring!
But this is the perfect time to learn exercises and processes that will help you navigate through times of stress. Whether you are in the middle of a global quarantine or just having a tough day in general, these practices can be grounding, calming, and restorative, to body mind in soul. They aid in quieting negative thoughts, allowing us to reaffirm the good in the world.
And they aren’t just for the bad days! Yes, they can help us in times of sadness or worry, but they can also become daily habits; little rituals that you can integrate into your routine to support a balanced, peaceful lifestyle.
What’s more? They allow us to connect with our inner selves and, in the long term, really come to understand who we are and who we were meant to be. Not only can these tools and exercises connect us ourselves on a deeper level, but they are useful in mindfulness and self-reflection. Their power can help reduce anxiety and quiet the mind, allowing us to focus on our spiritual world, on top of our mental, physical, and emotional health.
Best of all? These exercises are things that you can practice on you own! So while we’re all dealing with some less-than-ideal circumstances, whether we’re working hard on the frontline or getting antsy while cooped up at home, let’s takes care of ourselves, body and soul!
The Tool Box
We all breathe. Sometimes we are aware of it, while other times, it’s fully automatic. It’s a necessity, something we do without even thinking, yet it is so valuable to be aware of our breath. It brings attention to the rest of the body and provides us with an awareness of our own form and function.
Adding the intentional aspect takes breathwork a step further, transforming it from necessary body function to an effective tool to increase our own physical awareness, relax the nervous system, and calm the mind.
“I know how to breathe!” you might say. And that may be so. Your body, your brain, your automatic nervous system; of course it knows what to do. But in learning to control your breath, to take air into your lungs and release your anxieties, to focus on the action of breathing instead of the whirling thoughts inside your busy mind; that’s the goal.
The first thing to do is notice your natural breathing. Pay attention to your body. How does it feel? Are your breaths deep or shallow? Are your shoulders relaxed or tense? Just noticing your own breath can be a mindful action all on its own.
Next step? Take control! Inhale through your nose, filling you lungs fully, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Again, pay attention as you breathe. If you find yourself tensing, remind yourself to relax. Let you jaw unclench, your shoulders fall back. The deliberate, rhythmic cycle not only relaxes the body and mind; it centres you.
A further technique is the HA breath. It is an intentional breath, following the same pattern: inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. This time, however, as you exhale, make a HA sound, as if you were sighing. Breathe deep from your centre, filling your lungs, extending your stomach. Continue this, releasing all your tension with each deep sigh. The focus, the conscious action; it can bring you to a meditative state. This isn’t too shocking, as the HA Breath is often practiced in tandem with yoga and mediation. Similar breathing techniques are used in various mindfulness, mental health, and therapy practices, noted for the calming effect.
An added bonus? Oxygen! It’s good for you.
So the next time you feel anxious or unbalanced, remember to breathe!
Meditation has so many definitions. It’s difficult to put it into a short, sweet, succinct little package tied up with a bow. It is both deep thinking and the absence of thought. It is the practice of clearing one’s mind, of freeing ourselves of the busy thoughts, endless ideas, and occasional ear worms that make themselves at home within our minds (I’m looking at you Old Town Road). It is intense focus on a specific thought or idea, on an affirmation or a mantra. It is a period of reflection, to consider ourselves, our ideas, our place in the world. It is mindfulness in action. It is stillness. It is the simple act of being.
No matter how you define it or what sort of meditation you practice, the positive, grounding effects it has are undeniable. Different modalities, such as mindfulness, guided meditation, or methods traditionally practiced by a specific religion or spiritually will have different steps and processes. Just take a look online and you’ll find countless guides and suggestions to help you on your journey towards enlightenment, or at least, down the path to a lighter mind.
While there are so many different ways to practice meditation, let’s start with the most simple. First of all, find a quiet place. While some people can mediate in spite of outside noise, beginners may find it easier to avoid external stimuli. Find a spot where you won’t be interrupted and sit or lay down, ensuring you are comfortable and free of distractions.
Close you eyes and clear you mind. This may be difficult at first, as it does not feel like a natural state. For some, the effort to clear the mind may prove to be a distraction itself. In this case, a great trick is to focus on your breath. Just as with breathwork, the rhythmic pattern and mindfulness become the main focus, clearing your mind of all other thoughts.
And if a thought does come up? Acknowledge it and let it float way. Pretend it is a feather, floating on the wind. You cannot control the wind, but as the feather nears, you have the power to blow it away. There is no need to worry or talk down to yourself if you can’t seem to focus or clear your mind. While a clear mind is often the desired outcome, there will always be times when the thoughts win. And that is okay. The goal in meditation is not to be perfect. You won’t get in trouble if you lose focus. No one will judge you if your brain just can’t stop humming “Tiny Dancer” on repeat. It’s just you and your mind, so let yourself just be.
Did you know everyday activities can be meditation? Some may find walking meditative, while others practice mindfulness while they drive, or cook, or eat. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor or chant (unless you choose to do so, of course). No matter where you are, meditation is an accessible, efficient tool for grounding yourself and creating inner peace.
With the growing prominence of manifestation in mainstream consciousness, visualisation has been having a hey-day. From vision-boarding, to life-planning, to prepping for that big boardroom online presentation, the ability to visualise the results you want is imperative to reaching desired and productive outcomes.
On a large scale, visualisation is an invaluable tool, essential to realising your dreams. It allows you to picture your ideal situation and actively put thoughts and energy that support these outcomes out into the universe. On a smaller scale? It can help you meditate! It’s effectiveness in augmenting and improving breathwork and meditation is so valuable, it can’t be left to go by the wayside.
Adding visualisation to your breathing deepens the experience. One Peaceful Practise that I share in my book is the visualisation of a ribbon. As you sit and practice deep breathing, inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling from you mouth, visualise a ribbon extending from you mouth. With each exhale, the force of the air expelling from your lungs causes the ribbon to stay afloat in front of you. Each time you breathe in, it falls. Each time you breathe out, it rises. Concentrating solely on the ribbon lets your mind focus on one thing, keeping it from wandering or worrying as you breathe. The act of focusing solely on the peaceful task at hand increases the relaxing and meditative aspects.
Another exercise that proves useful in breathwork, meditation, and self-talk is the visualisation of a chalkboard. We have the power to control what is and isn’t written on them. Having the ability to extend that power over our own thoughts offers us the self-discipline necessary to acknowledge and let go of our worries.
As you meditate and thoughts arrive, simply “write” the thought down on the chalkboard. Once they are on the board? Simply erase them! That’s the best part about chalk – it isn’t permanent. And neither are your thoughts and thought-patterns. You are able to change them, just as you are able to change your reality. Never forget the strength of your own mind!
A Time to Practice Peace
No matter the situation, no matter the state of the world, it can always be of benefit to ground ourselves. Our minds are powerful and create the reality we live in. Even when things seem dire, we still have the power to shape our world from the inside out and make the best of our situation.
So take the time! Take a moment to breathe, meditate, visualise, and find your inner peace.