Being Well Resourced: An introduction
Many emotions are stirring in the collective and personal pot. They are always stirring, but with fewer ways to ignore them right now, it might just be feeling a little too much. So I decided to share what I have learned and experienced about resourcing ourselves in everyday life.
Let’s start by acknowledging that we are human and have many diverse ways of behaving, feeling and expressing ourselves. Our past has created habits that are hard to let go of. Some of us may be relatively intact, others are falling apart, and everything in between. We are in all kinds of situations and they require us to cope in all kinds of ways. So let’s just give ourselves a break and forgive ourselves for being as we are. The way we are is very sticky. A list like this invites us, just as we are right now, to move through life with a little more awareness, ease and kindness.
Life can only be meaningful if we are experiencing it. We can fill our minds with endless knowledge, but it’s no use unless we live out what we take in. It’s like having a big field of grass in front of you. The moment you reach out a foot and place it one step in front of you, you shift from looking at the big field of grass to experiencing the big field of grass. The mind doesn’t need to get in the way of this. You reach out another foot. You start to feel a trust in the ground that supports and take another step. One day you look down and notice you have worn a path through the grass, and this thing that you became more aware of and started giving more attention to, has now become a part of you.
It was the first thing you did when you came here, and it’s what we are all doing right now. When you have no other resource, breathing is always available. We can forget we have it as a resource. Breathing can become shallow and strained from trauma and stress. In this way, our breath is a useful barometer of our current internal state. When we become aware of our breathing, we become aware of life itself. So it’s worth cultivating this powerful life force gift. The more you practice breathing the more powerful a resource it will become during times of stress. There are endless breathing exercises you can do for one thing or another. A good place to start is with these two exercises.
- Conscious breathing: Find a position, sitting/lying/standing where your muscles can relax and you can best focus on your breathing. Close your eyes and move into the body if that feels okay.* Feel the ground through your body and settle here for a moment. Bring your attention to the breath, just as you are right now. Track the journey of the breath, beginning with the air moving in to the body. Be curious of whether the breath moves in through nostrils or mouth. Notice the temperature of the air as it moves in and the temperature of the air as it moves out. Notice where the breath arrives. Does it arrive to chest or move further down into belly? Continue to witness the breath in this way, without judgement or trying to change anything just yet. Be curious. Cultivate conscious breathing as many times during the day as you can. You might be at a traffic light, walking along a path, doing the dishes, putting your child to bed. Take a pause as you are, feel the ground, notice the breathing.
- Belly breathing: Breathing into the belly calms the body and makes the best use of the lungs and this life force energy. Breathing high up in the chest is a shallow breath that is for getting us through a short burst of stress or a high intensity exercise. Chest breathing can become a habit and feeds the cycle of stress. Paradoxical breathing, which is the opposite way to natural breathing, may have occurred as a result of stress and trauma. This is how to do natural belly breathing:-
- First become breath aware as above exercise and notice whether your breath is through nostrils or mouth, into belly or chest, how your body feels (note areas of tension and relaxation) and what your rate of breathing is. Notice whether your belly moves in or out when you take an inhale.
- Nasal breathing: Consciously breathe through the nose only. If you struggle to do this then do what you can. You may have congestion or have become used to mouth breathing, which is the body’s way of getting more air into the lungs just like when we do cardio exercise.
- Belly breathing: Place your hand on your belly. On the inhale bring air down into the belly so that the naval moves outwards and the belly expands. Exhale and feel the belly contract as the naval moves inwards.
- Checking for paradoxical breathing: Place your hand on your belly and check for paradoxical breathing. In paradoxical breathing the belly will move in as you inhale and out on the exhale. Notice this is the opposite to natural belly breathing as above. Try both and notice how your body feels. You quickly see that a natural belly breath allows you to take in much more air so that you can breathe deeper and in hale/exhale for longer. A natural inhale also lifts the chest and opens the shoulders, which releases tension. The exhale squeezes the air out of the body through an inward movement, expelling what is no longer needed. So learning to breathe the way that you were born to breathe is a very big deal for the body, the mind and how you meet various situations in life.
- Lengthen and deepen: Once you have learned natural belly breathing, (Inhale: belly expands, Exhale: belly contracts inwards), you can try lengthening the inhale and exhale and push the breath deeper into the belly.
- Holding the breath: You can also try holding the breath for 2 or 3 seconds at the end of the inhale and then holding the breath out for 2 or 3 seconds after the exhale before moving to inhale again. Some well practiced individuals have a 1 minute breath, which may be used for deep states of relaxation (in for 20, pause for 20, out for 20, pause for 20!)
Well you can’t do much if you are not even here! Check this out right now. What are you experiencing right now? What is your body doing as you are reading? What is the mind thinking? What emotions are showing up and where are they showing up in your body? What sounds do you hear right now? What are you feeling and tasting right now? Our mind often takes us away from the present moment, and sends us off down rabbit holes of past and future thinking. It likes to analyse and pick everything apart and judge. It goes to all this effort because it thinks it needs to protect you from the present moment. Within the present moment our past can suddenly show up. Within the present moment, unpleasant emotions and sensations can show up. But by not being here now, we are also missing the joyful stuff that shows up as much as the opportunity to start being with the not so pleasant stuff that is asking for healing. At some point, you realise that the effort it takes to avoid the present is causing you more exhaustion and suffering than just turning towards the present and being with whatever shows up.
Exercises that cultivate presence:
- What are you already doing: Sit with your feet on the floor, breathe in and breathe out, read this next question and then close your eyes. Ask yourself, what are you already doing in your life that brings you into the present moment and gives you a feeling of peace and ease? Let the answer unfold as you sit with your eyes closed. This might be a good place to begin practicing presence. Cultivate this one thing you are already doing. Deepen into it. Connect and be with every aspect of it. Some ideas might be:
- listening to a particular piece of music
- walking in nature
- playing an instrument
- Noticing through the senses: Stop as often as you can during the day and notice through the five senses. If you forget then try setting three alarms on your phone or device to remind you to “notice” each day.
- What internal and external sounds am I hearing right now?
- What am I tasting?
- What am I touching? (may just be the ground beneath you)
- What am I seeing?
- What am I smelling?
- Noticing thoughts, feelings, body: Same as above but this time you notice thinking, feeling and body sensations happening. Try to be curious rather than analytical or judgmental.
- What thoughts are here right now?
- What feelings are showing up and where in the body do I feel these feelings?
- Are there any other body sensations going on right now?
- Mindful daily tasks: Try doing one task with your full presence every day. If you move away into your thoughts, try and catch yourself moving away and gently bring yourself back. Engage your five senses as above. Some ideas to try:
- Mindfully eating breakfast
- Mindfully brushing teeth
- Mindfully making the bed
- Mindfully drinking tea
- Mindfully walking in nature (slowing down the pace, taking time to feel your feet on the ground, listening to bird song, flowing water, the breeze through the trees, nature is a very special experience in so many ways. If you can’t go out right now you can still walk mindfully right in the space you find yourself in.)
Movement is so important for shifting energy build up and tension in the body. We can spend long periods of time in front of a screen so its great to learn a few simple stretches to do at regular intervals. Along with releasing muscle tension, moving and stretching helps to releasing stress and big emotions. When you feel you might explode use that energy to move. Now that energy can be productive to you and stops you from giving it away in anger to others. Free movement invites self expression and deeper connection. A guided movement like yoga can be helpful as a way of preparing for stillness. In the style of yoga I teach, meditations complete a practice that begins with breathing, physical movement and stretching. Some of the meditations use the singing of mantras, a particular breath, or meditative movements. Find what works for you and have a few “go to” exercises at the ready. Movement can be with others too. I like kitchen dancing, trampolining and singing with the kids. Therapeutic dancing seems to be growing in popularity. Have a look at Five Rhythms Dance classes or Movement as Medicine classes. There may be some Zoom classes you can try and many are by donation. My husband likes to run, which I can imagine is also very grounding. The whole family enjoy walking in nature. I used to enjoy year round sea swimming. I’ve switched it now to a paddle in the local stream and a cold shower! There are endless ways to move. You Tube and various apps are always there to inspire. So let it all go and if all else fails just scream really really loudly (the car is good) and pound your fists into the ground or a cushion for a minute or so. I kid you not it helps!!
Our inner voice can be full of judgement and criticism. Now more than ever we need to be cultivating self compassion. The ego is made up of many parts that play on the stage of our life. It is helpful to get to know these parts, especially our healthy adult self, our inner critic and our inner child. This kind of work is best learned about and experienced through therapy. Internal family systems therapy or Family Constellations workshops are especially useful. Here are some exercises you can try to cultivate self compassion:
- Mindful self compassion: When you feel in stress, bring a hand to the heart and take a pause. Breathe into your body. You may even breathe into where you feel this unease showing up in the body and place a hand there. Offer yourself some kind words such as “I am suffering right now. This feels so hard. I know it is going to pass soon. I am with you in this.” Notice what happens as you do this exercise.
- A daily self care kit: choose some self care activities that you can do each day to cultivate self kindness and a clear message of I am worth this. Choose simple things that use the five senses. For example for touch you might buy a beautiful hand cream and apply it at the end of each day. For sight you might watch your favourite TV show. For smell you might walk around the garden and smell your favourite flowers, or massage a nice smelling shampoo into your head as you feel the shower on your body. For taste maybe buy yourself a bar of delicious chocolate, spend time lovingly cooking yourself a favourite meal, or mindfully drink a smooth, flavourful coffee. For sound listen to your favourite music or sit outside and listen to the bird song.
- Get to know your inner critic: when you are unkind to yourself, what is it you are saying to yourself. Get to know this part of you and realise that it is not the whole of you. One way to quieten your inner critic is by cultivating a more compassionate self. You might try answer your inner critic from your compassionate self e.g. when the critic says,”you are stupid and no good,” your compassionate self might reply, “this is your perspective, but I am trying my best right now and I am as I am.”
- More information: The above self compassion practices are based on the work of Dr. Chris Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff, and Dr. Paul Gilbert, (Paul founded self compassion therapy.) You can look these names up for their web sites, useful resources and contacts.
So I’ll leave it there for now and I hope you have enjoyed reading! Above all else, go very gently with yourselves. This is YOUR life and what you do with it will nourish all around you too. We are all connected and we each have our very valuable part to bring into life. Give this you as much support and kindness as you can. If you struggle to be nice to yourself, consider a therapist who will hold you in a kind space of being with all that needs to show up and be heard. One day you will learn to show up with kindness to you too. I’m still working on it myself. The beat goes on. Feel free to question and comment.