When Amanda asked me if I would write about what I do to stay centered in my life, I thought, “Easy! I can do that, quick as a flash.” Then a couple of days later, I learned that my daughter didn’t get into the schools where we had applied, and we immediately had to look for a new place to live (hello stress). This just before my busiest time of the year when I lead a two-month teacher’s training program and right after a dear friend called me in deep distress saying he needed an intervention for a hidden drug problem. Oh Universe, what a merry prankster you are!
I raced around trying to give everyone and everything my attention, until my head felt it was about to explode, my gut was in knots and I felt like I’d been hit with a baseball bat. Then I stopped and I caught myself: I was not giving myself any attention and therefore was pretty ineffective in helping myself or anyone else at that moment.
I have been studying Yoga for two decades now, and Yoga really is the study of the science of the mind. Yes, the physical form has become very popular and we all love what the asana (postures) practice does for our bodies. But what does it do for the mind? The answer is “nothing” if you don’t pay attention to what is happening. That goes for whether you’re practicing on the mat or trying to get dinner ready while your work deadlines are calling you at the computer. So I turned inward and listened to what my inner roommate was telling me. She was saying that if I didn’t get everything I wanted and give everyone else what they needed, I had failed! And failure for the mind feels like death. I had to get back to my Self quick.
This is where true Yoga practice comes in: The path of Yoga, when we are breathing and moving in unison with ourselves. When we have the mind centered on what we are actually doing and not what we think we should be doing, we have entered the realm of mindfulness. That’s when we are in our ‘full’ mind, or our mind is fully in us and not separated out into a million different devastating scenarios. (My daughter is going to join a gang, get a tattoo and be a mean girl if she doesn’t get into the right Kindergarten, etc.)
When we are being mindful, we are developing a witness quality. We can see ourselves spin out, instead of being fully invested in the spinning. We may not always be able to stop it right away, but the more and more we see that we’re walking down that road again, with the same potholes, we can start to climb out of them quicker or maybe even walk around them. So here are my suggestions for coming back to your right mind. Each essentially does the same thing: Put the pause button on the obsessive thinking and clear some headspace. They are tried and tested by me, and I’m happy to say that at this moment my mind and I are friends again. I have taken the house keys from my moody inner roommate and have asked her to move out.
Take a Yoga class. (You can also pull out a Yoga DVD or learn a couple of poses and do them!) Yoga has been proven to work on the nervous system; it will reset the autonomic nervous system and get us out of the fight and flight syndrome. If you don’t have the time to practice a Yoga sequence, here are some quicker tips to help you find your center.
Put your head below your heart. Either get into a downward facing dog, a headstand (if this is part of your practice) or simply bend over with your knees bent and let your head and spine hang. Not only will this change your perspective instantly and stop the mind from chattering, but inversions are also mood enhancers and brain boosters.
Try alternate side of the nostril breathing. Block of one nostril by pressing gently on the side of the nostril and breathe in slowly through the opposite one. At the top of the breath, pause for a moment and pinch both nostrils. Release the nostril you first pinched and breathe out. Breathe in through that nostril and repeat the whole process again at least 10 times. Alternate nostril breathing balances the right and left side of the brain. Even two minutes of this breathing exercise will calm you.
Take your shoes off and plant your feet on the ground. Keep your attention for as long as you can to the feeling of the earth beneath your feet. Even better, find a piece of grass and walk slowly, paying as much attention to how the grass feels on your feet. Now you’re grounded!
Go outside. If you have time, go for a walk. If I only have a moment, I will sit under my favorite tree in my backyard, stare at it, and see how many things I can notice about the tree. This kind of focus helps to remind us of the tangible world. It gets us out of the imaginary “what if” world in our head, which is responsible for our stress.
Make a gratitude list. Either write one or just start to list what you’re thankful for in your head. Even more powerful is to step into nature and say it out loud. What is going right? What do you have that’s working? We all have so much for which to be grateful. For me, when I begin to list all my blessings, the stuff I’m worrying about begins to feel pretty small.
I hope you find something useful here to help ground you and find your way back to center. Know that what we are really doing here is uncovering our spirit. We’re letting that part of us be felt again, be heard again and ultimately lead us again. We don’t have that much time on this planet together so let’s enjoy the ride! May your spirit soar. Namaste.
Featured image via Augusto Mike Battaglia Photography on Flickr