We are all, right now, digging deep into our stores of resilience. Before the pandemic even began most of us were in a constant state of low grade stress. Which is, by the way, significantly more dangerous to our long term health than much bigger, short term stressors.
And the stress of daily life has ramped up exponentially (she types as her 3 year old shout-sings along to Incy Wincy Spider in the background).
The good news is that it doesn’t have to take long to help us restore a bit of balance.
Actually with just a few minutes of focused effort and some repetition we can make a significant impact on our ability to bounce back.
This list of 2 minute tricks can help you find your centre. It’s hard to believe, when you feel like your head is about to explode, that anything so simple and quick could actually be effective…but I urge you to try. You will be surprised what a difference you can feel.
Proper diaphragmatic belly breathing is possibly the simplest thing you can do to have an outsize impact on your ability to manage stress as well as improve your overall health. When under stress we breath shallowly. Bringing your breath back into a slow, deep rhythm activates your parasympathetic nervous system, calms you down and brings your body and mind back into balance. Read exactly how to do it here.
Do some gentle stretches while you pay careful attention to the sensations in your body. Really notice each movement and how the body feels in each position. Grounding your awareness in your body in this way gives your mind a break from whirling thoughts and can help you gain perspective.
In yoga there’s a humming bee breath called bhramari pranayama that can be tremendously effective for relieving tension, anger and anxiety. Very simply you sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, gently close the eyes and make a humming noise on every exhalation. To deepen the sensation you can also cover your ears with your hands to intensify the sound. You’ll feel the humming vibration throughout your body and you’ll be left feeling uplifted and more centred.
4. Do a walking meditation
You don’t need to get outside to do this. You just need enough space to take a few steps. Walk as slowly as you can manage without falling over, paying close attention to what it feels like to walk, and to all the micro-movements of different parts of the feet, legs and body. After a few steps, pause and look around, noticing every detail of your environment as if for the first time. Slowly, with awareness, turn back to face the way you came. And repeat. Keep going for two minutes, and see if you have managed to walk yourself back to a place of greater calm.
5. Stand like a tree
Tree pose in yoga is a wonderful pose for grounding yourself. While you’re holding the pose imagine roots growing down your standing leg and out of the sole of your foot, deep into the earth to root you in place. Imagine that while the wind might blow a storm around you, you can stand strong and solid, able to withstand and to provide a safe shelter to those who live near you.
6. Practice alternate nostril breathing
In yoga, nadi shodana pranayama is used to balance the energy in the body. It lowers heart and rate, reduces stress and anxiety and balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain. For a bit more explanation and a quick tutorial watch this video.
7. Inhale some essential oil
Inhaling lavender essential oil help to reduce stress and anxiety. It impacts the limbic system in the brain which sets the emotional tone of our minds. Put a few drops in a diffuser, a bath, or on your pillow and let the soothing scent do its work. Alternative oils to try include rose and ylang ylang.
Yup, another one of those that’s hard to believe until you try it. It’s a series of taps, or thumps, on different parts of your body suggested by Donna Eden, a world famous author, lecturer and energy medicine teacher. Use your fingertips to tap firmly and repeatedly on your cheekbones. Then do the same on the gentle hollows just beneath where the collarbones meet at the top and centre of your chest. Then again on your sternum. And finally on either side of your ribcage, about a fifth of the way up from the bottom of the ribs. Finish it off with Donna’s ‘hook up’ by pressing one middle finger into your belly button and one between your eyebrows and then pulling up gently with both fingers. You’ll likely find yourself taking a deep breath and becoming aware of a sensation at the back of your throat. All of this will take less than 2 minutes and will leave you feeling a bit more back on track. For more on these and other Donna Eden exercises watch this video.
9. Listen out and listen in
Sit quietly with your eyes closed and bring your attention to all the sounds that you can hear around you. Try not to focus more on any one sound than any other. And try not to develop any mental stories about any of the sounds. Just notice them. And notice how the sounds change moment by moment. After 30 seconds switch your attention to your body, noticing how the body feels and noticing any sensations that arise. Try again not to develop any stories about what you’re noticing. Avoid making any judgements. Just tune in. After 30 seconds switch back to listening to the sounds around you. And 30 seconds later tune back into your body. When the 2 minutes are up gently open your eyes.
Try Dr Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise. You’ll work your way up to being able to inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. During this exercise your exhalation is much longer than your inhalation and anecdotally (as well as in my own experience) helps to stimulate a relaxation response, reducing anxiety and helping to bring your emotions back into balance. The effect is physiological too, reducing heart rate and blood pressure and turning on the 'rest and digest' parasympathetic nervous system.
Helen Ludwig is a conscious leadership consultant and the founder of Budhana. She is passionate about the power of mind-body practices to expand our personal potential and to nurture powerful leadership and thriving world.