Navigating the New World
So I found myself on a bus last weekend. A once very normal activity but now quite strange to be with people.
The first journey was fine –being on a bus, interacting with people – the driver was vigilant that the bus did not get too crowded. All was good. Then I found myself on another bus – and the experience was different as at each stop more people piled on and space shrank – I started to feel anxious.
So I tuned into my feet. I let my awareness drop into my feet – breathing into the souls of my feet. Then as I was seated – I let my awareness come to my sitting bones – I felt the weightiness of my body- I allowed myself to feel the seat beneath me and the gentle motion of the bus. I lengthened my breath and tuned into the movement of the bus – the micro-movements of my body as I breathed.
And the bus journey passed – people started to vacate the bus and eventually I arrived at my destination. Feeling OK.
All of our normal activities have a sub-text – how close should we be to people – to strangers even to friends. We are now experiencing anxiety about social interactions, busy places, to hug or not to hug…
We need to feel safe on the inside so that we can feel strong enough to deal with everything going on around us – learning to navigate each other, crowds and public spaces. We need to feel grounded and centred within ourselves.
Thankfully there are many yogic practices to build this inner strength and a sense of resilience – not a sense of indestructibility but a healthy sense of
Strength. Yoga teaches us to be adaptable – flexible… not just of body, but of mind.
And possibly most importantly yoga teaches us non-judgment.
Not judging others if they get a bit too close, or heaven forbid… cough… on the bus… Not judging ourselves if we feel anxious.
Things you can do while out and about:
Breath Awareness – Bringing awareness to your breath – anchoring your awareness into the felt sense of the breath in the body is probably one of the easiest techniques you can do if you are out in public. As I did on the bus, you can bring your awareness as you breathe to your sitting bones and the weightiness of your body. Or very simply you can focus just on the sensations of the breath coming and going at the nostrils. Focus on the coolness of the breath coming in and the slightly warmer out-breath.
Add a silent mantra as you breathe – As you breathe in draw your awareness to your sitting bones as you silently vibrate the mantra ‘ham’ and then as you exhale draw your awareness up to the top of the head as you silently sound the word ‘sa’. ‘Hamsa’ means I am That.
Add a mudra – you can add a simple hand gesture that makes you feel connected (no one will notice). Chinmaya Mudra is a grounding gesture making us feel less anxious. It is good if we are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or ungrounded.
Place the tip of the thumb to the index finger – but then curl all other fingers (middle-ring-little) into the palm of your hand. You can rest the backs of your hands on your knees.
You could also try Psychic Alternate Nostril Breathing for Balance – Normally we practice alternate nostril breathing with thumb and finger physically blocking each nostril – which is hard to do if you are on the bus or in the office. This is a subtle practice – where you focus on the sensation of the in-breath coming in through the left nostril – the cooling breath filling the left nostril and then shift your attention to the right nostril as you exhale – feel the slightly warmer out-breath as you exhale – then awareness in the right nostril breath in again and feel the sensations of breathing in just in the right nostril – then shift attention once more to the left nostril to focus on the sensations inside the left nostril as you breathe out – then continue.
What can we do on our yoga mat or in the garden?
Breathing into rib cage – lateral breath. We can either place our hands on our rib cage as we breathe or place a strap around our ribs to help us focus on a lateral breath. You could do this seated or stand in horse stance.
Simply breathe into the rib cage – feel as if you are gently breathing into your hands and gently pushing them wider. You do not need to exert any pressure with the hands (or the strap) they are just there as a sensual reminder. When we are anxious or panicky we tend to breathe up and down with our shoulders – and this creates a deeper feeling of anxiety. Bringing awareness into the rib cage makes the breath feel both more grounded and more spacious – as if we have space to breathe. There is no tightness or restriction. Try and make the exhalation a little longer than the inhalation. Ideally, breathe in for 4 counts and exhale for 8 counts – but you can always build-up to this.
Conscious Three-Part Breath with Blocks
We can use blocks in our general daily yoga asana practice to assist our breath and bring more awareness to the diaphragm… A full diaphragmatic breath makes us feel more at ease, more centred and less anxious.
This is a good asana to use towards the beginning of your practice. Place one block horizontally between the blades and plane another block vertically under your head. Your chest and ribcage will be lifted. Have your arms by the sides palms facing up – you will automatically feel a sense of opening in the chest and front body.
Take one breath in but in three intervals (eg breathe in a little, then pause, breathe in another sniff and then pause – finally breathe in filling all the way up – feel as if you are breathing all the way into your collar bone). One long exhalation either through your nose or mouth. Then repeat for five minutes, keep sniffing in the air in three parts with one long exhalation.
It is relaxing to rest your lower body in Goddess pose. Or have your knees bent with feet flat. Do for five minutes – then remove the blocks and lie with the back to the earth.
Shake like a rabbit – When a rabbit (or any small animal) has been in shock or stress – it takes time to let go of the stored up tension by shaking. Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart and feel into your feet. Draw your awareness to your pelvis and lower belly and let a very gentle shake start – let it build slowly – eventually, feel the shake move through the body – you can encourage it along – shaking out the arms – feel it down through the legs, feel it down the arms – allow every cell to shake. Awareness in the shoulders- let the shoulders shake, the head shake. Keep the feet grounded to the earth – don’t move around. Shake for about five minutes – easiest to do with some music. I like to do this technique breathing through the mouth – but you can do it breathing through the nose. I feel it is one of the most effective ways to discharge pent up tension and get energy flowing again.
Your daily practice – whether it’s a few sun salutations, a particular yoga sequence of Qi Gong – do it with awareness. Slow your breath, feel into the earth beneath you as you move – be aware of subtle sensation in the body as you move. Interoception is mindfulness in the body and can help us feel safe and grounded. If we do our practice on auto-pilot, not much will change. Bring awareness into your breath, your rhythm, hands touching hands in prayer pose – let everything be a sensory reminder to be in the moment.