It's not easy navigating this new terrain, I know. Some of us are figuring out how to work from home, maybe trying our hand at homeschooling for the first time. Some are out of a job, while others are obligated to be present on the front line, continuing to work as usual. We may be worried about our own health, our families, our source of income, the list goes on. Birth visions have been disrupted and unexpected pressures have been introduced. Maybe you're riding the roller coaster of emotions ranging from panicked to completely at ease and everything in between.
Though our responses to the circumstances vary, we all have one thing in common at the moment: uncertainty. Uncertainty of what is to come, and uncertainty of how we can make normal out of this very abnormal situation drives the fear that kicks the brain into survival mode.
"Fight, flight, freeze," is the body's necessary autonomic nervous system response to impending danger in order to keep you alive. That's all good and useful when a tiger is chasing you (Netflix reference not intended), but the effects of being in this state long-term are more harmful than they are beneficial when your life is not at immediate risk. Living day in and day out, body flooded with a cocktail of adrenaline and other stress hormones is damaging to the immune system and to our relationships with each other and ourselves.
Here are some simple practices you can do that take almost no time, are FREE, require little energy, and keep stress at bay. These are all generally safe in all stages of pregnancy and postpartum, but always consult with your care provider before beginning a new health regimen.
1) Unfurrow the Brow and Release the Jaw
Draw your attention to the area between the eyebrows. Do you notice any tension? Is your gaze fixated with agitation and intensity? If so, allow the little muscles around the eyes and eyebrows to soften. Now shift your awareness to the jaw. Don't worry about looking silly for a moment- open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue. Wiggle the lower jaw from side to side. When the brain perceives a problem, a frown forms, then the jaw clenches, causing the hips to contract, ready for life-saving decision (fight, flight or freeze). Starting at the source, releasing the brow furrow, sends a message to the brain that there is no trouble here, and the body is given permission to relax completely.
2) Ditch the Shoes!
The best way to get out of your head is to ground your energy down. A quick and easy grounding technique it to kick off the shoes -socks, too!- and find terrain that has a negative charge. This could be soil, concrete (sidewalks), grass, sand. Being barefoot outside under either the moonlight or sunlight is ideal, but if that's not accessible, try going barefoot on the garage or patio surface. We are often surrounded by technology, and even have our own bodily electric currents which are both positively charged. The earth's surface has a negative charge, which neutralizes our own. This "grounding" or "earthing" practice improves immunity, reduces inflammation in the body, improves sleep, and reduces overall pain and discomfort. Go for a stroll barefoot and try telling me you didn't come back feeling at rest.*
*Worried about bringing germs into your home? Set yourself up for success: have a soapy washcloth and clean hand (foot) towel by the door. Baby wipes work, too!
3) Alternate Nostril Breathing (nadi shodana)
Nadi shodana is a Sanskrit term essentially meaning "channel purification." The idea of breathing through one nostril at a time is to balance both hemispheres of the brain, lower the heart rate, and allow the body to activate the parasympathetic nervous system ("rest and digest"). Here's how:
Begin your practice in a comfortable seat, sitting upright and both sides of the pelvis level. I like to sit with legs crossed and hips elevated on a blanket or pillow. You can also sit in a chair or couch and ground the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes or soften the gaze. Using ring finger and thumb, alternate blocking one nostril at a time as you inhale and exhale. You can use index finger and thumb if that is more comfortable.
Starting with the left nostril open (right nostril blocked), inhale deeply, allowing the belly to expand. Block the left nostril at the top of the breath, open the right nasal airway and exhale completely. Inhale the same side (right), and when the inhale is complete, switch nasal openings (left airway open, right airway closed). Repeat this, switching at the top of every inhale. Allow the breath to expand the lungs in all directions, let the abdomen be loose and free with every inhale. When exhaling, gently contract the navel inward toward the spine.
Do this for a minimum of three minutes, or as long as it feels good to you! Joe Exotic can wait a few minutes, I promise.
Note: It is very normal to find one nasal passage to be more open than the other. You may find that this changes from moment to moment during the day, depending on which hemisphere of the brain is "in charge" at the time. If you have a deviated septum, this does not necessarily expel you from nostril breathing. In fact, it has been known to correct mild deviations. If you cannot breathe through either or both nostrils, do the practice as usual, breathing through the mouth as needed as you visualize air traveling only through the nasal passages.
Try lengthening your exhale so that it is a couple counts longer than your inhale. This goes for any breathing technique or just natural breathing. Practice this to live your life in constant "rest and digest."
Let's all remember that this is the first time any of us have had to navigate these circumstances. Be kind, practice patience, and keep breathing!
How did these exercises work for you? Did you find an alternative to calm the mind? Tell me all about your experiences- victories, challenges, questions- in the comments!
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is for informational purposes only. The information given is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your health care provider with questions regarding a medical condition.