I can’t turn on the radio without hearing the word “gunman.”
And I have my outrages and opinions, and I know you have yours. But we all have pain. Everyone is hurting.
We’re never going to be able to get to the constructive conversations for transformative and compassionate change that we so desperately need if we can’t get out of the reactivity and pain that we’re feeling.
So whether you’re on the front lines of the protests or crying in front of the TV or trying to talk to your kids about what’s going on or feeling stuck in helplessness – there are things to do to take care of yourself. Activism requires self-care.
All of these practices are tremendously simple, but not necessarily easy. The more energy and attention you give to them, the more helpful they will be.
Yes – the mandatory go-to response for a yoga therapist, but stay with me. Your breath is one of the few things in your body that you can do both VOLUNTARILY and INVOLUNTARILY. Which means, your breath can shorten and speed up without you knowing it, but you can also calm it down.
TRY THIS: Be still enough to feel your heartbeat from inside your body. Then, link your breath to your heartbeat, pacing your inhales and exhales to be the same length. Stretch them out so that your breath is steady but comfortable. If possible, begin to make your exhales a beat or two longer than your inhales.
If you’re trying this with kids, have them lay on the ground and put their favorite stuffed animal on their stomach – have them watch the toy go up and down as they breathe.
Your breath is your best friend. It will never leave you. It will always be there waiting for you, ready to take your hand, and bring you back to peace.
2. GET GROUNDED
Whether you’re feeling really low and de-activated, or really anxious and over-stimulated, getting yourself to feel like you’re on solid ground is important – this isn’t just metaphorical! For some people, activities like running and yoga can help them feel safe and strong in their bodies. For others, those can be too much. You have to learn for yourself what helps you feel connected and stable.
TRY THIS: Stand comfortably, both feet on the ground and body upright. Gently rock to the tips of your toes, then back on your heels. Pay attention to your connection to the earth as you do this. Continue this gentle sway until you find equal weight throughout your feet.
After this, you have the option to bend your knees slowly, placing your hands on your thighs. The goal is to feel the solidity beneath your feet – getting grounded, feeling the strength in your legs that supports you and pushes you back up to standing.
Again, this sounds very simple but can be a powerful way of coming back to the earth when you feel like you’re out of control or slipping away.
3. PRACTICE LOVINGKINDNESS
It’s a simple practice of connecting to the humanity of others – people you’re close to, people you hardly know, people you find challenging, even yourself. Recognizing that each being wants the same thing: happiness and freedom. Finding our commonalities, our shared desires, is amazingly powerful.
TRY THIS: Bring someone to mind (I suggest starting with someone it’s easy to care for) and repeat these phrases: “May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.” Continue sending these heartfelt wishes to the individual you have in mind, feeling those phrases come from you with sincerity. When you’re ready, move on to someone you feel neutral about – maybe a clerk at a store where you regularly shop, or your mail carrier, etc. Repeat the same phrases.
If possible, continue on to those who are difficult for you to feel peaceful towards, sinking deeper into your intention and heartfelt meaning.
This can be challenging. You can also practice this for yourself, wishing that you would be happy, that you would be well, that you would be safe, and that you would be peaceful and at ease. Ultimately, you could send it to all beings everywhere.
I know this can sound like total hippie mystic stuff, but just give it a try. There are LOTS of resources on the internet for this practice, including some guided audio versions. It’s often called Metta Meditation.
4. DO SOMETHING FRIVOLOUS
And not just because it’s fun! Ok, well, yes. Because it’s fun. Watch funny cat videos on the internet, make some crappy paintings, play that guitar that’s been collecting dust in the corner, sing too loud in your car, watch a cheesy movie, call your friends, go outside (or watch one of those live nature cams on explore.org – I highly recommend the bears fishing for salmon), have a dance party to your favorite (ok, let’s be real, your guilty pleasure) music – whatever helps you Shake It Off! The most therapeutic thing I’ve done since last week was go to the art museum near my apartment and teach my friend how to use snapchat by face-swapping with all the paintings and putting flower crowns on anything and everything. I’ve also watched a lot of old Queer Eye for the Straight Guy episodes. So sue me! Laughter can truly be the best medicine.
LET ME SAY THIS:
None of these options will “fix” anything that truly need fixing. The list of What’s Wrong is long and all over the internet, so you don’t need me to spell it out for you. I want change, I want hope, I want conversation, I want peace. I want us to stop killing each other. But we’re never going to cooperate and be creative unless we can get to a place where we aren’t on edge.
Breath and grounding and connection and ease are a first step in that direction. It’s so tempting to make this list exhaustive, and by all means, please add resources in the comment section to this article or to whichever one of your (SUPER AWESOME) friends shared this online. We need each other right now, and we need to do whatever we can to come back to ourselves so we can come together.