As we wake each day right now, there is uncertainty. Living with uncertainty can be difficult, especially with the disembodied culture that we live in. We distract ourselves with luxuries and entertainment, while jet-setting around with our carbon entitlement. We have been taught to disregard the complexity of our feelings and the complexity of the earth. What we deny ourselves in expression, surfaces within our body, and outward towards others and the planet. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little fingers remember. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream.” (Estés, 1992)
Our body holds our shadow, and does not lie. The shadow is always present, and everything casts a shadow. When we choose to deny our shadow, we split off from our own darkness. Our inner process of violence towards our self is then projected onto the world. Carl Jung describes our shadow as being the dark side of our personality, the underdeveloped and undesirable parts of our personality. We are living in a time where our shadow is in plain sight. I realize that people are panicking about having supplies, yet I also wonder if people are panicking about having to face their own self.
All over the world, people are now forced to finally slow down and reflect. It is no longer deniable that we are all connected, especially to Mother Earth. Everything we do in our lives impacts the planet and other people. Individuals are finally realizing themselves to be part of a circle of people, of humanity. We are being asked to show up and be present, to recognize our impermanence on a deeper level, to remember that we are a part of a bigger story, and to utilize the tools we have been practicing for years. Let yourself feel this for a moment.
They say in Wuhan, you can now hear the birds and the sky is blue, no longer thick with fumes. They say in Assisi, people are singing across the square to each other. Imagine how much we have reduced our carbon footprint in the past month. I am not saying all of this is great or anything. There are ‘monkey gangs’ in Thailand fighting for food, due to a lack of tourism. The stock market crashed. Everything is closed. There is no toilet paper. I bet you never thought you would see so many toilet paper memes! The list goes on. None of this is good, but it begs the question: is Mother Nature trying to tell us something?
There are many lessons to learn within illness, death, and uncertainty. A moment has arrived that presents the opportunity to sit with the reflections of where we are and who we are. We are now facing the fragility of our people and our planet. We are now facing a time where we have to reflect on the lessons the virus is teaching us in this moment.
But how can we do this when we are in a panic? How can we sit in reflection when we are in a state of constant anxiety? And, how can this be achieved when we have a society that is living outside of our bodies? We have to connect our body, mind, and spirit. Jung wrote in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “In reality, there is nothing but a living body. That is the fact; and psyche is as much a living body as body is living psyche; it is just the same.” (Jung, 1988)
It is important to find our center, and ground. When we live with anxiety and panic every day, our body adapts to these changes. Our body responds to fear and panic by tightening, constricting, holding our breath, muscle tension, and overall rigidity. The most common constricting that we do is to hold our breath when we are experiencing fear or panic. When we free the breath and the body, our heart opens. When our heart opens, we are able to be with the other on a more profound level.
So, let’s just all take a deep breath right now. Pause for a moment…
Notice the aliveness in your breath. Notice how your chest expands when you breathe. Or is it your belly that expands? Notice what changes for you when you breathe deeply. Notice if you are short of breath. Let’s just take one more, a little bit more slowly. Now, check in with your body. How do you feel?
Another way to practice mindfulness with our breath is to practice 4-7-8 breathing. This is also called relaxing breath. Dr. Weil believes that 4-7-8 breathing can help with anxiety, cravings, insomnia, and anger (Weil). I will give you instructions here and provide a link towards the end of the article for you to watch.
To use the 4-7-8 technique, focus on the following breathing pattern:
- Exhale through your mouth, and empty out your lungs.
- Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds, with your mouth closed.
- Hold your breath and count to 7.
- Take a full exhale through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound for 8 seconds.
- Repeat the cycle as often as you would like.
Now how are you feeling?
When we allow our bodies to let go of the constriction of our breath and breathe deeply, we are able to bring more oxygen into our blood stream, which sends messages to our brain to relax. We are able to bring ourselves out of the freeze state, and create movement. We have tendencies to get consumed with what is happening with us externally, and forget about what is happening with us internally. Can you imagine what happens to your nervous system when you open and expand your breath? If you can, practice throughout the day while you are in your home. Notice when you constrict your breath, and see if you can expand your breath. Notice when you hold your breath. It doesn’t have to be a large movement, small movements are powerful too.
Breathing releases carbon monoxide, stimulates the lymphatic system, and detoxifies the body. Every time that you take a slow, deep, breath, you are improving your immunity. What a powerful time to have gratitude for our breath!
It benefits us to know how we experience trauma. Everyone experiences trauma differently. Let me break down what is happening in the nervous system when we experience trauma. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) receives and processes information from our environment to help us maintain balance and homeostasis. The sympathetic (arousal) and parasympathetic nervous (resting) system are two branches that make up the ANS. These two collaborate to create this balance with the body and mind. The sympathetic nervous system gets activated when we are excited, enjoy pleasurable activities, and also during times when we are stressed. The parasympathetic nervous system gets activated when we meditate, are relaxing, or resting. It also gets activated when we our body goes into a freeze state, which can happen if your body receives too much stimuli at once.
Everyone experiences trauma differently. When we are hyper-aroused, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. We might experience anxiety, agitation, irritability, or hyper-vigilance. When we are hypo-aroused, we might feel depressed, sad, numb, dissociated, and eventually get stuck in a freeze response. The freeze state happens when we are continually exposed to chronic stress and our body goes into overdrive. When we are in a freeze state, our body no longer has movement. We may be able to move, but our body is not moving with flow. If we stay in the freeze state too long or we fluctuate too rapidly, this is where dis-ease happens in the body. (Van der Kolk, 2014)
Even though we may not have a lot of accessibility to movement, depending on where we live, we can create movement within our bodies. Focusing on expanding our breath creates movement. Another way to help us create movement in our body is through grounding. Grounding relates the self to the body in every moment. Grounding is what connects us with the earth, and our selves. Grounding brings us into the present moment.
Let’s try a grounding exercise.
Scan your body, starting with the soles of your feet and moving up to the top of your head. Try this again, but more slowly. As you do, notice the quality of the sensations that you feel. Do you find that you feel more in some areas of your body than others? Can you feel the depth of your body from skin to bones, or do you feel a surface layer and feel very little? Do you have a sense of your heartbeat and organs? Do some areas feel numb? Can you feel the back of your body versus the front of the body or the left from the right?
Most likely, there are some areas where you feel numbness or have areas where you feel confusion or vagueness. These areas represent disowned parts of our self. Take some time to breathe into these areas that feel numb or confusion. See what changes for you, or what shifts when you breathe into these spaces. (Kepner, 1987)
Even though we may be stuck at home, we have many opportunities to connect with our body. This is where we reside. This is how we heal the planet, by healing ourselves. We have the opportunity to begin a dialogue on a daily basis, of the state of our being. I look forward to sharing more in the near future, with this new online universe we are living in.
Estés, C. P. (1992). Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Ballantine Books.
Jung, C. G. (1988). Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kepner, J. I. (1987). Body Process: a Gestalt approach to working with the body in psychotherapy. New York: Gardner Press: Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.
Weil, M. (n.d.). www.drweil.com. Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/