Feeling calm and centered in “normal” times often poses a challenge to many - be it the demands of everyday life, not having enough time or simply lacking tools and knowledge on the “how”.
Now that we’re experiencing prolonged periods of “abnormal” times - times of great fear, anxiety and grief, amongst many other complex emotions - it’s even more imperative that we find ways to cope and center ourselves.
Why? Because you play a bigger role in all of this than you may realize.
Wherever you are and however you’re connected to the war, I invite you to consider the role you get to play. I invite you to try on the belief that your energy and your sense of groundedness gets to be a major part of your contribution. It’s when we are grounded and centered that we can connect to hope, belief and trust in Hashem. It’s when we are disconnected from our bodies and that we can’t help but operate in fear and focus on the negative, and perhaps that’s not of best service to those on the front lines.
It’s your emunah that strengthens your prayers to hashem.
It’s your hope that generates a ripple effect through your communities, inviting in more engagement.
It’s your embodied trust that your children sense from you and know that everything is going to be okay.
This brings me to our HOW. How do we access the embodied experience of emunah, hope and trust when we are navigating such difficult times?
Spoiler alert: it all comes from within your own body.
Below are two key body-centered ideas to consider as it relates to why you may be feeling off and how to begin shifting your internal state to achieve the presence you desire.
The state of your nervous system equates to how centered you feel
Without going into too much of the science, it’s important to acknowledge that at any given moment, your nervous system is resting in one of three main states: ventral vagus (safe mode, presence, rest/digest), dorsal vagus (shutdown, numb, hopeless, depressed) or sympathetic (flight/fight, anxious, angry, insomnia).
While the ideal functionality would have us spending most of our time hanging in ventral vagus (feeling safe, centered and ability to handle whatever life throws our way), current reality has many of us operating outside of this window.
Not only are our bodies responding in real time to recent events, but our bodies might be responding from past or generational traumas as well (even those we didn’t experience first-hand, such as the Holocaust). As such, it’s so important to have self-compassion towards yourself if you’re finding it harder to navigate everyday life.
Whatever symptoms you’re experiencing - everything from being overly reactive with your children to not being able to get out of bed - trust that there’s a physiological reason for it (no need to self-judge and criticize) and leveraging somatic practices (some of which I’ll share below) can help your nervous system come back into a regulated state (and stay there!)
Suppressing emotions will only push you further off kilter
Imagine your body as a flowing river. Every time a more difficult emotion arises (be it fear, anger, frustration, grief) and you don’t fully feel it, a new dam goes up in your body. Some of us consciously suppress emotions - out of discomfort and/or necessity, and some of us do this subconsciously. We’ve gotten so good at “keeping it together” that we unknowingly bypass or avoid feeling our feelings at all.
Emotions are simply energy-in-motion, and if we don’t give that energy an opportunity to move, the more it gets suppressed in our energetic bodies (aka more dams go up, blocking the flow of energy). We begin to feel the symptoms of these stuck energies through anxiety, illness, physical pain, exhaustion, feeling “weighed down” and much more. The result? Feeling completely uncentered and ungrounded in ways that affect how we show up in our relationships and lives.
The key here is learning how to healthily move through and discharge emotion, so that it doesn’t weigh us down and ultimately get discharged in an unhealthy way.
Now that you’ve explored these ideas, I invite you to explore some of the tools below. Pick 1 that resonates and challenge yourself to doing it once a day for the next week.
Somatic Tools for Finding your Center
1. Sense More, Think Less - 5 Senses Practice
When you notice yourself feeling anxious or spending too much time in fear (excessive news can do this do you), come back into your body using your 5 senses. Intentionally slow down, put away technology, and guide yourself through these prompts.
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
(Consider tracking how you feel before and after you do this practice)
2. Emotional Exploration
There’s a saying that goes, “where attention goes, energy flows.” You may be surprised to learn that studies have shown that most emotions take about 90 seconds to complete their cycle. Leverage the below prompts next time you feel an emotion arising, and notice if you can track it moving through your body. When we allow emotions to be fully seen and felt, they end up resolving on their own (thus leaving you feeling more grounded and centered)/
Where in your body do you feel the emotion?
What sensations come along with the emotion? Warm? Tingly? Constricted? Dense? Soft?
What happens to the sensations when you bring your focus to them?
What is your body doing when the emotion is present? Crying? Moving?
If the emotion had a sound, what would it be?
How does the emotion want to move through your body? Would it benefit from some hands-on touch to help it mobilize?
*Go at your own pace with this. We don’t want to overwhelm the system and feel too much too soon, stay in the zone of “safety”
3. Healthy Anger Release from the comfort of your own home!
Anger, frustration and highly charged emotions are often suppressed because we’ve been conditioned not to feel them, or we simply don’t know what to do with them. The next time you’re feeling some of these higher charged emotions, try one of the below tools and notice how you feel before and after.
Option 1 - The Wall:
Place your hands on a wall as if you’re pushing it away from you. Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, push as hard as you can against the wall. You can continue doing this with the breath, or continue to put your energy into pushing up against the wall until you feel complete (try pairing it with the full length of a song)
Option 2 - The Towel:
Grab a thick towel or dishtowel. Hold as if you are wringing out water from it. Breathe in. On the exhale, wring out the dishtowel and imagine the energy in your body is going into the towel. Play around with sounds - it’s a great way to move energy too!
Option 3 - The Pillow:
Pillows are a great tool for silent and not-so-silent screams. When we have so much pent up energy that struggles to move out of our bodies, screaming is an incredible tool. Screaming into a pillow 10+ times (for the full length of a song would be even better) or silently screaming (letting the energy out but not screaming as loud) both are incredible tools. You may find a deeper emotion hidden under your anger - feel free to message me and let me know if you do @ashleydawnperl on Instagram.
Your breath can teach you a lot about your emotional state (for example, short and shallow breaths represent a hyperaroused state). It can also help ground you into the present moment. Breathing supports the bottom-up approach, where your body dictates to your mind how you are feeling or want to feel. As an example, if you notice yourself highly anxious, it’s a sign that your body is perceiving something as a threat. You can invite in slow and controlled breathing to communicate to your mind that there is actually no threat whatsoever, thus relieving your anxiety. In addition to the below breathing practice, you can explore some live breathwork practices on Okclarity’s Instagram page or join a Community Breathwork practice on Zoom with Ashley (message for details).
The "Voo" breath is a special breath pattern that stimulates the Vagus nerve, supporting your body in accessing the parasympathetic/rest and digest state.
Take a deep breath in through the nose. On your exhale, sound out the word "Voo" as slowly as possible. Allow your awareness to rest on the vibrations of the sound itself and carry it out through the entire length of your exhale. Repeat for 5-10 rounds.
Best of luck to you on your journey of finding your center in times of uncertainty. Remember to be kind and compassionate towards yourself :)