Today, many people in our St. Louis community are hurting deeply after the long-awaited verdict in the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. Collectively, we are experiencing a lot of anger, rage, fear, sadness, and uncertainty. Oftentimes, these sensations and emotions are judged as “not very yogic,” and pushed aside in preference to happier feelings, like peace, stillness, and gratitude.
I’m here to tell you that dismissing anger, rage, fear, sadness, and uncertainty as “not yogic” is bullsh*t and I hope you’ll reconsider. These emotions are very real parts of the human experience, and the yoga comes in when we practice a connection to our body and breath even while feeling the discomfort, pain, and distress.
Self-care is a radical concept within activism – you cannot pour from an empty cup, so you must care for yourself before you step into action. It’s what they tell us on airplanes – if the oxygen masks are necessary, place one on yourself before you assist anyone around you.
Self-care is a radical concept within activism
Self-regulation is the ability to soothe an anxious or activated nervous system in the face of adversity, discomfort, or distress. Here are a couple tools for self-regulation you might consider putting into action today and in the days to come.
The breath is a direct line to the central nervous system. Breathing deeply into the belly helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which directly counters the body’s Fight or Flight response. This means a few deep, full breaths can help to completely shift the physiology of your body in times of stress. It’s science.
Find a comfortable seat, or lay down. Feel the points where your body connects into the ground, your chair, or wherever you are resting.
Begin by noticing the way your breath moves through your body, without changing anything. Is it moving more in the chest? In the front? Left vs. right?
Place one hand on your belly and exhale completely.
On your next inhale, expand your belly into your hand. Exhale from the belly, pressing the hand gently into the belly to encourage the breath to move from this point.
Take a few more breaths in and out from the belly.
Continue to breathe in this way, taking a break if at any point you’re feeling less than relaxed, and then coming back to the practice.
You might also then build upon this breath, inhaling first into your belly, then continuing your inhale to expand your ribcage wide from side to side – then exhale from the ribcage first, then finish the exhale from the belly.
Make it a three-part breath by inhaling into the belly, then the ribs, then completing your inhalation by taking the last of your inhalation up across the front of your collarbones. Exhale from the collarbones, through the ribcage, and end the exhalation from the belly.
Inhale from the bottom, to the middle, to the top.
Exhale from the top, through the middle, to the bottom.
This practice takes practice – you might have to imagine the breath moving into different parts of your torso at first. Ultimately as long as there is awareness around the movement of your breath, you’re doing some great work.
The breath is a direct line to the central nervous system.
Need some help turning inward? Check out this five-minute guided meditation on breath awareness by local yoga teacher, Donna Jones. You might also check back in our 21-day meditation challenge from last December – they are specifically themed around turning inward, and you might find them supportive.
Change your brainwaves
When the body is in stress, your brainwaves move more quickly. When the body is in relaxation mode, the brainwaves slow down, and provide a space for deep healing and restoration. Luckily, brainwaves can be influenced by something called Bianural Beats, which are designed to sonically influence a change in the brain. Check out our friend DjsNeverEndingStory and his album Harmony Epoch (also available on iTunes and Spotify). (I personally use this regularly to self-soothe for my anxiety disorder).
Additional tools for grounding and self-regulation
These are tools offered from Katie Redmond, a student in our current Yoga Teacher Training program.
1- grounding. Take a moment to notice things around the room you are in. Noice the sensation of the air on your skin. Notice the shadows and light in the room. Notice how the ground feels beneath you. Pick out 4 things you can see. 3 things you can hear. 2 things you can touch.
2- calming breath. Think of your body as a container. With every inhale you fill it up to the brim with your breath. With every exhale imagine the pressure or tenderness you feel in your body leaving with your breath. Visualize your breath as a beam of light. Or stardust. Let it enter your body and seek out any tension you might be feeling. And with your exhales allow the light or stardust to take with it those sensations that no longer serve you.
3- pressure points. if you struggle with anxiety, try running cold water on your wrists. Try using your pointer fingers to gently massage your temples. Try squeezing the space between the thumb and index finger of your left hand.
4- essential oils. lavender, jasmine, and eucalyptus essential oils can aid in relieving anxiety. Dab a drop or two on your wrists or massage into your temples.
Hit the mat
Moving the body can be a profoundly impactful tool for staying connected to the present moment. If you’re in St. Louis, check out this resource of yoga classes that are $10 or under, aggregated by Aubry Jones, a student in our Yoga Teacher Training program.
Wondering how you can apply the philosophy of yoga to taking effective and sustainable action for creating change? Check out our Yogi’s Guide to Activism and reflect on how you might put these principles into place in your life.
Above all, take care of your Self, whatever that looks like. Allow yourself the time to feel the feelings. Reach out to someone if you ever feel overwhelmed. And remember – you are not alone.
With deep love and respect,