Thursday, March 20

calm amidst chaos: a four-step practice

I've been feeling depleted of late. Both my boys are ratcheting up the intensity level and my inner resources aren't up to the challenge. Some days, I have access to my inner wisdom, and can lean into practices that have been helpful to me over the past three years of learning what it means to be a sane and grounded mama. Some days, I need reminding. Lots of reminding. I write this post today for me and for you, that we may both remember how to find a bit of the calm we long for amidst the chaos that is our lives with our littles.

What follows is a quick four-step practice for slowing down, connecting with the body, and letting go of unnecessary tension. It need not take more than a minute of your time. It helps me immensely, and I hope it helps you, too. I did not come up with any of these steps; rather, they are my own synthesis of the voices and practices I turn to most often in times of need. I am deeply indebted to the wisdom and kindness of Pema Chodron, Karen Maezen Miller, Susan Piver and my own teacher and mentor Jenn Wooten.

1. Pause

I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Stop. What. You. Are. Doing. When you feel yourself tensing up, your shoulders are hiking up to your ears and you feel the yells rising in your throat, stop. I wrote before about how powerful it is to stop, to put down the tension and irritation of one task before moving on to another. This might mean to pause in the hallway after closing the bedroom door where you've just put your baby down to sleep. Or to rest your hands on your thighs as you sit in the car before putting the key in the ignition. Interrupt the momentum that is carrying you from one angry task to the next. Make space.

2. Breathe

I don't know of anything more powerful or profoundly helpful as taking three deep breaths: inhaling long and deep through the nose, filling the lungs and letting the belly soften out, and exhaling out through the mouth with a soft sigh. Aaaaaaah. Recently I learned a new technique, which is very effective at diffusing tension and stemming the tide of a rising mama tantrum: to breathe out forcefully through pursed lips. This breath does a great job of activating the parasympathetic nervous system and ushering in a sense of calm. For extra groundedness and connection to your own deep wisdom, close your eyes and place a hand on your heart.

3. Check in

Stress and tension that we are unaware of in our own bodies are a silent drain on our resources. After your three deep exhales, take a moment to take an inventory of the sensations in the body. How does the belly feel? The throat, the jaw? Are parts of your body tight, clenched? Do you feel bound, constricted? What is the quality of your mind in this moment? What emotions are present in the heart center? Sometimes just bringing our awareness to these areas helps them to soften. Sometimes just knowing about what we're carrying is enough to defuse some of the tension. As Pema Chodron wrote, Never underestimate the power of compassionately acknowledging what's going on.

4. Move on

In the full knowledge and acceptance of what is true about your experience of your breath, your body, and your mind in the moment, take the next step into your day. Do the next thing that's in front of you. Wipe the nose, peel the apple, pack the bag, put the kettle on. As you do so, keep your mind on the movement of your hands, on your feet firmly planted onto the earth. Root your awareness in sensation. Remain present to the breath. Drop the storyline and the blame, and instead dive deep into the now without judgment.

 Freedom is instantaneous the moment we accept things the way they are.
-Karen Maezen Miller


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