Every day with my clients, I feel how much stress is held in their bodies, creating such blockages to their ease in this present moment. I can relate because I’ve been there! I see beautiful, amazing men and women who are struggling because they don’t know how to move from contraction to expansion. They don’t know how to move out of stress and into their ease.
To enjoy their lives. To feel joy and pleasure. To speak up. To allow space within themselves for grief and rage without beating up on themselves. To open to true self-love and compassion.
I learned the hard way through over a decade of studiously learning about and discovering ways to move out of stress and into ease. The biggest jewel I discovered?
Transformation happens through the body not through the mind.
If you feel yourself going into a stress response, it’s important for you to know how to bring yourself back into a state of ease and create safety for yourself. Stress responses are actually a way we create safety, but from the reptilian brain rather than from our conscious choice.
The Six Primitive Stress Responses
Imagine you are working and in a state of ease when you get a text message from your Beloved which triggers a stress reaction…deflating the mood and eroding the joy-full focus of the present moment.
Stress reactions prioritise blood flow into our lower brain (our primitive reptilian brain or ‘brain-stem’) promoting self-preservation opposed to our ‘higher brain’, which is considering of others. The six primitive stress responses are:
Finding safety through running away (escaping a threat by moving away)
Muscles: Tension and extremely nervous energy in legs (tapping feet or bouncing knees)
Finding safety through attacking (neutralising the threat by moving towards)
Muscles: Flexor muscles tighten e.g. biceps, pecs. Acting like ‘King-Kong’, puffing chest or chin out to look ‘bigger’. Jaw is tight and head goes forward.
Finding safety through being hyper-alert / sensitive (like a deer sensing a predator)
Muscles: Raising shoulders up to protect the neck. Rotating with body rather than the neck. Uncontrollable shaking in hands and protection of vulnerable parts of the body.
Finding safety in stillness and/or by disconnecting from the emotional body and even sometimes the physical body (losing feelings of aliveness, proverbially playing dead, hope of being unnoticed)
Muscles: Tension in the diaphragm, ‘holding breath’, constricted throat
Finding safety through collapsing into a ball or foetal position (“checking out”; pretending nothing is happening)
Muscles: Fainting, stress CNS (central nervous system) overwhelm
Finding safety through feigning weakness (like a bird feigning a clipped wing to lure predators from the nest)
Muscles: Exposing areas of vulnerability to an attacker and seeking empathy. Lack of eye contact. Hunched posture.
Rest & Digest State
After a stress response is activated, most people then to then go into avoidance through distraction and addictions. The following practices will help you be in the minority who consciously choose to re-engage a rest and digest state. The way to do this is by engaging our physical relaxation responses which allow us to de-stress our bodies and return to our ease . Here are some steps for grounding and returning to rest and digest:
Discharge the Tension
Whenever a stress response is activated, attempting to go straight into a rest and digest state will not always be successful in calming your nervous system down. First and foremost, the tension in your body caused by the trigger needs to be discharged through breath, sound and movement. The below “Express and Release” tools are an extremely effective way to quickly come back into balance. If you are around other people, you can go into a bathroom or another room to practice these tools and shift the energy alive in your body.
- Firstly, try combining the breath with some movement and sound. Let your body rock a little, stretch a little, and let out sound on the exhalation.
- Identify what you feel exactly about the challenge – an emotion. Not the story, evaluation, or mind construct – just the feeling. Is there anger, rage, sadness, grief, shock?
- Acknowledge the emotion: “Ah, there’s anger there”. Breathe.
- Validate the emotion: “That’s understandable I’m feeling that. Fair enough.” Breathe.
- Now let the emotion move – energy in motion is emotion. Don’t bury it or let it stay stuck or it will become a shadow.
- Now combine one or more of the following express and release tools with breath, sound and movement:
- Hand Scream: screaming into your hands. Great for frustration.
- Pillow Scream: screaming into a pillow. Great for frustration, anger, resentment.
- Power Stomping: standing and reaching to the sky while stomping feet into the earth. This is awesome to get into your power, especially in nature.
- Wailing/Grief Ritual: arms back, open your chest, cry, wail.This is when you feel like you are on the cross – “Why me?”, “I can’t take anymore” – sadness, grief, betrayal, stab in the heart, or taking on someone’s pain or a collective pain.
- Pillow Pounding: when you are angry, try hitting/punching a pillow with your forearms in an open, forward and downward motion. Punching the hell out of the pillow, in a controlled way. Ensure you have enough cushioning, so you do not injure yourself.
- Pelvic Thrusting with Pillow: thrust your groin into a pillow as though you are “penetrating” the pillow – great for sexual frustration and claiming power back.
- Tantrum: lay on the floor and throw a tantrum. Great when you are not getting what you want.
- Shaking: great for shock, trauma or when another person’s energy is being thrown at you.
- Dancing: awesome for everything – imagine you are a hollow bamboo and let the music move you.
When breath, sound and movement meet, there is a beautiful harmony that begins to take place in the body. It helps us to relax, restore and reconnect with wholeness. It is an invaluable self-healing tool that balances the glandular, digestive, and nervous systems, allowing you to experience a more stable mental state. People who suffer from mental illness are too quickly prescribed drugs when in some cases, they simply need to discharge all the tension that is in their body – daily.
Being outside has been proven to reduce stress levels, help eliminate fatigue, improve focus, help with mental health and boost your immune system with Vitamin D. It’s also beautiful outside! Make real contact with the earth you’re living on; be aware of Her and stay in tune with Her, she feels you! Place your feet on the earth or lay down on her and surrender, rest. Share your sorrows, your joys, your fears, your dreams and allow Her to be there for you. She will caress and nourish you. Allow yourself these magical healing moments. Being in nature is so restorative, so sensual and gives us direct contact with Spirit and our essential nature. If we cannot feel and see the reflection of Spirit in the miracle of a flower, in the miracle of the ocean, a tree, the sun, the moon…then where? Nature gives us a beautiful gateway into our ease and joy.
Breath of Fire
Breath of Fire helps us to move through stress by releasing tension in the diaphragm. It also strengthens your electromagnetic field – so you become a magnet for greatness; and shifts you from the left brain state where you’re stuck in your past roles to the right brain state, where you feel anything is possible. Yogis believe that 60 seconds of breath of fire gives you the same benefits as 1 hour of a meditative practice with normal breath.
How to do Breath of Fire:
1. Come into a seated position with hands on your knees
2. Sometimes it is easier to start with your mouth open, tongue sticking out and panting like a dog. Breathing in and out of your mouth, pumping your stomach muscles back and forth in time with your breathing
3. With every exhale, pump your belly button towards your spine to push the air out and empty your belly. With every inhale, allow your belly button to expand outwards and fill with air, like a balloon blowing up
4. Once this feels comfortable, close your mouth and continue the same motions but with the breath moving in and out of your nose. This is done in quite a rapid motion
5. Continue this for as long as feels comfortable. If you need a rest, slow down the breath and take a few long inhalations and exhalations. When you feel ready, resume the Breath of Fire breathing practice again
6. To end, finish with a long inhalation, suspend the breath for as long as feels comfortable, then slowly exhale out
Just sit or lay down and meditate or rest. You can put on some soothing music or just listen to the sounds around you and to your breath. Tell yourself: I AM SAFE. Simply accept whatever is alive in you with presence. A simple focus on the breath with a full acceptance of whatever you are feeling is is self-loving and energising. As you breathe consciously through the nose, just be with your thoughts and feelings without having to do anything. Breathe in, relax, breathe out, let go.
There is something called the ocean breath which is simple and calming yet energising. Take deep, slow, long, active inhalations and let the exhalation out naturally and passively. Close your eyes and notice how this creates a sound like the waves in the ocean.
Box breathing is a great place to start when we are taking a rest. It energises us and helps to shift from being in the mind to being in the body. You simply inhale for seven counts, suspend the breath for seven counts, exhale for seven counts and suspend the breath again for seven counts. Repeat seven times and see how you feel.
Get Enough Sleep
Stress is magnified when we’re sleep-deprived and foggy-brained. Aim for eight hours of sleep each night or whatever you feel your body needs in order to feel good and stay focused. The more rest you get during the day, the less sleep you need. Tantrics and Yogis who spend a lot of time resting in meditation do not need as much sleep as someone who is always in the “doing” and not in the “being”. The same can be said for someone who takes regular pauses to just rest in their body, breathe and be totally present.
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Next week I will share Part Two of this blog to give you further tools to bring yourself into a rest and digest state including how to stimulate the happy chemicals in your brain, as well as using essential oils, music, intimacy and a number of other practices as further tools.