Tools for challenging times – Covid-19

What an interesting time we find ourselves in, for many of us it is a time like no other and one that will go down in history for so many reasons. Firstly, I have to acknowledge the great sadness and loss that this pandemic has caused and is yet to cause and for those of us that are not key workers we are being asked to comply with a simple request to stay at home in order to save lives. I do hope that all of us who can are doing so.

On a wider scale it feels as though mother earth has pressed pause whilst humanity takes part in a collective worldwide meditation that none of us knew we had signed up for. I feel that these unprecedented situations bring out the best and worst in humanity, as does meditation, because when we sit quietly to meditate it allows space for our subconscious patterns, behaviours and habits to rise to the surface in order for us to work with or release them. I’ve been practising and teaching meditation for several years and often remind myself and those who attend my classes that sitting with ourselves is not always pleasant or easy and blimey aren’t we now witnessing that on a global scale? Behaviours such as stock-piling food, forgetting how to be kind to ourselves and others and frustration & anger of feeling as though our freedom is being stripped away are fine examples of how attached we are to our habitual and patterned behaviours. None of this is anyone’s fault, some of this stuff is deep-rooted programming that many of us have lived with for a very long time so the mania it creates is unsurprising and very difficult to face.

We are collectively navigating a different way of living for an unknown period of time, our nervous systems are being tested in ways that many of them have never been tested before but the good news is there are plenty of ways in which to support ourselves in order to do the same for others. In the past week I have experienced feelings of sadness, overwhelm, helplessness and utter despair times and others where I felt calm, grounded & focused. I’m sure that these fluctuating feelings will continue in this way as our current reality evolves, however I understand that this is my nervous system adjusting to and accepting a new kind of normal, it takes time and I have used pretty much every tool from my box of resources in order to steady the ship so that I am able to continue showing up for myself, my family, friends, yoga community and the rest of humanity. I will be sharing many of these tools online over the coming weeks (send me your email address if you would like access to this) but whilst I finalise navigating the technicalities of doing so I thought it would be helpful to share some of the resources I have used in order to maintain some sense of equilibrium in these tricky times:

(Disclaimer: these are written in no particular order and are in no way proclaimed to be clinical advice, I am simply sharing with love my own experiences in the hope that it may be helpful to anyone who might read them. It’s also worth noting that wherever you’re currently at some of what I have suggested may not feel appropriate at this particular time.)

I am journaling every day at the moment, writing down thoughts and feelings, I find the process of releasing these onto paper very therapeutic. It doesn’t need to flow or make sense, just let the contents of your mind pour onto the page.

Conscious Breathing
Simply pausing to be aware of the fact that you are breathing, hands resting on the sides of ribcage and slowing the breath down to a comfortable pace which is soft and easeful.

Mindful Movement
Yoga – sometimes moving very slowly, sometimes a little more dynamically depending on my energy. Focusing on really small movements and feeling into the body and breath takes me into a greater sense of awareness.

Tapping & shaking
Sometimes even yoga teachers don’t know what to do when they arrive on their mat so to help me shift some energy and get into my body and out of my head I find these techniques super helpful. Literally just tapping the whole of my body with my hands and then having a good old shake out, even a minute of this can make a real difference. (‘When in doubt shake it out’ is a motto I live by at the best of times!)

Not necessarily in the sitting still and quiet ‘traditional’ way, unless it feels right for you to sit in silence, perhaps focusing on your breath or repeating a mantra in your mind if either of those feel helpful you. I sometimes say to myself ‘breathing in’, ‘breathing out’ with each inhale and exhale or repeat to myself ‘I am here’. If you do have a bit more time on your hands than normal look for ways in which you make daily tasks a mediation. Maybe sit down and savour every mouthful of your meal or sip of a drink, gaze at clouds or trees moving in the wind, massage your own hands or feet or weed the garden if you have one.

Cleaning & Clearing
There always seems to be a cupboard or drawer in our house that is ready for a good old sort out! Cleaning is something I’ve found myself doing a bit more of in the past few days, which for me has been therapeutic. Although I have to be honest I did find myself in a cleaning frenzy the other day when I had quite an urge to spring clean the whole house in the space of a weekend but soon felt chore overwhelm – why did I do that?! I wasn’t sure either but after sitting with that scenario for a while realised that a very old pattern of mine (which I thought had vanished for good!) is that cleaning is something I can use to feel in control when so much of what is going on around me is completely out of my control. It was an interesting observation so I’ve now written a list of things I’d like to do around the house (as well as another list of fun things I’d like to try/learn/investigate) and am trusting that a time for everything will unfold.

Input & interaction management
This has been vital for me over the past week, finding a way to remain informed but not overloaded with information. Not just from the news but what is being shared on social media. I have felt saddened by insensitive memes, seeing people actively trying to profit from our current situation etc. but my heart has also been warmed by wonderful NHS workers returning to the service, the existing workers doing an absolutely incredible job under this huge strain, many people sharing offerings of help and support from the heart in so many ways. BUT I have had to be cautious with everything – feeling inadequate when I see the good being done as well as angry about the not so good, which has been a stark reminder that we cannot filter what is being shared but we are completely in control of what and how much we choose to digest and who we are following etc. Staying informed and connected is so important but setting a limit in terms of time and choosing sources wisely can be very helpful.

Cold showers
These have been game changing for me since I started a couple of years ago. I don’t spend ages in them, just long enough to do what I need to but they have a very positive effect on how I feel and have been great for building a sense of inner resilience. HOWEVER they are not for everyone, particularly for those with heart conditions, high or low blood pressure, a weakened immune system and many others reasons – if in doubt don’t do it. If you do want to give them a try I started by very gradually turning down the temperature over a period of time.

Singing or humming
Literally raises our vibration, you don’t need instructions or guidance from me on how to do it, just do it!

Same applies as singing! Nothing quite shifts my energy like a good old dance around to some ‘dance like no-one is watching’ music!

Connecting with nature
However you can with whatever you have. I realise not everyone has a garden but if you have or can get somewhere to feel your feel on the actual earth, smell some flowers, hug a tree, sit quietly outside, there is no better medicine in my opinion.

Furry friends
If you have one or many, hug them often! They are also a great meditation tool, just sitting and watching them go about their business, and they are a great example of beings that unapologetically live in the moment.

Eating well
Seems simple and easy right? For me it is something that can slip when I need it the most. You may also be in a position where you have time to learn to make something new or experiment with recipes, this in itself can be a great meditative activity.

Staying hydrated
Again seems simple but I have noticed that it’s easy to forget to drink regularly when the mind feels like it’s overflowing with thought and emotion.

Sketch, paint, doodle, colouring books, arts and crafts, making music, writing, knitting, sewing, card making. Let your inner child be free, another great medicine in my opinion.

Focus on elevated emotions such as joy, love & gratitude
Spending some time focusing on what we already have to feel grateful for, who we love and are loved by or what helps us to experience joy can make a huge difference in counteracting fear. Writing these down on a note that you can look back at any time is something I have found useful. Even the simplicity of remembering that if you are able to read this and connect with others online you are not truly isolated. Laughter can seem like a distant memory in difficult times but we all know how wonderful it is for lifting spirits so I do hope that where we can and when appropriate we can continue to smile and laugh together.

Taking it easy on yourself
Not everything needs to be done today and today doesn’t need to be productive. This has been such a lesson for me in the past week, I started to panic that I hadn’t acted promptly enough to support my community, that I should be doing more or wasn’t doing enough but quickly realised that I cannot pour from an empty cup. I had to take a few days to adjust and remind myself that if I’m not resourcing myself in a helpful way I will absolutely useless trying to help anyone else.

It took me a long time to understand that relaxation is a skill that needs to be practiced, not something I could force upon myself at free will. I’m sure many of us at the moment have a desire to feel more relaxed and almost everything I have already mentioned here is helpful for taking ourselves into a the parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest/restore), meaning we move further away from the sympathetic state of stress response (flight/fight/freeze). Having a bath, watching an uplifting or funny film or programme or sitting with candlelight can all induce feelings of relaxation so they can be good places to start but when you feel able to I highly recommend lying down anywhere you can supported with lots of cushions/pillows with a blanket over you. If you’re comfortable to put something over your eyes (a folded flannel or an eye pillow if you have one) that can feel soothing but possibly best to do only if you already feel quite relaxed. I have found one of the most soothing acts of self care over the past week to be wrapping myself in a blanket and curling up on the sofa.