Right now we are going through something that is loud, public, and global, but a sentiment is coming up that I have seen consistently in my 20 years of teaching, and it is that we get hooked into thinking “things would be better if….” This morning I got an email message from somebody, saying how lucky I am to be with a partner & kids during this time, and asking what to do about being in self-isolation & learning how to self-regulate alone. She was suggesting it was easier for people who have partners, dogs and/or children. And, honestly, I do feel so lucky to have my partner, who is caring for us so beautifully, and my kids who make me laugh daily….and, while I totally understand and have a lot of compassion for people who are sheltering in place alone & how hard that must be, there’s part of me that sometimes wishes I was sheltering in place alone because that would be much more quiet, and I would only have myself to feed & care for.
The truth is, we all have our own version of “it would be easier if…” and they may or may not be true – we don’t really know. We each simply have whatever our unique circumstances are right now; and each of us can look around and see the things that make our circumstances great, and the things that make them uniquely challenging. We all have both. It is more essential now than ever to learn to ‘be with’ our experiences, rather than trying to change, or escape, them.
There are challenges with both self-regulation and co-regulation in quarantine, and I wanted to offer tools, both for people who are doing more of the self-regulating, and those who are the regulators in their system.
But first I want to offer the perspective that ‘regulation’ itself may not be the best lens to look through right now. Most of us think of ‘regulation’ (both self- and co-) as a way to make things smoother or more under control; what I want to offer is about learning to be with the full experience of what’s happening – whether we feel good in a given moment or noth – and then allowing ourselves to shift in the ways we want to shift.
All that being said, here are four distinct embodiment practices anyone can use every day, no matter where you are, or who you are with.
1. Orienting in Space and Time
The first one is the simplest, and we often overlook the things that are the most simple because they seem too easy. But this tool is a life-changer – and it’s something you can do any place, anytime & anywhere. It is orienting ourselves in space and time.
What it involves is this: Say your name, the date, the time and where you are in time and space. Then look around, and notice what you see (watch the video here for more in-depth instructions).
Stress and overwhelm make us spin out & we often lose touch with our actual present-time experience. This practice brings us back to our own sphere; the one we are actually inhabiting in this very moment in time. No matter what you need to do—the decisions you need to make, or the actions you need to take, etc, they all need to start from the exact place you are, right now, in space and time.
Take the time not just to look in front of you, but what’s above you, to the right and left of you–really take in your surroundings. For most of us, when we look around we notice that we are (currently) physically and emotionally safe. When you make decisions and take actions from a centered place, you are more available to process and metabolize anything that comes in. This is a practice for coming into who and where we actually are.
2. Shaking Practice
In addition to our thoughts & emotions, it is essential that we also create space to process at a physical level, allowing our body to metabolize our emotions and our thoughts so that we can distill what is most essential.
Close your eyes and stand up. Then bounce on the balls of your feet. They don’t come off the floor but let the rest of your body get slack, so your body is shaking. Then ramp it up—shake all around, let everything shake, your hands, arms, shoulders, head, and continually ramp it up. Let your skin shake, your muscles shake, your bones shake; stick your tongue out to shake, and allow even your brain to shake. Feel like you’re even shaking your internal organs.
5-10 minutes of good, solid, shaking practice is incredibly transformative! Then come back to stillness and for a moment or two, simply feel your body—notice what feels more alive or more free, more centered. From this place, reorient yourself again, allow yourself to look around and see where you are right now, with time and space, perhaps with some new awareness, having shaken and moved your body.
Place your hands somewhere on your body, and say inside your head or out loud, I am here.
I suggest these three times a day, invite your children and pets in, and see how your family feels afterwards.
3. Self-regulation Through Breath & Body
Breath gives us the capacity to meet whatever needs to be met in our lives. You can do this practice just by taking conscious breaths for a certain amount of time—inhaling to the count of 5, 7 or 10, holding your breath in for the same count (5, 7, or 10) & then exhaling to the same count. Inhaling, holding and exhaling for the same amount of time. Do this for at least 1-3 minutes. Sometimes it’s nice to take your hands to your chest and feel it rise and fall, or down on your ribcage so your hands expand left and right.
Separate from breath practice, you can also get in contact with your body at a very basic level. Can you feel your heart beating? Can you feel your feet? Follow your spine down vertebrae by vertebrae, feeling it lengthen both down & up. Can you feel your heart beating AND your spine at the same time? Or, the soles of your feet & the palms of your hands?
Doing these requires us to bring our attention out of our spinning mind, which allows us to hear our thoughts and begin to discern which are the most important right now. Our brains are super-useful! But not ALL of our thoughts should be followed. Which ones must we really listen to?
These breath & body practices are good if you are solo, or if you are the regulator within your system.
4. Co-regulating Without Another Human Nearby.
What does it mean to co-regulate if you are alone, or the other humans near you are dysregulated themselves? The best way to do this is through co-regulating with the more-than-human realm. In this practice, our awareness widens to somewhere other than ourselves. This is not about dismissing or denying our human experience, it’s about widening ourselves to see, feel & sense more.
One way to do this is to look out the window right now. How many different colours of green can you see? How far into the distance can you see? Ask yourself, what else is happening, in the human realm and the more than human realm? Beyond my own personal experience and beyond the human experience, what else can I experience?
Another way you can try this is co-regulating with plants, animals, or the earth herself. Sit with a tree – either from a distance, or, better yet, press your body near the tree. What is its vibration? What is the speed of this tree? Let your own body drop into resonance with that. Flowers & other plants also—what is the vibration of a flower blooming?
You can do this with animal life – pets, if you have them, but also the birds & insects that come into your yard, or pass by your windows.
If you can lay directly on the earth & allow co-regulation with Mama-Earth, this is a wonderful tool. Even if you cannot lay straight on the earth, you can lie on your floor & connect with Her energy. The same way you might sync your breath with a friend or lover, begin to sync with the pulse of the Earth. If you feel a pulse, if you feel quickening and shakening, trust it. Allow your body to feel as the body of the earth.
Give yourself a bit of gratitude after every practice. This is important. Take the time to bow to yourself, or bring your hands to your heart; to say silently or out loud, “thank you” to yourself. No matter what your experience was, you did it right & you deserve praise for showing up. Please do not skip this step.
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking our lives would be easier if, but right now, it’s more important than ever that we cultivate our capacity to be with our circumstances. These 4 sets of practices are not an attempt to escape our circumstances, but rather to fully feel what is happening and still allow ourselves the energetic shifts we need. I hope they help, please let me know any questions.
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