I have always classed myself as a ‘mentally stable’ person. Generally no ‘ups and downs’, rarely feeling low or depressed. My father on the contrary had long suffered from severe depression. When he decided to take his life, it put an end to my calm, serene state.
In the year after his death I would have gone bankrupt if it wasn’t for medical insurance! I rushed myself to hospital three times overnight (twice with an ambulance) thinking I was having a heart attack. I went to all the specialists under the sun: got my heart checked, my lungs, my brain, my nervous system... you name it. Anxiety was so extreme I had to also stop drinking my beloved morning coffee.
What saved me:
My first yoga retreat
My partner at the time, running out of ideas on how to help me signed me up for it. To take yourself out of the busy lives we often live, and surround yourself with like-minded people looking for peace and serenity; being in nature or by the beach can do wonders for your mind and to restore calm and clarity. This was the beginning of my 12-year-long yoga journey, the best journey I ever started.
I realised I was making my anxiety worse by shallow breathing – that’s breathing short breaths, at the top of our lungs. This is a very useful breath when we are trying to stay super alert or run from danger (or more likely for the bus!) and need to bring oxygen to our lungs quickly… However, most of us from childhood have become so accustomed to just shallow breathing that we do that for most of our awake time and don’t know any other way. It's a vicious circle as the more anxious we are the more we shallow-breathe and vice-versa.
A very effective way of calming our nervous system right down and feeling calmer within two minutes is to simply ‘lengthen our breath’ and ‘send it right to the belly’. What does this actually mean?! Well, we usually do this when we sleep (you can probably visualise the belly of someone sleeping going up and down as they breathe). In fact, to get used to the feeling of it, you can lie on your back, perhaps on your bed just before going to bed, put both your hands on your belly and as you breath in feel the belly lift under your hands, as you breath out feel the belly lower down under your hands. You can add a count as you breath in and out, starting with 3 and gradually increasing, always keeping it even for in-breath and out-breath. After just a few rounds you’ll feel more relaxed. We are all capable of doing it and just takes being more conscious of our breathing.
Combining two of the most powerful tools, within reach for ALL of us, with no cost attached!
This practice makes walking even more enjoyable and inspiring. This can be done for up to 20 minutes at a time. Inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth (if the air is very cold or dry, you might prefer to inhale through your mouth or both nose and mouth together).
As you inhale, rotate your thumbs away from your body to gently open your arms, allowing your palms to open to receive energy from around you (if you are practising around people, you can make the hand movements very subtle). When you exhale, rotate your thumbs back toward your body, turning your palms inward, and imagine that you are pumping energy down to the balls of your feet. Also, as you exhale, push the air up against the upper palate as though you were whispering the word who loudly. Enjoy a walk, devoted solely to the notion of bringing calm and enhancing your receptivity at least once a week.
In addition to these simple tools, I have become the queen of self-care, just ask anyone who knows me! Even with a newborn baby, there is no day that goes by that I don’t dedicate at least 1 hour to myself… usually more like two. Often I wake up very early to be able to do this, but I rarely start my day or leave the house without having written my journal and having done my yoga practice… Then of course, who doesn’t like a massage? If you can do it with essential oils even better and you don’t necessarily have to pay for it. Self-massage during and after bath works wonders and it also doubles as a sort of moving meditation!
This is a key daily tool for me. I keep this to 3 pages as advised in a book I treasure, called 'The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron. It allows me to get rid of all the ‘crap’ on my mind as soon as I wake up… and focus my day on what I want it to be. Again, it’s free, and keeps us away from the temptation of reaching for our phone to check what we’ve been missing out on social media overnight (god forbid). If you still remember how to hold a pen, I can’t recommend it more!