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Mindfulness Practices for Stress Reduction and Self-Care in Uncertain Times

Stressed out? Worried? Frustrated? Feel like it’s difficult to plan ahead? You are so normal. Even five to ten minutes of mindfulness or simple breathing practices can help. Really.

Below are the links for a webinar-Zoom presentation and the related Power Point requested by and offered to the Vermont Association of Area Agencies on Aging (V4A) on May 15, 2020 to support direct service professionals coping with the heightened stress of the pandemic. The presentation offers fundamental mindfulness concepts, skills, and practices that can support individuals with daily self-regulation and self-care.

Watch the Zoom presentation here.

It’s okay.

The peonies have returned, as the first lilacs begin their fade. This is the gesture of spring, of life cycle; the blossoms show us over days or weeks, what it is like to grow, shine, and release.

Around me, around us all, the human journey of individual, family, community, nation, and world unfolds. The human energies are heightened and tangled: fraught, frightened, lost, grieving, confused; out-of-step with what was expected, while grappling with what has arisen, what has been lost, and our historic wounds. While turning toward the possibilities within dynamic change is necessary and resourceful, there is no right or one way to walk through this moment. We each have our way. We can trust this. And yes, unrest, messy moments, and grief in the midst are inevitable.

Resiliency is not solely an individual quality or skillset, as it is so often described and touted, but a living connection to systemic supports and resources that allow us to find homecoming and shelter with others, as well as within ourselves. The roots of resiliency are nurtured through learning how to be compassionate with ourselves and others. Compassion engages the heart’s knowing and softer, kinder wisdom. It is the gesture, the practice that allows for the building of bridges and human connection.

More vulnerability, more tenderness, more distress are natural in times of instability, crisis, and systemic fragility. Take heart. Reach out when you need to. It’s all okay.

the art of freedom

…the art of freedom becomes the necessary adventure of grasping secrets that are everywhere in the open and stirring their aspects within us, in such a way that we come alive: learning from the fish how to surface and dive, from the flower how to open and accept, from the stone how to crack and let the light in, and from the birds that wings are more useful at times than brains.

Rather than finding ourselves in everything, we are challenged daily to find everything in ourselves, till being human is evolving inwardly in the likeness of everything, shaping ourselves to the wonders we find, until like birds, who have known this forever, we too make song at the mere appearance of light.

~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Mindfulness breath mantra, Thich Nhat Hanh

Breathing in, breathing out.

Breathing in deep, breathing out slow.

Breathing in calm, breathing out ease.

Breathing in healing, breathing out release.

Instructions:

Find a comfortable seat that establishes a balance between effort and ease or lie down and invite deep relaxation into your whole being from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes. In either position, you can lightly scan the body to observe where you are holding tension and whether it is serving you or whether it is okay to release it.

Observe the natural flow of breath, noticing the inhale, the slight transition, and the exhale. Match the mantra to your natural inhale and exhale. Begin with the first line of instruction saying it to yourself internally or out loud, as you prefer. Say each line of instruction fully twice, then consider dropping the full instruction to the core words (e.g., in, out; deep, slow; calm, ease; healing release). You can decide how long you wish to practice one instruction before moving on to the next.

At the end, pause to notice any impact from your practice. Consider placing one hand over your heart and the other over your belly and invite a felt sense of kindness and warmth into your hands. Feel the breath under your palms, easy and gentle. Remind yourself: present moment, safe moment.

~connecting to the healing and stabilizing powers of nature

~sunrise paddle

To be human means that we share universal experiences. We are born, take our first breath, require sustenance, seek the embrace of others and the shelter of dwellings, live in dependent relationships to the earth, sun, moon, and weather, and evolve day-by-day. Much else is variable in human experience. However, this moment in time has created a unique and unparalleled, global, shared reality.

Parallel to our individual lives, the natural world continues with its broader rhythms of day and night, moon and tides, fallow and harvest seasons, the expansiveness of skies and landscapes. There is a steadiness, a predictability in nature’s rhythms, as spring continues to melt frostlines and release sprouts and little blossoms in our northern hemisphere.

In this time of universal and individual anxieties, we can return to the embrace and solace of the natural world. We can lean into its rhythms and breathe deeply from the gift of fresh air. We can invite our worried minds to clear and open, observing thoughts, as if clouds in the sky-floating along-leaving no trace. We can remember our connection to something bigger and beyond and return renewed. This can happen by looking at a photograph, engaging in a visualization exercise, as well as taking a walk outdoors. Nature’s resources are ever-present and available. We are not alone.

~full moon in lavender sky

Bessel van der Kolk on the pandemic, courtesy of NICABM

This short talk was a free resource posted by National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine or NICABM on March 31st, in response to COVID-19. It reviews how core knowledge and tenets in the treatment of trauma can serve broader populations in this moment. Bessel van der Kolk is an internationally, renowned trauma therapist and author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. He speaks about the natural feelings of helplessness, distress, and lack of agency that arise in the midst of unpredictable life circumstances like a pandemic and offers practical suggestions about self-care and resources.

**Alert: van der Kolk comments briefly on national politics. Hopefully, whatever one’s political or apolitical leanings, the core resources and therapeutic messages can be received.

Here is the link:

breathing in deep, breathing out slow

mini-meditation

breathing in calm, breathing out ease

Our lives are constantly tumbling forward into the future, and the only way back to here and now is to stop. Even a few moments of suspended activity, a mini-meditation of just being still, can reconnect you with a sense of aliveness and caring. That connection will deepen if, during those moments, you intentionally establish contact with your body, breath, and relax.

~Tara Brach, True Refuge

~cultivating continuity and stability in uncertain times

Another day, the waves come and go.

So much has changed, and is still changing, day by day. While the unpredictable is always a part of life, our regular rhythms, habits, and choices that typically support a sense of control or agency break open in moments of profound disruption. Groundlessness appears and we are seemingly dropped into a new, arising reality.

The word pandemic comes from the Greek pandemos, pan (all) demos (people). Spreading across the globe and our nation, we are acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of those disproportionately affected (e.g., the elderly, the immune compromised, the poor and/or uninsured, the newly unemployed, the college students sent home, the imprisoned, the health care workers and grocery store clerks serving on the front lines, instead of “sheltering in place,” the children without adequate adult support and/or nutrition.) That said, all people know fear and worry in a worldwide health crisis.

This morning as I was reflecting on the disruption of daily life, defined as I/we knew it pre-pandemic, I realized again that mindfulness practices, like yoga and meditation are meant for these times, especially. While everything shifts around us and within us, one can go to their familiar mat and practice moving with breath and awareness and come home to the present moment. We can meet whatever is arising with curiosity, kindness, and care. This nurtures its own form of stability and continuity, in motion or stillness. Our non-judgmental breath holds the same invitations and metaphors as before, of receiving and releasing, freshness and unburdening; our mat is a zone of safety; and the body is a container that can only live in the present moment. This helps us to ground here, where a felt sense of safety can be accessed or cultivated. These practices also allow us to observe and pull back from the ruminating “what ifs” and catastrophic cliffs of of the wandering, spooked mind. These practices of homecoming allows us to look out and remember: The sky is still spacious and the ground is still solid under our feet. A loving, aware connection to self, and in extension shared with others through loving-kindness, can help to fortify us in an unfamiliar landscape. And we can practice again and again, accessing the peace within and our ever-present essential goodness.

May we all be safe.
May we all be free of suffering.
May we all be healed.
May we all be at peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh

artist unknown (Yes, I can’t read the signature. Apologies.)