Keeping it simple
I have a dear and wise aunt who throughout my childhood repeatedly said to me, ‘keep things simple Ali’. I didn’t always understand her meaning but perhaps at the subconscious level it sank in judging by the way I have lived, [mostly] enjoying and appreciating the simple cost-free things of life (like time in nature, hiking, time with close friends, following my heart rather than the dollar, and so on) and consequently now living with a high degree of peace and contentment.
The pressure cooker of life
Humanity seems to live in a collective pressure cooker within which there are millions of individual pressure cooker moments. The lid could blow, and does, at any moment, sending out ripples of frustration, anger, sadness…name your word, we can all relate. Getting to peace and contentment had plenty of pressure cooker moments along the way if I’m keeping it real. And please note, expression rather than repression, absolutely; it is the uncontrolled volcanic eruptions of stress that I refer to.
So I am adopting the favourite aunt’s ‘keep it simple’ adage now in the context of what I want to share to encourage the adoption of three simple ways to start to overcome the January blues, and perhaps, the blues generally.
Simple practises regularly adhered to will gradually build a strong foundation within. Like a strong tree untouched by fierce storm winds, our roots grow deep over time and we are less likely to be uprooted by the pressures of life and hopefully weather the storms with more internal peace.
I am a Yoga teacher.
My first encouragement would be to breathe.
Breathe consciously by trying heart focussed breathing. You are still breathing with your lungs of course, but the emphasis is on the heart, directing your attention to that area and breathing a little more deeply than normal. Like this:
– Sit down, be comfortable so you can sit for a time without distraction.
– Place a hand on your chest, maybe both hands if you wish, one on top of the other. The hand(s) can be taken away after a while if you wish but to start it helps, as our focus naturally goes to where we place our physical touch.
– Breathe in for 5-6 seconds and breathe out for 5-6 seconds. You may count to start, and then as your breathe smooths out and the rhythm becomes more natural the counting may naturally slip away.
Your body knows how to breathe, so don’t try too hard, just find a smooth, unforced, comfortable breath.
Heart focussed breathing brings ‘heart coherence’ (a scientific term), the benefits of which have been scientifically proven to bring a sense of being uplifted and alive; more peaceful and less rushed; a deeper heart connection within and with others.
“Coherence is the state when the heart, mind and emotions are in energetic alignment and cooperation. When the physiological coherence mode is driven by a positive emotional state, we call it psychophysiological coherence.”
You can find all the fascinating facts of the science at heartmath.org.
I am a Laughter Yoga Leader.
My second encouragement would be to smile.
What is there to smile about, did I hear someone say? I
How can I smile when there are so many people suffering? .
I understand; but if, as I have come to believe, we are all connected, everything we think, say and do ripples out from us and affects those around us. It goes out like an invisible wave so why not practise sending a smile, not necessarily because we feel like it but as an exercise?
For more on ‘everything is connected’ you might start with the famous naturalist, John Muir, who is considered to be one of the first to articulate the fundamental ecological principle of connectedness and was quoted as saying, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
It is both exciting and humbling to me to know then that because of this connectedness we can affect humanity by paying attention to how we feel and doing the best we can to raise our ‘frequency’ up a notch. For now though, in the interest of keeping it simple, let the wisdom of the late Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn help us understand smiling as an exercise.
“Why should I smile when there is no joy inside? The answer to that is; smiling is a practise. There are over three hundred muscles in your face. When you are angry or fearful these muscles tense up. The tension in these muscles creates a feeling of harshness.
If you know how to breath in and produce a smile however, the tension will disappear – it is what I call ‘mouth yoga’.
Make smiling an exercise. Just breathe in and smile – the tension will disappear and you will feel much better.”
Smile to yourself.
Smile to others.
In my yoga classes I encourage everyone to regularly take up ‘smile pose’.
Start small, find an internal smile, see if it can just slightly reach your lips and gradually increase until you feel the laughter lines getting a work out as the smile reaches your eyes.
This in itself can trigger the release of feel-good body chemicals which can alter our mood even if we didn’t feel like smiling in the first place.
By which I mean, get out into nature. That encouragement has almost become a trend, we hear it so often now in the context of a broad range of suggestions for improving mental health.
The importance of our relationship with nature is coming to be more understood, studied, and just plain appreciated in the doing of it and simply personally feeling the benefits.
Note, the definition of nature is wide. You don’t have to live deep in the wilderness, the countryside or even on the edge of it. A tree, a park, a canal, or postage sized back garden, even nature documentaries it has been found, can benefit us with an uplift in mood, a lessening of stress and so on.
Trees are my personal favourite go to and I regularly head for the forest to walk and sit and be. A little science on that before getting practical will be interesting.
Trees have been found to emit phytoncides, airborne particles
that help them defend against harmful insects and fungus. These possess anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that protect them from rotting or being eaten by bugs and animals. We breath these in within a forest environment and they act as powerful immunity boosters. For more see Dr Qing Li, Forest Bathing, How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.
Now, in the interests of simple, try this:
– Take yourself off for a walk wherever you live, in countryside, suburb or city.
– Maybe pack a flask of something warm and a treat to take with you.
– Find a view, a tree, anything in nature that stands out to you, appeals to you.
– Sit if you can.
– Hold you awareness on the view, the tree, the flower, whatever it is for you. (You could perhaps combine the heart focussed breathing at the same time.)
– Try and be there with no expectations, just enjoying it for what it is, noticing the sound of birds, the rustle of the trees, the myriad of nature sounds around you.
– at the end of however long feels good to you (and maybe give yourself a chance to build up slowly), perhaps observe how you feel and then if you’ve taken one, enjoy your drink and treat and stay a little longer!
p.s. Sit Spots
In time that place could become a ‘sit spot’ (or secret spot), a place you visit regularly to cultivate awareness and sensitivity to the nature around you, and to yourself.
You can do it!
Breathe, smile, go green.
Can you challenge yourself to pick one of those and come to it with positive intention over a period of time (long enough to feel it’s becoming a habit)? Then perhaps try another or maybe add a second one on?
You can do it, just keep it simple remember.
I leave you with the hope that you have found some inspiration to start something new (with potentially profound effect) and that as you return to the practise(s) regularly, you will feel lifted up a little in January, February and way beyond.
If you’d like to try any of these with me, please take a look round my website restorewithali.com and read about what a tailor-made experience half day or day could do to benefit you.
Ali Coutts 14 January 2023