As we enter month 10 of the COVID pandemic as well as the holidays, it seemed like the perfect time to repost this article I wrote a few years ago.
Hit the Pause Button for Just 1 Minute
I want to share with you an easy yet powerful practice I picked up while attending a seminar called “The Five Essentials of Embodiment” with Russell Delman.
Russell is a longtime Feldenkrais Trainer, a Zen practitioner and the founder of the Embodied Life Program. One thing he shared was a practice he calls Ground–Sound–Breathe. It can be tremendously helpful in reducing your levels of stress or pain and only takes a minute.
Taking moments to become present or notice your breathing is nothing new—it’s at the center of most mind-body practices and stress-reduction programs. What I like about Ground-Sound-Breathe is that it integrates being present with yourself while also being aware of the world around you.
Isn’t that one of the biggest challenges in life: to be connected with yourself and at the same time present and engaged with your environment? Typically, we’re either so involved with people/things outside of us that we lose connection with ourselves (i.e. we’re not “in our body”). Or we find a quiet space to be alone and turn inward, purposely tuning out the rest of the world.
Sometimes the Simplest Things are the Most Powerful
Now, you may be thinking, “Taking short pauses in my day sounds nice, but how can that make a difference with my stress/back pain/shoulder problem/insomnia/etc?” Most of us don’t motivate to take care of ourselves until our injury, pain, stress or anxiety has gotten pretty bad. At that point, it may seem like only a significant intervention—medication, a rigorous exercise program or taking a leave of absence from your job—could possibly help.
I hear you. I’ve personally experienced the benefits of mindfulness, yet I still find myself underestimating the power and value of such seemingly simple practices. But the process of interrupting our habits and tuning into sensations happening in this moment helps balance our sympathetic (flight, flight, freeze) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems. With better balance comes easier breathing, clearer thinking, better movement and lower levels of pain. It also supports building new, healthier habits.
Intentionally checking in with ourselves throughout the day can also highlight our habits of attention. Once you realize you’re spending a lot of time dwelling something that’s unhelpful or stressful, you can choose to move your attention. This experience of choice is empowering. Instead of feeling like a victim to your circumstances, pain or difficulties, you begin to see ways you may exacerbate them and the power you have to change that.
And when you feel you have some choice and control in your life, you tend to be calmer and happier.
Instructions for the Ground-Sound-Breathe Practice
Here it is, in just 3 easy steps. The whole process only takes about 1 minute.
Pause from whatever you’re doing and close your eyes. Feel the ground supporting you. If you’re sitting in a chair, this means observing the contact of your butt on the seat and your feet on the floor. Take a moment to really notice, “I’m here.”
Alternatively, you can pause standing or lying down. Just observe the parts of you that are in contact with the supporting surface.
Keeping your contact with the ground in the background, turn your attention to the sounds around you.
Simply let the sounds come to you, without any effort. Think of yourself as a recording device, neutrally receiving the sounds of your surroundings without any interpretation or judgement.
Let the sounds of your environment fade into the background with your contact with the ground.
Then bring your attention to your breathing. Without changing anything, just observe how the air comes in and out on its own. Follow your breath for three complete in/out cycles.
That’s it! You might take a moment to notice how you are. Perhaps there’s been a shift in your muscular tension, posture, thoughts or mood—or you might not notice anything. Then go about your day.
The Calm Center Within You
Each time you take this pause, you water the seeds of awareness and embodiment. Over time, you’ll develop the ability to shift your state rather quickly. As Russell likes to say, these “states become traits”.
Russell suggests doing this practice 5 times a day for 3 weeks, as it takes about 21 days to develop a new habit. This also gives you a good chunk of time to notice any changes. If that commitment feels too big, I invite you adjust the numbers into what works for you.
In this time when our whole country and the world is in a state of increased stress and uncertainty, may this practice help you connect with the calm center that’s always available within you.
You can find out more about Russell Delman and enjoy his articles here.