Most of the day we are stuck inside our brains, the control panels and masters of our reality. But how many times per day do we take time to actually tune in to our bodies and enjoy the soothing and rooting effect of being brought back to the present moment?
Focus on you
Focusing our whole attention in the head area, all the time, can not only lead to headaches and stress, it can also disconnect us from a powerful source of energy , namely the here and now. Disconnection with oneself happens when we run through life, accomplishing our daily tasks and duties without ever taking a moment to consciously breathe. My favourite exercise, which immediately connects me with the present, is to bring my focus from my head into my lower belly and solar-plexus area, above the navel. The moment you exhale and centre your body, it feels like a little breakout from the madness of the big city. It’s almost like stepping out of the ever-present flow of time into a sacred space of stillness. You can do this anytime, anywhere, in the supermarket line, or in any of the ever-present queues that Hong Kong demands. In the bathroom, before heading back to your desk, or at your desk itself, before you pick up the phone to make an important call. Connect with your ‘second brain’, your gut, your emotional centre. Breathe into it and feel how you are so much more than just that mind-machine that’s continuously babbling on and on.
You are not your thoughts
Another thought that always helps me to feel more centred is that I am not my thoughts. I am thinking thoughts. But I am NOT them. Breathe in, tune in to your centre, the lower belly, feel the pause after the inhale, that short moment before the next exhalation takes place, the sacred space of silence from which everything is born. Then exhale, feel the space between the exhalation and inhalation. Stay connected to your lower belly. And think: nothing is more important right now than my inner peace, my body, in the here and now. No text message, no phone call, no thought. Enjoy the pure pleasure of being present, even if its just for a few seconds! It works!
Soften your gaze
Another favourite trick of mine is to soften my gaze. I first read about the ‘soft gaze’ in a book by Diana Richardson, a tantric counsellor. In tantra, applying the soft gaze means to let the world sink into your eyes. Instead of actively looking out into the world, by applying your gaze you let the outside softly sink into your body, offering no resistance and no judgement. Same as goes for core-connection exercise. You immediately feel calmer and perceive the world differently, less predetermined through your experience of it, but more colourful, more alive and with a feeling of inner acceptance rather than rejection. This is another exercise you can do anytime, anywhere. You’ll feel how your face softens and relaxes, how your whole body starts to switch a gear backwards, slowing down and unwinding. Even if it’s just for a few moments, it can do so much for your physical and mental health, as well as your peace of mind!
Listen to your body
I also really like listening to podcasts by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who founded Plum Village, a spiritual retreat in France, and is the author of many books and inspirational talks. As a good friend of mine once said: just listening to his voice calms me down. There are so many ways to introduce short practices into your daily life that will significantly increase your general well-being. When you’re at home, instead of watching the latest episode of GOT, sit down for a minute or two and listen to relaxing music. Try to focus on one or two breathing cycles and then allow your self to get back to your usual distractions. You might want to stay in a meditative and present state for longer though…
Last but not least, these are my favourite yoga postures. They’re perfect for when you don’t feel like doing yoga or don’t have time and you’re too busy for anything else:
Sleeping butterfly pose
Sit up in bed, bring the soles of your feet together so your legs form a triangle shape in front of you. You might want to push a cushion underneath you to improve your position. Bend your spine, let your upper body tilt forward and let your head go completely lose. Hold on to your feet with both hands. No pulling no pushing. No effort. Just let go. Feel how your spine relaxes.
Get on all fours and arch your back as high as possible, like a cat would do, fully relax your head and shoulder area and pull your belly button in. Exhale. Inhale and bend your back looking upwards or forwards. Exhale, arching your back again. It’s super simple, almost everyone knows this posture already, but it really is one of the best and quickest fixes for back pain and a super easy exercise that increases the flexibility and mobility of your spine (so essential for longevity). It also fits easily in everyone’s routine, mornings and evenings, even if you only have a minute!
Uttanasana, standing forward bend
From cat/cow, get up, root the soles of your feet into the ground and feel the weight of your whole body pushing you into the ground. Enjoy the connection with your body, let your upper body sink forwards and completely relax. Grasp your elbows with your hands, relax your neck and relax your shoulders. Let anxiety and stress flow out of your head and feet and be absorbed by the floor. When you lift up again press your soles into the ground firmly, enjoy the feeling of curving your spine slowly until you’re in an upright position. Remain standing for a few moments and focus on your breath.
I wish you a happy and balanced day!