Guided imagery, visualization, meditation, guided meditation, movement meditation...let's sort this out in a way we can all understand it, and make it useful. Being able to focus, to feel as well as we can so we can function and meet goals, if that is what we want to do, or just being able to relax and be calm for moments of the day is usually what people want. Most people would love a million dollars, let's say, or some miracle, but most people realistically just want some peace and less stress or angst. And, although most people want this, they cannot add ONE MORE THING to do in their day. When someone says, "Just meditate for 20 minutes in the morning, and you'll feel great", you consider it. However, you cannot get up before your kids, because you have only had 5 hours of sleep for days on end. Or, you only have time on weekends, but when you try to sit still, you just fall asleep or think of every thing you have to get done over the weekend. I would like to make five suggestions that peel away at these forms of self-care, and make them not only attainable, but helpful to you on a regular basis.
1. This step is, in my opinion, the MOST important thing to consider. When you think about your life, imagine you are balancing on a teeter-totter, you have one foot going up and one going down. You are trying to find balance, but you tend to have one foot up more than the other. You will want to answer this question, "Which foot is up more of the time?" Is it the foot on the side that says, "I want to feel less stress, but I am pretty attached to doing things the way I have always done them", or is it the foot that says, "I am open to trying something new, because this is not working out great for me". If you think keeping things the same will decrease stress once you get over a hump or your kids are in school or whatever, then keep doing things the way you have been doing them. Just remember this is your choice, because now you can feel you are in more control than if you think you HAVE to do it that way. If you know by now you feel that you need and want to make a shift more than you want to keep things the way they are, then the next four steps will be most useful to you. Either way though, there are ways to add more moments of peace in your day. Please read on.
2. When we break-down meditation, an act to create more mental clarity and emotional calm, we can really go to very simple terms. Try this right now: sit or stand and take in a deep breath. There is no right or wrong breath. Just feel your breath and how important it is to you. Let it go out anyway you want. Do that 3-5 times with no expectation except to listen to and feel your breath. If you are successful at feeling your five breaths, this is literally you quieting your mind and giving your body a minute to calm the arousal state or fight-flight-freeze response. Some people run in this arousal mode almost constantly. If you did this conscious breathing say three times a day, you would reset or calm your arousal three more times than you are doing right now. It is like a reset button, and you control it. You can do it in the bathroom, in the shower, in the car, or walking to the mail box. You can do it as many times as you can remember to do so, and you did not have to change your day at all. it is like giving yourself a minute, literally a minute, to connect to your self, before you respond to anything. I dare you to try it and notice the results.
3. If taking deep breaths is hard for you, or if you have more time to put toward meditation, you will want to find a way that helps you, or makes you, take deep breaths. You still only need 1-5 minutes (or more if you have it), but you want to do something that causes you to breathe deep. Here are some ideas: a) Walk up and down a flight of stairs and work with the intention of paying attention to your breathing. No judgement; no worries that you should be in better shape or whatever. This is not physical exercise; this is a way to feel your breath. That's your goal. b) walk briskly to the mail box. c) take a short bike ride with your kids, or d) walk your dog.
Many of these things you may do already. Intentionally do something that creates a need for you to shift how deep you are breathing. That is the goal. Once you realize what you can and already do that causes you to breathe deep for a handful of breaths, do this paying attention to your breathing. Pay attention to how important breathing is for your life. Once you have paid attention to your breath, you will have done a short reset.
4. Guided meditation or guided imagery can calm your arousal state. You do not have to sit up or stay awake or make time. You can play it on your smartphone or CD player or laptop, or when you lay down next to your child to put them to bed as you usually do. After your bedtime routine, play the guided meditation or guide imagery (15-20 minutes). Your (and your child's) arousal will be reset by the time it is over. You may even sleep better. You can find many of these free on YouTube or use a favorite app. I highly recommend using any guided imagery by Belleruth Naparstek, LCSW, because her work is VERY well researched for efficacy and results. The app with her work is Health Journeys. Adding this consistently, whoever's work you use, can create more calm and you don't have to really do anything to change your life.
5. Finally, let's say you have more time, but you find you just cannot sit still or follow other peoples' mantras; visualizations may even distract or irritate you. You can create your own way to find emotional calm and mental clarity. The world really is your playground, if you want it to be. This freeing of your mind that you can "meditate" your way, can be very empowering. I find that riding my bike on a path, breathing hard (for 10 minutes or 2 hours, it doesn't matter) creates a release and inner calm. When I am done, people and life just don't bother me like they do when I don't connect to myself. Some people have noticed this and refer to it as a "runner's high" (if you are a runner). People also participate in activities like fishing, alone with the water and birds, freeing their mind from clutter by sitting and watching the water. I also know people who sit still for 5-10 minutes (inside or outside) and just notice their breath and thoughts, without judgement. Just breath with no agenda. This may be a way to be mindful, but it doesn't matter, if you are allowing your breath to be your guide and moments of silence to seep in.
Start to think about ways you can connect to your breath by breathing deep. Try new things that help you connect to and notice your breath. This will bring you back to yourself each and every time. Please share your ideas here or within your own circles, because self-care matters. You matter.