Stress Reduction and Self-Care in Response to Covid-19

Below is an edited transcript of the Yoga Nova Live Stream from March 26, 2020.

“I want to thank you Natalie for the invitation to be able to share some really simple techniques and steps that all of us can use to create calm and reduce stress during these times of high anxiety as a result of the Covid virus.

These are the same tools and techniques that I developed for Recovery Workers and First Responders of the two largest and most deadly disasters of this century. These easy-to-follow steps are to help you help your family help your friends, and help yourselves also, to be able to calm yourselves and extend help and care to others.

Right now each of us is a First Responder—just because this is a pandemic reaching each of us worldwide.

These tools worked for survivors and victims of the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami; and victims of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 where they also suffered a cholera epidemic following the earthquake; and the tools that you’ll be learning here, today, can really help you as well.

Let’s start with our first step.

Step 1: Connect to Your Own Inner & Outer Healing Resources

The first step is to be able to CONNECT to your own inner healing resources and outer healing resources.

Inner healing resources are available to us with every breath we take. We know from yoga that each breath contains not only oxygen that soothes and calms the body by relaxing the muscles–AND a subtle spiritual energy that strengthens the nervous system and soothes and calms the soul–with each breath you take.

So let’s start right now with a few long slow deep breaths. It takes only 90 seconds of long, slow, deep breaths to be able to activate oxytocin and begin to counteract the stress of cortisol that runs through the physical body.

Begin by breathing in and out to a count of four: In – two- three- four, and out-two-three-four, in-two-three-four, and out-two-three-four, Just notice how the chest rises and falls with each breath you take, bringing a gentle massage to the internal organs of the body, and your muscles – relaxing the body as you breath in….

With each exhale letting go with stress…

Just allow yourself to keep doing slow, deep breathing as we go through each of the five steps.

Connecting to inner–and outer resources is especially important. We’re doing physical isolation to contain the virus; but, that doesn’t mean we need to be emotionally isolated from others who we care for and love. In fact, it’s especially important to find ways to reach out to those we care for, and to those who care for us.

Another way to enhance oxytocin is to engage in compassionate, caring conversation with people that you know– and even those that you don’t know–like with connections through social media and chats on-line focus on extending to others through caring conversation. We’ll be talking more about that in our third step.

When we are connecting with healing outer resources, it’s important to get information, certainly, but also remember limit information overload. Watching television all the time to find out what’s happening now with the virus can actually add to your stress.

Instead, limit how much you’re taking in, and begin to observe, and modulate and notice how different activities and situations are impacting you.

Step 2: Begin to Observe Yourself & The World Around You

This brings us to step 2 – begin to OBSERVE yourself and the world around you – including the people around you–with what we call mindful awareness.

Mindful awareness is enhanced by the breath, and so as you breathe in and out scan your body scan your thoughts and your emotions.

Notice if you’re having experiences of tension in your body.  Perhaps your heart is pounding, or you have a dry mouth. Perhaps you’re noticing that you have digestive issues, or difficulty sleeping maybe even nightmares–these kinds of physical symptoms are absolutely normal symptoms when we’re facing uncertainty and feeling a little bit out of control.

We can soothe those feelings by becoming aware of them — breathing in to the experience — and then just putting its side — and returning to the breath.

It’s also very common to notice if you’re having emotional feelings like feeling worried about the future,  or having doubts about what’s going to happen, perhaps feeling irritable or angry, or even scared, or a little more short-tempered. These are common and normal reactions to feeling out of control.

And so it’s important to begin to find ways that you can connect with your own inner sense control– Which brings us to the third step—DEEP LISTENING to ourselves and others

Step 3: Deep Listening to Ourselves & Others

We can take control of becoming aware of what it is that we’re going through and find ways to share feelings with others and also to listen to others with the ears of your heart–to have compassion for ourselves and others–because we’re all in need self-care right now.

Every single human being has a need to feel heard, seen and understood.

So when you are sharing your feelings continue to stay present with yourself by breathing into your feelings– appreciate what you’re feeling and name it — and share your thoughts, feelings and experiences in words–whether it’s by writing in your journal, or when you share with a family member you happen to be isolated at home together, or perhaps by a phone or video conferencing call with friends.

Remember, when we put our feelings and thoughts into words–when we name a feeling–it actually contains the energy. It gives us a handle on it.

It’s important to realize when we share with friends there’s nothing you need to do other than simply listen.  Listen with the ears of your heart — and keep breathing — to help you stay present with them, no matter what it is they happen to be going through.

Because as we share our feelings and our experiences with another, we hear ourselves… And we gain insight and understanding into what it is we actually need right now. This brings us to Step 4.

Step 4: Engage Insight, Intuition, & Creativity

and, that actually is the fourth step – to ENGAGE INSIGHT, INTUITION AND CREATIVITY to ask for guidance from yourself and your own inner knowing Self about what you can do right now to create healing and calm for yourself and others.

The experience of intuition and creativity is one of the opportunities for healing right now.

One exercise that I often like to do with groups is to have people create a title on five pieces of paper:

  • one page for the body
  • one for the spirit
  • one for the mind
  • one for our emotions
  • and then one for our energy

and begin to brainstorm: Create a list of ways you can attend to and offer care to yourself energetically, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally.

For example, did you know only 10-15 minutes of self-massage or giving a massage to someone else will begin to release soothing oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin allows the whole body to calm down, and this begins to soothe emotions too. Even if we’re alone we can do self-massage. And certainly if we’re sequestered with family, this is a wonderful way to engage in self-care. Giving healing touch and massage to someone activates the release of oxytocin for both people.

When you add the breath to that –breathing in and out –it’s a double dose of relaxation and soothing ourselves.

Enhance your intuition by engaging your creativity…

Engaging in the creative arts is a very powerful way to enhance the experience of bringing forward our creative energy to help ourselves and others. There are very distinct creative tools used for healing all over the world in every culture I’ve ever worked with.

This includes:

  • singing and writing songs and stories
  • music, playing music, playing an instrument
  • dance and movement
  • prayer and meditation, quiet contemplation, silent reflection
  • connecting with nature– getting out in nature, taking a walk and breathing the fresh air; and that can even include connecting with a pet if you have a pet at home

Creative Arts are universal healers. The arts connect us with our inner Creator… inspiring our creativity and imagination…Start with creating new routines at home. Like breakfast, lunch and dinner time; playtime and work time; create time for household chores, time for connection with others and also life-renewing solitude to connect with yourself. All that goes better with music in the background to inspire the soul (instead of spirit breaking ‘breaking news’).

Consider what you can do right now today to create calm and self-care for you, and also for family members, and those you care for.

We’ve actually found in psychology studies how extending care to others actually helps us connect with our own inner strength and inner creative resilient spirit... which brings us to the final step.

Step 5: Empower Self-Care

step five: EMPOWER SELF-CARE for yourself and for all of those around you.

As you stay in contact with, and aware of, all of those around you in your immediate environment, and those who you are reaching out to via video conferencing, or telephone calls, or texts, or emails – this capacity to encourage self-care – by becoming a model to self-care yourself – encourages others.

Your example contributes to the extension of healing to our communities.

As you become aware, these practices that I’m describing become on-going:

  1. Connecting to yourself and others in healing ways
  2. Being mindful and using the breath to continue to return to your center
  3. Deep listening to be present when sharing feelings
  4. Using intuition and insight to create your next step to reduce stress – Ask yourself: “what I can do right now that can help?” and then
  5. Empowering Self-Care — Leading by example

Keep practicing Self- care: Do what helps over what hurts. Follow intuition, creativity and guidance. . . AND become an example for others. This how you actually extends self-care to others and help all of us.

In closing today, here is an example of self-care that was done by a young friend of mine, Georgia, the 8-year-old daughter of Bianca Sinclair, who trained with me in Embodied Awareness and is a Certified Embodied Awareness Facilitator. This is what Georgia drew when she was asked to draw a picture about:

“What can I do to find my peace when I’m upset or worried?”

Georgia, 8 years old, daughter of Bianca Sinclair, Certified Embodied Awareness Facilitator

So think about what you can do to encourage self-care for you, your family and your friends – – and share that with us on this blog.

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