Let's face it, sometimes we get anxious and worked up (some of us more—and more often—than others). As frustrating as it is to get out of our own heads (“I’M JUST TRYING TO BE HERE NOW AND PRACTICE NADI SHODHANAM BUT I CAN'T BECAUSE MY LEFT NOSTRIL WON'T STOP WHISTLING?!”), it is doable. It is possible. (It is. I promise.) Staying angry and pitying ourselves is easy: it feels good, safe, self-indulgent. Unfortunately, reversing that mindset and practice requires a lot of scary, uncomfortable work.
What happens around and outside of you is not within your control. How you respond is.
So, the next time you find yourself ready to stick your neti pot up someone else's, uh, nose, try one of these five exercises in mindfulness. Each time, you'll start off shaky. But once you put the hard work in and begin to slow yourself down—your thoughts, breath, thoughtless actions, and intentions—you’ll start to find some footing. And step by step, you’ll quietly arrive at a more sustainable sense of calm and happiness. What happens around and outside of you is not within your control. How you respond is.
Lift your toes, spread them wide, and gently release them back to the ground (you can do this in your shoes, too). Feel the four corners of your feet—the mounds below the big toes, the inner heels, the mounds below the pinky toes, and the outer heel—pressing into the ground. Notice your ankles, your knees stacked above your ankles, and your hip bones above your knees. Feel your belly hollow with your exhale and round with your inhale. Follow an inhale up to your shoulders and out to your elbows, and exhale out through your fingertips.
Get a small piece of chocolate or a fresh apple. As you hold it in your hand, first note how it feels. (Is the surface smooth and soft or is it rough and textured?) Then, notice how it smells. Place it on your tongue or take a bite. Focus on how it sounds, tastes, and feels as you chew.
Go for a walk outside. (The act of walking is processed contralaterally in the brain. That is, movement in your left leg triggers activity in the right side of your brain, and vice versa. This is a great way to reboot your system.) Move mindfully, noticing the ways in which your arms sway and your feet lift off the ground. Act like you are seeing, hearing, and smelling for the first time. What new details did you pick up on? In what ways do you move and interact with all that activity around you?
Act like you are seeing, hearing, and smelling for the first time.
I practiced this a couple of weeks ago and found that once I shut off those voices of criticism in my head, I could hear leaves rustling on the ground. I felt the breeze on my skin. I smelled muffins as I passed a bakery.
Either use an accessory you regularly wear or don something new. Make that item your own secret reminder to stay present and mindful—a vow not to be caught up in your thoughts when you could be enjoying the richness of the present. Simply go about your day, and if ever you catch a glimpse of your special item (e.g., the bracelet), take a short moment to go within and breathe. The past has passed. The future has yet to come. You are right here, right now.