§ We came to this world to LIVE OUT LOUD.
My Secret to Eliminating My Anxiety
As I sat meditating for ten hours straight on a straw mat in a smoke-filled teepee in the lush Colombian rainforest while the meditation leader chanted and rhythmically beat a drum, I was aware of only one thing: how much my body ached.
I had come to this 24-hour meditation retreat with the intention of loosening up the knot of anxiety that has been creeping back into my life as my business, and the demands it places on my time and energy, grows.
I wanted to rest and rejuvenate, to reconnect with my heart energy (as opposed to the do-do-do head energy I have been living in lately) and to get some insights and a new perspective on how I could restructure my mental models to release control and allow more room for things to flow without me pushing so hard.
I ultimately got what I came for and more but the process was very different than I had expected.
We were an intimate group of 4 women and one brave man who were pretty much confined to the teepee for ten silent hours straight with no food and no water. We could sit or lay down but we couldn’t leave the teepee other than to use the bathroom facilities quickly and come back. Whatever thoughts or feelings that came up during the meditation were to be symbolically thrown into the fire that burned in the middle of the teepee and filled it with smoke.
The meditation leader was very strict about these rules and made disapproving comments any time we spoke to each other or laughed or went to the bathroom.
“Why do you go to the bathroom so much?” she would ask. “What are you trying to escape?”
I came to this retreat expecting spiritual connection and profound insight but I found myself really angry at this “controlling and judgmental” wise woman. My inner rebel was out in full force and I found myself giggling and talking (and going to the bathroom!) way more than usual. I even snuck a bite of an apple I had brought.
I also found myself in a lot of low grade physical pain. I couldn’t seem to get comfortable no matter how I sat or laid. Something always hurt and tugged at me and there was nothing else to do but sit there and be aware of it.
After a few hours of tortured fidgeting and cursing out the wise woman in my mind, I had the epiphany I came for:
I am not comfortable in my body. Ever.
Even though I eat healthy (while doing something else) and exercise and stretch (while focusing my attention on a phone call or a podcast), I usually ignore my body. I don’t pay attention when it has little aches and pains and I spend most of my time with my focus and energy in my head, dropping occasionally down to my heart.
I don’t fully inhabit my body.
I often don’t listen to its wisdom expressed through subtle energetic shifts and aches or pains.
I allow my head to run the show and “figure it all out” way too often.
Could this be the source of my anxiety?
I came home from the retreat determined to make some changes. My body wanted to make sure that I would be good to my word and continued to hurt and express its exhaustion for two days after the retreat. Just in case I was tempted to wimp out.
Here are the changes I decided to make (and have stuck to religiously):
1. Paying attention to my body
Every morning when I wake up, I take a minute or two to scan my entire body with my hands, focusing my awareness on every part and major organ system and thanking it for the job that it does to allow me to live and do what I want to do in the world.
I also make it a point to be mindful and pay attention to how my body feels when I shower, when I rub lotion on it, when I dress it and soft material touches my skin.
All this is connecting me with the sensory pleasures of the body and the joys of my sensual nature.
2. Eating mindfully
I have been spending the first 5 minutes of every meal eating in silence, really tasting the food and noticing how it feels to eat it. What are the smells like? The feelings of anticipation as saliva begins to flow? The textures and tastes as the food touches my palate? How much do I chew before I swallow? How do I feel in my body after I eat the food?
3. Moving mindfully
Even though I may be doing other things as I walk to where I am going or walk up the stairs, I still make it a point to notice how my body feels in these movements. Is it tired? Energized? Waking up? Asking for rest?
I also started to really pay attention to how my body feels as I stretch and do my yoga poses every day. It has helped me really appreciate my body’s flexibility and also notice how differently my body feels from day to day and moment to moment.
4. Grounding my energy
I have made it a point several times every day and especially when I am writing, creating a workshop or solving a challenge (which keeps me in major “head energy”) to stand up, feel the ground under my feet and visualize my energy moving down from my head through my entire body to the bottoms of my feet and deep into the Earth. This helps me get out of my head and into my body, grounding it in Mother Earth.
It also immediately lessens my worry or any anxious feelings I may be experiencing. I firmly believe that the genesis of my anxiety is in my head.
5. Taking action on the information my body is giving me
With every choice I make, I am learning to honor my body’s needs and requests. When I am tired, I put down what I am doing and take a 30-minute power nap instead of reaching for a cup of coffee. When my body wants to rest, I take a break from my work-out and go for a leisurely stroll.
When it wants to move, I haul butt up the stairs to our apartment on the 10th floor. If it wants red meat, I eat a little (even though I mostly eat vegetarian) and then I make sure to take an iron supplement the next morning. If it’s tired in the evening after my girls have gone to bed, I put away all the work and just read or watch a show on Netflix. No judgement, just listening.?
I can honestly say that these practices have not only lessened my anxiety and allowed me to be way more peaceful and productive as I create an online course on a tight deadline, plan workshops on three different continents, write a book, work with my clients, run my business, manage my three-person team, plan several major family trips to the US, Europe and Africa this year all while mothering my girls and getting individual time with each, connecting with my husband and running the household. They have also allowed me to be way more peaceful, joyful and spontaneous.
My body is teaching me to go with the flow. After years of trying to use my mind to handle my anxiety, I am letting my body do the work and the results have astounded me.
What about you? What helps you handle your anxiety?
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.