You know, for all the yoga and mindfulness practices I do and teach, I struggle with accepting the reality of how quickly time passes. I pulled into Whole Foods today, and what was on display for sale outside of the store? Christmas trees! Already! I am not ready for Christmas trees, guys! Heck, I am not even ready for Thanksgiving next week.
That feeling of "not being ready" gets under my skin and lands in the pit of my stomach. And that's the exact moment I drop out of the present moment and become trapped in a mind tailspin that can generate a pretty strong momentum. I become overwhelmed and disconnected. I live in my head instead of reality.
What I'm finally coming around to realize is that it's just not worth it to become so overwhelmed. Nothing good or useful comes out of it.
So, in advance of the holiday season (knowing that I tend to feel more overwhelmed this time of year) I started practicing pouring my focus elsewhere when I feel a mind tailspin coming on. I'm placing my attention on my hands, to be exact. I know, that's the last thing you expected me to say, right!?
Well, here's why: We use our hands to give, prepare, offer, create, share, greet, and pray. At the end of yoga class we pause with our hands at heart center to connect with one another in a peacefully profound way. Our hands also prepare our food and feed our bodies, minds, and souls. When done with presence and sincerity, these actions come from a place of pure goodness.
But, as you know, we also can use our hands in ungiving ways, too. We clench our fists or wring our hands when we feel stressed or other hard feelings. We push food away or eat mindlessly with them.
If any part of what I’m describing (clenched hands, spinning thoughts, angst at holidays) is familiar to you, I share with you the 3 simple grounding exercises I've been practicing. They will help to keep yourself present, calm, and grounded in reality. The best part about these exercises is that they only include your hands, and when done mindfully, can calm your nervous system and help you stay open to the experience before you.
Firmly press your hands together and bring your awareness to the feeling of palm into palm, fingertips into fingertips. Take a few moments to stay focused on the feeling of your hands pressing into one another as you take 10 deep breaths in and out. Count the breaths to help deepen your focus and detach from stressful worries about the impending meal.
Stay with this hand position and your breath for as long as you need, and remember that you can return to it againas many times as is helpful to ground again.
Thumb to Finger Counts
Sit or stand still in a comfortable position. Close your eyes if you prefer. With one or both hands, connect your thumb to your index finger. Slowly tap your thumb one at a time to each finger. Bring all your concentration to this simple action and repeat “I am calm” (or another affirmation that resonates with you) as you move from finger to finger and repeat several times.
You can vary the speed of this exercises from slow to fast, depending on what helps you relax most. I like to do this before a big holiday meal, but it is also helpful to do during a meal under the table with the hand that’s not holding a utensil. The concentration it takes to do this exercise will help shift your mind away from thoughts and emotions that pull you off your center.
Many of us carry tension in our hands without even realizing it. We hold our hands as fists, subconsciously prepared to fight. We might even hold such tight fists that we dig our nails into our palms. All that clenching travels up our arms and into our necks, shoulders, and upper back, causing muscle pain and tightness.
Take a few moments to physically relax your hands and upper body. Open your hands, spread your fingers, and firmly (but not forcefully) place your hands against something solid, like a wall or table. Take several deep breaths and purposefully relax your shoulders, neck, jaw, and eyes.
Hold this simple connection between your hands and a solid structure until you feel grounded and more relaxed than when you started this exercise. You can also press your hands into a family member’s or someone you trust and take several grounding breaths together.
These simple grounding exercises will help you pause, get a grip, and continue from a place of calm and centeredness. I understand that they may not take away all the agitation that you feel. They will, however, help focus that intensely frenetic emotional energy by calming your mind, easing muscle tension, and creating a mindful pause to center and ground yourself. And, you may need to do one or all of them multiple times to get grounded. No big deal at all! Uses your hands give yourself calm, which is a true gift to those around us as well. Use your hands to connect to your heart center; only good can come from that intention.