Alexis Novak is a yoga instructor, NASM-CPT, and mobility enthusiast. As a contributor for THE/THIRTY, Alexis will be sharing her knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, and meditation to help you find your own personal balance between strength and serenity. Her approach to wellness is to simplify and keep a sense of humor. This month, she shares how to ground yourself quickly—even in the face of chaos.
After the days, weeks, months, and year we've had, I have ample inspiration and fuel to write this. Devastating news is constantly being thrown at us; the internet riddled with undeniable amounts of suffering. It's nearly impossible for us to not be impacted by all of this painful information. I'm at a loss on how or what exactly to do to help, so I'm using my resources in an attempt to serve as a friend in compassion and support of your stamina and resilience—which is, by the way, the resistance. We attune ourselves to the things we're exposed to, so my intention is to expose you to some serenity, to down-regulate your nervous system, and to energetically ground you in the seemingly bottomless whirlwind of chaos that surrounds us.
This will be interactive, and I encourage you to try it.
Find somewhere comfortable to sit. If you're at work or in public, adjust yourself so you're as comfortable as possible. Imagine that the crown of your head has a string coming out of it and it's being lifted up to help you sit at your tallest setting. Draw your attention to your shoulder blades, and visualize them wrapping around your back. (No need to shove the shoulders down or over articulate puffing in your chest.) The scapula (the anatomical term for shoulder blade) is resting on your upper back, supporting your rib basket (cage). Close your eyes, and observe your native breathing for 15 or more full inhale and exhale breaths. Come back to the page when you feel ready.
Lift the corners of your mouth. (You are doing great.)
Next, place your finger tips on the center of your rib cage (the space where both sides of the rib basket meet). Cough—the muscle that jumped under your fingers is your thoracic diaphragm. Feel free to relax your hands. The diaphragm muscle lays perfectly on the inside of your ribs, and acts as a parachute to expand and contract your lungs. The diaphragm is also connected to the intercostal muscles and the abdominal wall all the way down to our pelvic floor. When you're breathing "properly," you're activating the lungs, and engaging and elongating an entire chain of muscles down the trunk.
If you're struggling to keep up, try this visualization exercise.
Imagine there's an accordion vertically inside your chest. One side's handle is at the center axis of your rib cage, and the other is at your pubic symphysis (the center axis of your pelvis). As you inhale, imagine that the accordion is expanding with fresh new oxygen, and as you exhale, releasing a layer you no longer need. Close your eyes, and do this for 20 long full breaths. Return to the page when you feel ready.
Next, let's focus on the shoulders and neck.
Without even noticing it, we hold tension in our shoulders and neck. It makes sense, because when we're stressed, we're not taking in as much oxygen as we should be; therefore our shoulders lift in hopes of filling our beautiful lungs with a little bit more. Adjust yourself so you are comfortable again on your seat. Tuck your chin toward your chest, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Slowly micro-shake your head side to side. Allow for your micro-shake to build into a head and neck roll; maintain this steady and controlled rhythm. Find your way back to the page when you're ready.
Finally, don't forget to show yourself some gratitude.
Rub your palms together to create some heat, energy, and inspiration. Interlace your fingers and place them on your chest, the center of your heart space. Breathe here. Tell yourself something you are proud of, something kind, and something funny.
And remember: You're not alone.