The prolonged stress of physical distancing, a looming pandemic, a tumbling economy, and long-overdue conversations about and attempts to redress the racist systems in American culture has a lot of us feeling off balance. I recently had to start making some larger lifestyle adjustments simply because my ‘normal’ methods of supporting my own mental health weren’t cutting it anymore. I find that I’m coming back to some of my fundamentals – exercises and practices I learned a long time ago that had been collecting a little dust through disuse. I have also been paying attention to some new (to me) techniques for stress reduction that are starting to gain more prominence as the need for them increases.
I would like to share with you a few techniques I’m using right now that seem to be helping. One is more practical and physical, two are visualization-based and come from my early training in mysticism. I hope they are helpful for you.
This is a new technique for me, but I have found it to be quite effective. Havening (as in ‘to create a haven or safe place’) uses physical touch and movement to reduce stress and anxiety. Our bodies respond to soothing touch in remarkable ways. We know that without physical contact, mental health decreases dramatically and lack of touch can increase our risk for illness and even death. Havening introduces soothing touch through a few different movements. To practice Havening, you will want to begin by washing your hands since you will be touching your body.
Start by slowly rubbing the palms of your hands together. You are not trying to generate heat or rub vigorously. Use the same speed and pressure you would use to soothe a friend or loved one. Then, transition to running your hands from your shoulders to your elbows. Rather than rubbing back up your arms, repeat the motion from your shoulders to elbows again. Continue to soothe your body from shoulder to elbow using that same pressure level and speed as before. Using the fingertips of both hands, start at the top of your forehead and gently run your fingertips down the sides of your face to your chin. Repeat that movement of forehead to chin. You can also run your fingertips along your cheekbones and down to your chin.
Set a timer for a few minutes and practice Havening. As the movements become more fluid and intuitive, you can also focus on taking deep, slow breaths. Some people find it useful to say soothing words to themselves while they are Havening like ‘safe,’ ‘peaceful,’ ‘hopeful,’ and ‘calm.’
More information about Havening can be found here. The video below leads a Havening practice you can follow along with.
Life energy (prana, chi, or ki in other languages) flows through our bodies similarly to blood circulating through our organs. Our physical bodies move resources through our physical anatomy: passageways like veins and arteries and gathering points like large organs. Similarly, our energy body moves life energy through our energetic anatomy – an anatomical system that overlays the physical system. Different cultures have developed different ways of describing this energetic anatomy. The system I learned on is the chakras and it remains the system I use to this day.
The chakras are a system of energy centers and connecting passageways sometimes called meridians. The chakras are most frequently visualized as spinning wheels of light. There are seven main chakras in the energy body (think of them like the larger physical organs – the heart, lungs, and liver) and they are associated with specific properties and colors. Just as damage to an organ in our physical body will cause us distress, a damaged or overworked chakra can have a psychospiritual effect. For an overview of the chakras, click here. For more in-depth study, I recommend Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith.
I use two main visualization techniques for balancing my chakras. The first is called Even Light and is a good fit for smaller windows of time. The second is called Heal the Lotus and is better suited to a longer meditation time.
This meditation contains some information about each chakra as we go through them. Once you know the basic sequence, you can perform this exercise quite quickly.
Sit comfortably and relax your body. Allow your breathing to deepen and lengthen. Release any points of tension you notice as you breathe.
Draw your awareness to the base of your spine. Visualize a red glow there. This is the root chakra and it relates to your raw life force – your ability to survive. A strong root chakra helps us feel stable and grounded. Imagine that red glow growing brighter and stronger. Allow it to expand like a disc or wheel with your spine at the center. Visualize that red wheel of light as bright, strong, and spinning evenly.
Draw your awareness to just below your navel. Visualize an orange glow there. This is the belly chakra and it governs sexuality, pleasure, and creativity. A strong belly chakra helps us connect intimately with others and bring new ideas into fruition. Visualize that orange glow growing brighter and stronger. Allow it to expand like a disc or wheel with your spine at the center. Visualize that orange wheel of light becoming the same size and brightness and possessing the same spin as your root chakra. See both wheels spinning together harmoniously.
Direct your awareness to your solar plexus – the space just below where your rib cage separates. Visualize a yellow glow there. This is the solar plexus chakra and it governs our willpower and confidence. A strong solar plexus chakra supports our ability to make and then follow through on our decisions confidently. It is also associated with manifesting our desires. Visualize that yellow glow growing brighter and stronger. Allow it to expand like a disc or wheel with your spine at the center. Visualize that yellow wheel of light becoming the same size and brightness and possessing the same spin as your root and belly chakras. See all three wheels spinning together harmoniously.
Draw your awareness to your heart. Visualize a green glow there. This is the heart chakra and it governs our capacity for love and compassion. A strong heart chakra allows us to emotionally connect to others and both generates and attracts love and compassion. This chakra is also the bridge between the lower and upper chakras. The chakras further down the spine are associated with our basic needs and drives. Our upper chakras are associated with more cerebral and spiritual matters and the heart is the link between the two worlds. Visualize the green glow of your heart chakra growing brighter and stronger. Allow it to expand like a disc or wheel with your spine at the center. Visualize that green wheel of light becoming the same size and brightness and possessing the same spin as your root, belly, and solar plexus chakras. See all four wheels spinning together harmoniously.
Draw your awareness to the base of your throat. Visualize a blue glow there. This is the throat chakra and it relates to communication of all kinds. A strong throat chakra supports our ability to communicate authentically and compassionately. Visualize that blue glow growing brighter and stronger. Allow it to expand like a disc or wheel with your spine at the center. Visualize that blue wheel of light becoming the same size and brightness and possessing the same spin as the other chakras. See all five wheels spinning together harmoniously.
Direct your awareness to the center of your forehead. Visualize an indigo glow there. This is the third eye chakra and it governs intuition and imagination. A strong third eye chakra supports good discernment and use of intuition. It also helps us visualize, dream and see larger themes in our lives. Visualize that indigo glow growing brighter and stronger. Allow it to expand like a disc or wheel centered along with the other chakras. Visualize that indigo wheel of light becoming the same size and brightness and possessing the same spin as the other chakras. See all six wheels spinning together harmoniously.
Draw your awareness to the top of your head. Visualize a violet glow that shifts to white further from your body. This is your crown chakra. A strong crown chakra governs our spirituality and our sense of connection to the greater All – our Higher Self, the Gods, our sense of purpose and our true alignment. Visualize that violet to white glow growing brighter and stronger. Allow it to expand like a disc or wheel centered along with the other chakras. Visualize your crown chakra becoming the same size and brightness and possessing the same spin as the other chakras. See all seven wheels spinning together harmoniously.
Raise your shields to help protect your newly-balanced energy body.
Heal the Lotus
One more mystical interpretation of the chakras is that along with being energy centers in our energetic anatomy, they are also ‘places’ that can be visited in meditation. Think of them like connected clearings in the woods along a path, or like the rooms in a house connected by hallways. In Hindu tradition (and the modern yoga practice derived from it), each chakra is represented by a lotus – a flower with broad petals shaped a bit like teardrops – in the color of that chakra.
To balance my chakras, I go to the home of each chakra. This location will look different for each person. For example, my root chakra is a tropical jungle full of red flowers, heat, and birdsong, with a volcano rumbling nearby. My belly chakra is a warm cave with a fire ring at its center. My solar plexus chakra takes the form of a field of daffodils under a perfectly blue sky. My heart chakra is a deep green Appalachian forest full of mossy boulders.
Somewhere in the home of each chakra, there is a shining lotus. When I visit my chakras, the lotus is at the center of the chakra ‘room’ or ‘land’ floating above a pedestal.
To perform the Heal the Lotus meditation, begin at your root chakra. Travel to that chakra’s home and notice what form it takes. Then, seek out the lotus. The lotus in the root chakra will be ruby red. Notice if the lotus is showing any signs of damage or wear. Visualize yourself gently healing, cleaning, and smoothing the lotus petals until it is shining, bright and healthy.
Work your way up your spine from the root chakra. Visit each chakra, notice what that home is like, seek out the lotus there, and heal it.
When you are finished, shield yourself to protect your newly recharged chakra system.
This method of energy balancing takes longer simply because we spend more time exploring our chakras and tending to the lotuses contained therein.
I hope these balancing techniques have been helpful for you. Are there any exercises you’re relying on right now to help support your mental, emotional and spiritual health? Hit me up in the comments.
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