Everyday Ways to Settle Your Energy
When I began full-time freelancing in 2016, I remember being glad that, when I drove into my neighborhood, the entry street sloped slightly downward the whole way to my place, so I could coast that last little bit to get home. Buses became a staple, and I sold some treasures online to help make up for the fact that I was making a quarter of what I’d made while working full-time at a university. A primal fear of getting into a financial bind was running the show, and it felt for several years like I was slamming myself into this brick wall of fear, over and over.
To help undo the deer-in-the-headlights moments that still come on the financial front at times, I developed a habit of recalling things I was grateful for. I also revisited quick ways I’d learned to ground my energies throughout the day, which can help in feeling more whole despite outside circumstances. Just like setting your clothes out the night before a busy workday can make things go more smoothly, these quick grounding dips can improve the moment at hand. You might not be able to change the fact that your boss just let you know she needs a report a week earlier than expected, for instance, or that your car’s battery inexplicably died on the way to an important meeting; but you definitely can influence how you approach any given moment.
Quick Grounding Tips
Among the quick dips to feeling more settled are to:
Put a hand across your forehead while in a relaxing position such as sitting or lying down. Popping a hand on your forehead is something you might do naturally when you forget a meeting or are otherwise upset at yourself. It is called the Emotional Stress Response in self-healing approaches such as Touch for Health, and is said to get you out of more primitive emotional states such as fear and anger.
Gently hold the balls of your feet, along the big-toe side of their inner edge. This is where the kidney meridian starts. Oftentimes massage therapists will “reground” clients at the end of a session by resting their palms on the soles of the clients’ feet for just this reason.
If you are really worked up, tap or rub the skin where your cheek bones are on your face, just below the pupil of your eye. This is where the stomach meridian starts, and that meridian can go out of balance during emotional upset.
Connect fully to the chair, the floor or whatever surface you are on, with a focus on feeling how it is supporting you in that moment. This is one version of being more mindful.
Rest your hands on your hara (hah rah, or lower dantian in yoga) and focus your mind there to settle down. The hara is about 2 inches below your navel. In Japanese medical and martial arts, it is considered the spiritual center of the body. On the less wholesome front, that is the reason some ancient samurai would gut themselves if they felt they had done something dishonorable, committing hara kiri (hah rah keeree; often mispronounced as hairy kairy) as a form of ritual suicide. Eight of the 12 main meridians, or lines of energy, that run through the body and are important for balancing your energy run through this region.
Try some of these approaches when you can, and you’ll likely find a few that will meet your mindfulness needs. Regardless of which ones work best, give yourself a huge mental high five for adding them into your life regularly, which in some ways matters more than their immediate benefits. Fitting in a quick grounding fix means you have been present to the moment enough to recognize that you’re feeling unsettled in some way and have done something healthy about it. This is a huge step when it comes to developing self-awareness.
The Courage of Internal Connection
And why shouldn’t you take time to touch base with yourself? After all, you are inherently special. As the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, noted in one of his poems translated by John Stevens, “The Divine is within you … Unite yourself to the Divine, and you will be able to perceive Gods wherever you are.” Nowadays, courage is often defined by someone risking their life by dashing into a busy street to rescue a toddler or some other physically risky challenge. But taking care of yourself, in a world where we are mostly valued for meeting other peoples’ expectations, is its own form of courage.
Most of us, I suspect, believe we aren’t worthy of connection in the sense of thinking we don’t deserve something — perhaps a great partner, being paid attention to in general, financial success, or being connected to our higher self (or a higher power, if that’s in your belief system). Grounding practices cut right past those core limiting beliefs and reaffirm your worth.
The Ultimate Connector
In addition to considering the other off-the-cuff approaches to settling your energy that I mentioned in my last post on grounding, I encourage you to give meditation a try. When done in relatively short, repeated episodes,* meditation can magnify your sense of self-connection, while taking you a leap forward toward greater self-understanding, patience, self-confidence and more.
As with other grounding approaches, regular meditation helps you to step into the moment. It is used in the Seidokan style of Aikido I've trained in for decades, and moves you away from a habit of steeping yourself in unhelpful mental thoughts. If you think of a herd of wild horses, many people consider the stallion the one in charge. But it’s actually a mare, usually an older one, that’s in charge. The mind is like a boisterous, showy stallion that wants to keep you hyperfocused on things that often aren't helpful, and the more grounded wisdom in your body, like the wise lead mare.
Meditation helps you connect more fully to your timeless self, while giving you space to separate from your thoughts and feelings and to analyze them. This allows you to put things into proper perspective. The end result is putting your mind and spirit, if you will, in better balance with your body.
What meditation isn’t
There are myths about meditation that can keep people from giving it a try, though. A biggie is that it’s boring with a capital “b.” Although some meditation styles favor doing the same thing over and over, you can choose whichever meditation approach you want, or to vary up your approach within the same session or between sessions, while figuring out options that fit your personality and lifestyle best.
One category of meditation has you practice developing a concentrated focus on something (in the case of Himalayan Meditation or Samatha meditation done by Buddhists, the focus is on your breath, while in transcendental meditation, a mantra becomes the focus). The other broad category teaches you how to be more aware of the present moment. Formal mindfulness meditation approaches include mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
Another myth is that meditating is somehow self-indulgent. That’s just society talking at you about how your life should be; there is nothing obsessive about caring for yourself enough to spend time getting to know the you behind your everyday thoughts.
There’s also the notion that mindfulness will hurt, psychologically or physically. You are seeking to step out of the ego’s tendency to keep you focused on stories – to get out of the monkey mind mode of obsessing over fears of what might happen, past wrongs, and so on. And a certain level of anxiety or other negative feelings can come up with mindfulness forms of meditation, for example.
In terms of it being physically painful, you can say no to an approach like Vipassana meditation, which focuses on exploring your reactions to things and seeing them as they are; that is, if your legs start to hurt while sitting in a long Vipassana meditation, you’d be advised to put your mind instead on objectively scanning the sensations in your body as you review your body parts in a specific order. Lastly, meditation is not about controlling your thoughts, as they will invariably surface no matter how long you’ve been in regular practice.
How meditation plays out
In fact, it is the process of accepting your humanness for struggling to get your mind to focus on meditation, on doing nothing by society’s standards, that teaches you self-patience. That can be a huge step to accepting your foibles in general. The idea of giving up on the concept of controlling your thoughts can also bleed into other parts of life, such as how you approach relationships.
It’s a concept that is fundamental to working with an attacker in Aikido as well – that it’s best to “go with the flow” of an attack rather than to expend extra energy forcing the situation down what could become a more destructive path. Learning to meditate also resembles Aikido in that the practices force you to step out of long-term habits, which can help you develop a more flexible mindset (Aikido principles often have a mental side like this to the physical benefits, as I’ll cover more in a future post on how that flexibility relates to the martial spirit of Aikido).
Ultimately, meditation reduces mind wandering, helping you to focus more clearly on the moment you are in. Given that life is, at its most basic level, a series of moments lived one after the other, what better way to enhance your experiences than to gain a better connection to each precious one?
By Barbra A. Rodriguez
*Growing research suggests that meditation practices can be harmful to some people, particularly more lengthy, intense versions of it. I’d recommend reading up on this topic and being particularly careful if you have something like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder – although there’s not enough research now to confirm this puts you at greater risk of harm. Regardless of your mental health history, seek medical advice if you have any concerns about developing a meditation practice, or start to isolate yourself while developing a meditation practice, lose your general range of emotions or have other troubling signs.