I think many of us have been rocked by the news coming from Gaza and Israel these last two weeks. The pain and suffering are devastating. There’s no easy summary for any of it, no neat way to tie it up and walk away.
Like so many other pivotal moments in our modern world, this is when I find it most challenging to connect to practices that I know would help ground me. I find it much easier to sit in front of my computer, feeling increasingly overwhelmed and stuck in the loops of “what can I do?” There are, of course, many outward facing things we can do depending on interest and ability, but I’d like to share two internal practices that I believe can be just as important in helping us to stay balanced and ready to show up to that work in our global community.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” - Audre Lorde
* I’d like to clarify that I’m not a teacher of meditation or breathwork, but these practices have been fundamental to my own groundedness over the last decade. There are skilled teachers at Brownstone if you have an interest in deepening your understanding of mindfulness practices. (I've recently taken classes with Shanthi Rao and Tansy Foster, and both of them beautifully incorporated elements of meditation and breathwork in their teaching).
Pranayama is the ancient yogic practice of controlling one's breath. There are many styles, rhythms and lengths, but 4-7-8 breath is regarded by many medical professionals as one of the most powerful ways to engage our parasympathetic nervous system (i.e., our natural stress-relief response).
You can practice 4-7-8 breathing anywhere, any time. If you’re new to breathwork, try starting with just three or four cycles at a time and work your way up as you get used to the sensations of constricting your breath. This is my personal go-to whenever I feel anxiety building in my body, whenever I’m getting frustrated, or whenever I struggle to fall asleep.
Find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
Close your lips and inhale through your nose for a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth making a whooshing sound for a count of eight.
This completes one cycle.
Also known as Metta, loving-kindness is a Buddhist practice that cultivates goodwill towards ourselves and all other life forms. One of the core aspirations of a loving-kindness meditation practice is to foster an open and fearless heart and to help us, as individuals, manage conflict by taking things less personally.
There are many teachers, online and in-person, who have their own spin on loving-kindness, but the basic approach is that we call loving, tender attention to ourselves, and then slowly expand this attention out, to all living beings. Some teachers make this practice slightly more challenging by explicitly asking us to focus our love on someone we're having a difficult time with. A typical phrase someone might repeat during a loving-kindness practice is “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I live a life full of ease,” and then “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live a life full of ease.”
The Buddha claimed that a loving-kindness practice could help meditators sleep better, concentrate more easily, and increase affection in their life, and modern science backs this up. From increasing feelings of social connectedness to helping people in the midst of many psychological struggles, loving-kindness proves to be a simple and powerful tool.
You can try developing your own script, but if you’d like to follow along with someone else while you begin to understand the format, Tara Brach is a well-regarded teacher of Buddhist meditation. This practice is a short and sweet sample.
Sending peace and love to you all.