Stressed? Depleted? Us too. These restorative practices are designed to help you replenish yourself.
Breathe Yourself Calm
Want to get more nourishment from your breath?
By Kalia Kelmenson
Chances are, as you read this you are not breathing in a way that fuels your body. In all likelihood, your breathing pattern is less than ideal, causing your already overtaxed nervous system to become even more stressed. Richie Bostock is the author of Exhale: 40 Breathwork Exercises to Help You Find Your Calm, Supercharge Your Health, and Perform at Your Best. He explains that most people do not get the most from the 27,000 or so breaths they take in a day.
Bostock watches a lot of people breathe. “Eighty percent of the general population breathe in a way that is anatomically suboptimal, leading to unnecessary physical, mental, and emotional distress,” he says. “The most common dysfunctional breathing pattern I see is a chest or clavicular breathing pattern, which is very common in people who are chronically stressed.”
This type of breathing, where the shoulders lift and the chest expands, causes overuse of the secondary breathing muscles in the chest, upper back, and neck, which ultimately leads to pain and tension in these areas. In addition, “this style of breathing is neurologically linked to sending the body into a stress response by activating your sympathetic nervous system,” Bostock says. In other words, even without external stressors, this type of breathing puts your body into a state of hyperarousal.
Your breath is a wellness tool you carry with you wherever you go. When harnessed effectively, it can bring health and vitality to nearly every system in your body. Slowly breathing into your belly, specifically lengthening the exhale, can stimulate the vagus nerve, the largest nerve in your body, which is central to your ability to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. When you are in this state, also known as rest and digest, blood flow is shuttled to your organs, you feel calm, and your entire system is fortified, creating the conditions necessary for healing.
Here’s how to breathe optimally all day long:
- Breathe low—down into the belly first, feeling your lower ribs and abdomen expand.
- Breathe slow—between 9–12 breaths per minute.
- Breathe through the nose—that’s what it’s there for!
- Let go of your exhale—don’t blow out your exhale, just relax and let the air escape naturally.
Research on the technique of coherence breathing has shown how breathing at a rate of five breaths per minute can help you balance your nervous system in just a matter of minutes. When you’re feeling stressed:
- Inhale through your nose for six seconds.
- Exhale through your nose for six seconds.
Repeat this cycle for at least three minutes, but there really is no limit as to how long you can go.
If six seconds feels like a struggle, reduce the inhales and exhales to five or four seconds and get comfortable breathing at that rate first. You can then gradually build it up to six seconds.
Need a Nap? Take One!
The nap ministry wants the world to know that napping is a sacred, and even rebellious, practice.
By Kathryn Drury Wagner
In a culture that tells us to push our bodies and minds to the brink, Tricia Hersey sees rest as resistance. She is the founder of the Nap Ministry, drawing on her background as a theologian, activist, artist, and community healer. Hersey started the Nap Ministry in 2016 and has guided hundreds of group events around the country that remind us how sacred sleep is—and that we have the right to rest our human forms.
As a master of divinity student at Emory in 2013, Hersey began napping as a way to survive. She was simply exhausted, and she started napping around campus. But she also started to connect the dots between napping, the work she was doing in the archives at Emory, and her studies in Black liberation theory, cultural trauma, somatics, and womanism. “In some of the historical documents at Emory, I saw what capitalism was built on,” says Hersey. “The records of a child being sold for $5 and a horse for $100, the firsthand accounts of enslaved people having to work 20 hours a day. People treated like they were machines picking cotton. I started to see sleep as reparations for my ancestors, whose dream time was stolen from them.”
“Capitalism and white supremacy have placed a trauma onto us, that we must be like machines, and we have internalized that,” Hersey adds. “We are all brain-washed—not just Black people, but all people. Napping is against that lie. It’s a toxic system. Rest is a healing portal to invention and it’s when we are able to tap into other dimensions. We can connect with our creator.
From a biological standpoint, it is when our bodies do the most magical things. Rest is a meticulous love practice. It is a spiritual practice.” You don’t have to attend one of the Nap Ministry’s events to reclaim deep, restorative rest. “Look at the opportunity to see rest as a right. It’s not a privilege.” Hersey tells people to plan out their naps. “Write it down; it’s a sacred text. Think: What could I do or not do today to make time for my rest practice? Napping, daydreaming. Train your body to see that time as yours. Put your phone on do not disturb. Set a timer. Be intentional. The time to rest is now.”
Take a Moment for an Ayurvedic Head Massage
Explore Shiro Abhyanga, a powerful tool for nourishing the mind.
By Kate O'Donnell
In ayurveda, therapies are essentially of two kinds: apatarpana (reducing) and santarpana (building). In cases of stress, nutritional deficiency, and weakness, ayurvedic medicine advises an increase in earth and water elements and their slow, dense, and unctuous qualities. These qualities are found in nourishing, warm, moist, oily foods; in quiet time; and in the king of santarpana: oil.
You may have heard of abhyanga, ayurveda’s self- massage technique. There are many benefits in extending this nourishing therapy to your head. This technique is especially useful for relaxation and stress relief. Most therapies for nourishing your mind generally involve the head, as it is the home to four of the five sense organs.
Oiling of your scalp, ears, and nose can be used to calm your mind; plus, you’ll get the bonus of improving the luster of your hair and promoting its growth.
Because oiling your scalp requires a good shampooing to follow, practice the head massage one or two times weekly, when it is convenient for you to wash your hair after, such as a weekend morning. When sleep is a problem, head massage can be an excellent way to calm your mind at bedtime. Your head can be wrapped in an old towel, scarf, or hat, and the oil can be washed out in the morning, but take care not to let your head get cold in the night. Head massage with oil is contraindicated in cases of congestion, illness, brain fog, or lethargy.
Melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a small vessel or ramekin. If you run cold, refined sesame oil or an herbal hair oil such as amalaki oil is also a good choice. Slightly warm the oil if it is cold out. Remove any hair ties, and brush tangles out of the hair. Begin by gently kneading your shoulders and neck with circular motions a few times. Dip your fingers into the oil and distribute it evenly over your fingertips. Spread your fingers, and work your hands into your hair on either side of your head, above the ears, fingers facing up. With a shampoo- like action, work your fingertips to the crown of your head. “Shampoo” the scalp around the crown of your head gently with oiled fingertips until you have covered the top of your head, which is the most important part of the scalp. Dip your fingers into the oil again and “shampoo” the rest of the scalp until finished; this should take five minutes or more. Rub a bit of the oil onto your entire ear with small circular motions, and slide your pinky tips into your ear hole to coat it with oil. Wrap your head if it’s bedtime, or relax for 10 to 30 minutes with the oil on your head.
To clean your hair, apply shampoo first to dry hair and work into the first 2 inches or so of your hair. Add a small bit of water to make suds and shampoo. Add more water as needed to get enough suds for your whole head. If you have thick hair, you may need to shampoo again to remove the oil. Sesame oil may require a bit more shampooing than coconut oil.
Note to Self: Write Notes to Self
By Kathy Cano-Murillo
This is a message from your future self:
Hey you! Everything is absolutely fabulous over here, thanks to you! All that work you put into self- care and your daily affirmations really paid off— and guess what? We are really doing all the things! I’m so happy you recognized the value of self-love and celebrating all the good things in your daily life. Every bit of your thoughts and energy created glittery momentum for us. I can’t wait for you to get here and experience it all!
Do you ever receive messages from your future self? If not, you should! It’s smart to always have an end goal, but I like to bring it to life. I often take my end goal and then envision it unfolding in my life. That’s the image I keep in my head as I work toward turning my dreams into action.
One of my favorite methods is keeping a simple daily journal. We’re talking basic. I love this process, and I know you will too. Your thoughts are doing all the work. The rest is your natural creative energy.
Small blank journal of your choice Assorted watercolors or markers Paintbrush
Fine-line permanent pen Artful stamps with an ink pad Ephemera and glue stick Scissors
Open the cover of the book and create an introductory page. Use this page to write a letter from your future self to your present-day self. Be your own cheerleader. Word it as though all your goals and hard work have paid off and be specific about the outcome—the good things for which you are ever so thankful. Even write out the challenges you overcame. You can use one page or a couple. Do your best not to edit. Let your future self-speak.
You can also journal about what is going on in present-day life. Know that sometimes it takes a bit of time to warm up, so relax and just freehand how you are feeling in the moment. Then add what you are working on and what you would like to achieve. It can be ideas big or small. This is your journal. There are no rules.
Next, get out those watercolors and start with the first page or spread. Paint a heart somewhere on the page. It can be one in the center or maybe a bunch of smaller hearts randomly placed. Let your first instinct have its way. No one is going to see this but you, so if you don’t like what you see, learn to love it or keep playing with the watercolors to add to the design. Then, let it dry.
The next day, open your book and go to the next page and paint another heart or doodle. Think about the day before and something that stood out to you. Maybe it is a little victory that made you proud or a funny incident that took place. Perhaps it is something someone said or a quote you read, money you made or saved, a meme that made you giggle.
Once you finish that heart on the second page, return to the first page with your first heart doodle and use the pen to write in your journal entry.
Continue this practice every morning or evening. Each day, write a journal entry on the page you decorated the previous day. Use the end of each week to review all you accomplished. All of this will add up to your future self being proud of you!
You can even bump it up a notch and create themes or prompts for each week. I prefer to go without guidelines. I really enjoy the process of drawing and journaling whatever comes to my mind at the moment. Sometimes it’s about my kids, other times it has to do with my professional goals, and some days I just want to play and will write out random words that make me happy.
Anytime you are feeling down or unmotivated, pull out this journal and either read the letter from your future self or use a page to write a new letter. Maybe this time, you write a letter from your present self to your past self.
The overall idea is to celebrate all eras of our lives and connect and honor them. Once you make this a habit, you’ll love to review each day and take note of experiences, thoughts and/or feelings you would likely forget.
Your future self will thank you!
Cozy Time: 6 Novels to Cuddle Up With
By Kalia Kelmenson
Knowing we are not alone in our struggle is a gift. These novels remind us that the challenges we experience ultimately create meaning, purpose, and evolution.
- The Archer by Paulo Coelho KNOPF
- The Transatlantic Book Club by Felicity Hayes-McCoy HARPER PERENNIAL
- Three O’Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio HARPERVIA
- The Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama HARPERVIA
- Memorial: A Novel by Bryan Washington RIVERHEAD BOOKS
- Love in Case of Emergency by Daniela Krien HARPERVIA
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
—C. S. LEWIS
Touch Toward Release
You facilitate the release of pain and stress through your own fingertips.
By Alexis Brink
Though the art of Jin Shin bears some similarities to acupuncture, the practice achieves its transformative results without needles, using only a gentle touch—a methodology that translates very nicely to self-care. All you need to get started are your hands and a little bit of time and patience.
However and whenever you start, to some degree you will succeed in moving stagnant energy and restoring harmony right from the get-go.
Each of us is endowed with the ability to balance and heal our physical, mental, and spiritual selves. Jin Shin allows us to tap into the body’s innate wisdom, lifting us out of the jagged rhythms of modern life and returning our bodies to the rhythm of the universal clock. We always have the necessary tools to practice—our breath and hands—and there’s no way to harm ourselves using the holds and quick fixes.
The 26 Safety Energy Locations (SELs) are vital to our practice. Located on the right and left sides of the body and dispersed along the front and back sides, these 3-inch areas, used along with the fingers and vertebrae on the spine and main centerline of the body, are the primary sites for a Jin Shin treatment plan. For a Jin Shin practitioner, the SELs are used in specific combinations to allow energy to move in the body. We use our hands to apply treatment to the SELs and other vital points in the body, gathering feedback as we work. Listening to the energy spiraling to the core of the body and back at relevant SELs, we leave our hands in place until we feel the energy harmonize.
The pulse will slow, quicken, and/or steady as our energy comes into alignment, and other energetic cues such as excessive heat, cold, swelling and congestion, or discoloring may dissipate.
Distinct from the arterial pulses, which measure the flow of blood to and from the heart, Jin Shin’s energetic pulses are the result of the primal energy spiraling to the bone or the core of the body and back in response to the practitioner’s touch.
- Located at the top of the shoulder, where the neck curves into the shoulder.
- Place right hand on top of right shoulder (SEL 11) and left hand on top of left shoulder (SEL 11).
What it’s for: The 11s are the SELs where we tend to pile up all of our stress, whether work-related, relationship-oriented or from “burdens of life.” These points are dubbed “the hub,” and many of us store an excess of muscular tension here. Exhale as you hold your 11s, and let go.
- Located midway down the neck, between the base of the head and the shoulders.
- Place right hand on left middle of neck (SEL 12) and left hand on tailbone.
What it’s for: This quickie eases back pain, which is often related to fear.
The need to feel a pulse-quickening or slowing as the treatments take hold is one of several reasons Jin Shin practitioners use their hands instead of needles or other implements. The pulses give you information about which areas of your body need to be harmonized. You may have some difficulty discerning these signals as you begin your Jin Shin self-care journey. Slow down and breathe, and with a little practice, you should soon be able to “hear” the energy pulsing through your SELs.
From HEALING AT YOUR FINGERTIPS: Quick Fixes From the Art of Jin Shin by Alexis Brink. Copyright © 2020 by Alexis Brink. Reprinted by permission of Tiller Press, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Stir Sensory Stocks
Time spent at the stove can offer a balm for the soul.
By Kalia Kelmenson
My mother has been a soup-maker for my entire life. I’ve never seen her consulting a recipe when she makes her soups, relying instead on the delicate dance of adding one ingredient at a time, stirring, simmering, and immersing herself in the experience. Years ago, I asked her to teach me how to make soup in this manner, feeling my way through the process. She taught me to first pull out everything to be used, dicing and chop- ping onions, garlic, and ginger to start. She showed me how to sauté the basics, watching for tenderness and keeping a sheen of liquid on the bottom of the pot.
Cooking soup requires layers of attention: adding vegetables based on their density and the size that you chop them, slowly stirring each new addition, spices. With every addition to the pot, the smells shift slightly as new notes add to the depth of the original base. The final touch, just a bit before serving, is the addition of fresh herbs and greens.
Over the years, I’ve put my own spin on the process, adding new spices (garam masala is one of my recent favorites), roasting squash or carrots before stirring them in, or blending it all to make a smooth and creamy concoction.
What has stayed the same, however, is my devotion to the process, the ritual of chopping and stirring, and the slowing down of time, surrounded by the tendrils of scent and heat from the stove. I find presence in the kitchen, where the work of cooking another meal is somehow transformed into a timeless space of sensory wonder.