When the strains of life feel unbearable and you feel that the end of your proverbial (or literal) rope has been reached, here’s a simple way to tap into your internal calm.
You’ve likely heard of the two branches of the autonomic nervous system, and even if you don’t know their names, you could recognize them in a heartbeat. These reactive forces within us are either on high alert, or deeply restorative. One of the challenges we face in modern times is learning to manage them.
We are surrounded by potential triggers that light up our protective instincts: multiple dings, bells, global information, instant responses, the list goes on and on. One of the ways that we begin to protect our energy and our health is by learning how to activate our rejuvenating nervous system; the oh-so-lovely sounding rest and relax response. In our drive for forward progress, our culture as a whole has not placed much importance on it.
We now know that it is this place of deep rest where healing happens. Where we find restoration, we find health; inflammation decreases, and many diseases are able to resolve.
Guru Jagat, a Kundalini Teacher and author of Invincible Living, (HarperElixir, 2017), offers a full chapter on strategies for being ‘stress free’, some you are familiar with; spending time in nature to find your rhythm, eating foods that are grounding in nature, and developing a breath practice.
One practice that made me smile for its simplicity, and also because I’m a little ticklish, is the practice of “massaging, stretching, and putting cold water on your armpits’. “The armpits don’t get the attention they deserve” Jagat writes. She offers these tips for using this practice to realign yourself with an activated rest and relax response.
Every morning. Begin strengthening your parasympathetic nervous system by starting each day with a cold shower. When that’s not possible, she says that you can splash cold water on each armpit for 15 seconds. This will help tonify the nervous system.
During the day. When stressful moments emerge, excuse yourself to the bathroom or somewhere private, and gently massage the inside of your armpits with your thumbs for up to three minutes. This can offer a quick and dramatic shift in how you feel.
Daily practice. A great antidote for the stagnant position of working at a desk or driving, is to hold onto your elbows above your head and stretch your armpits for one to three minutes. Your armpits are home to many lymph nodes; by stretching them, you offer support not just to your nervous system, but also to your immune system.
We get caught in the idea that the practices that will help calm us are lengthy and serious. Paying attention to your armpits feels a little silly, and maybe that’s one of the best things about it. Loosening our grip on being overly serious is another path to relaxation and rest.