‘Pull yourself together!’ – kinder words than you think?
Cover photo – Kelly De Lorm
“Danger is when you are split three ways: Your soul goes
one way, your mind goes another way and your body goes
yet another way.”
Harbhajan Singh Yogi
So I wandered into the vast community centre for the mystery Saturday workshop I had signed up for. Distracted. Angry with an issue I was carrying with me like a lead weight. I carried it in my mind, ticking over like a bomb I was desperate not to detonate in a room full of fellow counsellors. Through gritted teeth I felt jittery and out of place. Like many businesses today, the need to network is the catnip that draws us in despite ourselves (and because Facebook, websites, twitter and blogs will never replace human relationships).
I want to run out the door.
Inner dialogue: “Engage BACK UP PLAN. Get a grip. Gut up!” (coz “MAN up!” is annoyingly sexist). “Have a stern word with self.”
Thankfully I found the most delightful and liberating ally in the room in the form of a simple twenty-minute introduction to ‘Qigong’. The birthplace of Tai Chi, the Chinese system of slow exercises and breathing brought instant relieve to my fragmented mind and tense body. The real surprise was when the trainer gently said; “move with an open heart”. I literally felt myself diffuse the ticking bomb in my soul. And there and then I ‘pulled my self together’. I allowed my mind to rest its attention on my body. My breathing and heart rate slowed. The pain in my neck (delightful double entendre there!) subsided. My shoulders dropped, stomach tension eased and I let go. I took care of myself.
It’s just so darn easy as a therapist to invite the subject of looking after oneself. But what do I actually MEAN when I ask a client about ‘self care’? Although the therapeutic relationship grows and default responses become sincere and authentic, some find it really uncomfortable to justify looking after themselves effectively. And let me not ring fence ‘clients’…I include myself in this challenge. I believe the source of our anguish is that ‘me time’, ‘down time’, ‘relaxation’ and the fashionable miracle cure that is promised through ‘Mindfulness’ is really hard work! It takes time to make time. Alongside the effort involved in being vaguely kind to ourselves comes the challenge of selecting exactly which part of ourselves we might focus on. Do we focus on exercise, diet, work satisfaction or healthy relationships (to name a few) in order to better ourselves? Any and all of these areas deserve attention and ongoing safety checks to see we are getting what we want and need. NO WONDER THE BRAIN GOES INTO HYPERDRIVE AT 4am! So let’s whittle this process down so that we can administer first aid:
If, like me, being told to “Pull yourself together!” is received like a red rag to a bull and occasionally provokes tantrums and sulking – how about we dismantle this statement?
Pull your self together.
Find a way for the brain and body to engage as one in order to be still. You will be surprised how easy this is to do with your own breath. No matter what relaxation classes you may enlist for – sometimes you need help in the middle of the supermarket, when you get bad news, when fate throws a dose of injustice your way or when you are mid-screech at your children! Sometimes you need TO BREATHE. And by breathing I mean WITH ATTENTION.
How to breathe.
(Yup…despite doing it pretty effectively since birth!).
Stop for even the shortest moment and really FOCUS on the air entering and leaving your body. What you will find is you can override the chaos in the brain. And because the brain is the engine of the body; you can override the tension in the body. Pull mind and body together with the most unexpected power found in the very reason you exist; the passage of air that gives you life.
“Being aware of your breath forces you into the present
moment – the key to all inner transformation. Whenever
you are conscious of the breath you are absolutely
present. You may also notice that you cannot think and
be aware of your breathing. Conscious breathing stops
I ended my Saturday workshop on a high. I had a huge personal epiphany; that I exist in a dangerous series of separateness. What I really need is to introduce simple practices in my life where I pull mind and body together. These do not have to add another time or financial burden because I can use this powerful tool anywhere I am; in the shower, walking the dog, in the middle of a meeting. When insomnia, panic, fear, worry or anger strike. Simply breathing with attention will rescue me. Once I am calmer I can make better decisions.
The greatest step towards self-care in the modern western world is not about denying our busy and productive lives – but about finding simple tools to still both mind and body. Our health and wellbeing depend on it!
Breathing techniques are the easy bit. If the source or cause of your distress or unhelpful behaviour feels bigger than your capacity to make change, then counselling can help.