I have a ritual that I do daily, almost without thinking about it anymore. As I am walking to or from the time clock at work, I take a deep breath (sometimes closing my eyes, sometimes not) and work on trying to relax and release some of the stress that I am physically holding in my body. I try to relax my overly tight muscles, correct my posture so that my body is more open, and moves more freely, and let go of all the things that are bearing down on me after a long shift.
I do this other times too, but this is the most regular. It has become an ingrained habit with me, to sort of shed the stress of the mundane world as I go into work, and the stress of my work life as I head home, so that I enter each space with a clear head able to give my best. A quick check in throughout your day, perhaps as you pass the threshhold of your home, entering or exiting your car while running errands, or before you lie down to bed at night can be a good way to judge and mitigate the stress and tension that we each hold onto in our physical and mental selves.
That deep, cleansing breath is the first and most important step of the whole process. Sometimes, even just stopping to just breathe is the most important thing you can do to release stress and tension from your body, and free your mind to focus on finding a solution. Breathe deeply and get oxygen flowing to your brain and to your rebelling, clenched muscles. Find a tiny moment of mindfulness to be fully in the moment, not worrying over the next thing you have to do, and the next, and the 50 things after that. Just breathe in and breathe out, slowly and deeply.
Even if you go no further, this can be a great excercise to center you in the moment and help you get a grasp on your emotions, while clearing your head. I do this sometimes when I am just feeling overwhelmed. The next part is to physically check in on your body, and release the tension that you are holding onto.
Next, I usually start with my shoulders and jaw, because I hold a lot of tension there. I’m a clench-er, tightening up, withdrawing, holding onto my anger and frustration. Instead, I concentrate on dropping my shoulders. They shouldn’t be pulled up near my jaw, I let them drop down, loosening the muscles in my shoulders and upper back so that my arms move freely. My jaw is the same; teeth shouldn’t be clenched together. Relax the jaw, letting it drop down, until your teeth are just slightly separated behind your lips. Try a soft, calm smile.
You don’t have to smile for anyone but you. It doesn’t even have to be completely genuine at this point. Maybe you have had a truly bad day. Try to breathe deeply and find that tiny grain of inner calm, or at the very least think of it as stretching those facial muscles.
You’ve done the breathing thing, you’ve straightened and relaxed your shoulders and jaw, now, it is time to go down your spine to your hips and finish fixing that posture. This sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of regularly checking in with your body, it will become easy and almost automatic. Then, you can do it throughout your day, or to and from the time clock as well. Fixing your posture, realigning your muscles and spine, taking deep, calming cleansing breathes and releasing the stress and tension you are caring around with you is one of the best and easiest things you can do for your body and your health.
Much in the way that you dropped your shoulders, and relaxed the muscles around them, you are going to drop and settle into the cradle of your hips. I usually need to tilt my lower pelvis forward a bit, stretching up and back through my abdominal muscles. You want to align your feet, your hips and your shoulders, but not in a taut line – no standing at attention here. You want to be loose and easy, as if you were on a boat or shifting floor, you could easily flow with it, without loosing your balance. Feel your body open up and relax, as you continue to stride easily forward.
Lift your chin/jaw, still relaxed from earlier, and look directly in front of you. No looking down at the ground, or off into the distance. Open your eyes purposefully, and actually look around you (even if it is just at the same pale, plain walls you see every day). Your jaw should be parallel to the floor with your chin neither up in the air, or down near your chest.
Your shoulders are dropped and relaxed. Your spine is aligned. Your hips are tucked, and you are settled comfortably into your pelvic girdle. Your knees are soft, and your stride purposeful. You can breathe better, with room to expand your ribs and diaphragm. Best of all – you now can walk like a model and have released a ton of tension and stress from your body that was holding you into your mindset.
You can now get a true accounting of what’s going on around you, what your next goal is, and what is the current state of your body. After releasing that tension and checking in: Do you still have a headache? Are you hungry? Is there any part of your body that feels sore, hurt or injured? Is there a need or want that you could attend to in the short-term to make you feel better?
It’s hard to get a true reading on our status when we are tied up in other things and not truly present in our bodies. I know that I have issues with slight body dysphoria sometimes and as such ignore my body, but I also can get tied up in stress and frustration or even activities and forget to take care of myself. This is especially important to me as I live with chronic pain, and insulin-dependent diabetes, but I believe that everyone can benefit from the practice of regularly checking in with your body and releasing physical stress and tension.
Do you already have a check-in activity that you practice that you would be willing to share?