Mindfulness: Take Care of Yourself

Photo by Kuno Schweizer on Unsplash

Too many times people know how to take care of themselves but don’t, for whatever reason. Think about it for a minute. Or, here are some fill-in-the-blank sentences. (Note: these are three examples that I recently experienced).

I am so tired, I need to lie down for a minute, but I shouldn’t because…
I want to spend time with [insert name here], but I can’t right now because…
This situation is making me really uncomfortable, but if I leave…

Here’s one I faced during my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course during the second week. I contacted the instructor ahead of time and told her I dove headfirst into some difficult stuff in therapy and was “feeling it.” On a professional level, she let me know there would be options for me to support myself during that evening’s practice. MBSR is not meant to create challenges and dis-ease though it may bring those things up. On a friend level, she let me know she was happy to be there with me in the midst of it. She didn’t know what “it” was specifically, but both of us knew it wasn’t and isn’t necessary to talk about it.

The first mindfulness practice of the evening was a simple transition from the chaos and hurriedness of life to the circle of people who will know me a little more intimately within the next few weeks. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me, felt my chest and belly expand and contract, and…felt a sudden surge of emotion. Right about that time, the short meditation was done. I was calm, settled actually, but I had a burning ball in my throat and felt the urge to cry.

A few minutes passed, and we walked to our mats to do some very simple yoga and qigong. The movements, which felt uncomfortable during my first MBSR course 4 years ago, allowed my body to feel more at ease. I had noticed that every muscle tensed when my emotions surged, and I hadn’t been able to fully recover from it. Now, I was breathing and moving without a felt sense of anxiety.

We quickly but smoothly transitioned to a body scan. This is a practice in which you lay down and gradually move your awareness from one body part to another. I was flat on my back, knees slightly apart and feet falling away from each other, and hands by my side. I closed my eyes and focused on my big toe as the teacher instructed. Something distracted me. It was warm and traveled sideways down my temple and turned toward my ear. It was the tear that had threatened to escape before. Another one started to fall. As much as I didn’t want it to happen, I let it. My body was releasing the pain that I had been carefully holding onto. I knew holding it in would be a mistake, and I knew I was in the room with a friend who wouldn’t judge me or call attention to it. More than that, I knew she could handle my emotions and would allow me to experience them.

About the time my attention was directed to my knee, I experienced an all too familiar pain. My whole body began to tingle, goosebumps appeared, and then it felt like I had jumped into a frozen lake. The feeling is one I get when I am triggered. If I try to push the feeling away, it gets worse and continues until I have a panic attack. If I allow it, it will come in seemingly unrelenting waves but eventually stops. The sensation is awful though. My wet eyes snapped open, and I stared at the ceiling. I studied every ceiling tile, the trees out the window, and the vent nearby. I breathed. I listened. Every so often, I would allow my awareness of my body to drop back in wherever the teacher was guiding me, but each time, the sensation would return.

Here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t check out or dissociate. I didn’t fight the sensation. I didn’t ignore the thoughts. I stayed present with myself. I cared for myself exactly how I needed to, in a way that allowed me to experience my own strength. When we returned to the group to share our experiences, I was open about crying and the sensation I experienced. I was also open about how I dealt with it. Why? Because I know I am not alone. I know others might need to know it’s okay to do things differently to care for themselves. The more I share my experiences, the more others will share theirs. The more they share theirs, the more normalized it becomes.

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