These past weeks have been challenging for all of us as we struggle to move through the holiday season after the tragic event that was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14. This column was going to focus on New Year’s Resolutions and goal setting, but I thought it’d be more helpful to focus on thoughts of healing.
Many of the essential teachings of yoga talk about the struggle we have as humans and techniques we can use to ease our suffering. Many of these actions live in the mindfulness realm and emphasize things like meditation and attitudes of forgiveness and compassion. Along with these mindfulness-inspired ideas are other techniques that are inspired by medicine and general wellness.
So, as we all work to digest what has happened and reflect upon how it’s affected us, here are ten steps you can take to promote relaxation, healing and peace in your heart when the world seems to be filled with bad news:
1. Let yourself feel pain. Sometimes, in the aftermath of a tragedy, personal or otherwise, you may try to keep moving ahead without acknowledging how you feel. As it relates to recent events, you may feel guilty about being upset, as you didn’t have a direct link to the people affected by the Sandy Hook shooting. But there is a collective psyche involved here and it is very common for the pain to be felt even by those not affected. Holding in this sadness, holding back tears and pretending that everything is okay is not only dishonest to yourself but can create anxiety, depression and feelings of physical sickness.
2. Keep active. While you may feel like lying on the couch when you feel sadness, one of the best things to do is to move. Walk, run, practice yoga, go to the gym. The release of hormones that promote good feelings and relieve stress will jump start the healing process.
3. Meditate. Sitting in stillness and letting the feelings you have come to the surface is part of healing after a traumatic event. The point is not to change the feelings from sadness to happiness, for instance, but more to acknowledge how you are feeling. Also, there is a particular style of meditation called “metta” meditation, where you send feelings of goodwill and healing to people and animals that might need it. In times where people are affected outside your direct circle, this is a way you can feel like you’re doing something to contribute to their healing.
4. Practice forgiveness. The Sandy Hook tragedy is rife with opportunities for us to find blame and point fingers. We want to know why; we want to push our anger on someone else. But this kind of negative energy only drains us and does nothing to help us heal. In each interview with the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook, they spoke of forgiveness. It’s for their health that they forgive. It’s not easy but a necessary part of moving on.
5. Stop the gossip. When something like this happens that captures the nation’s attention, it becomes the talk of coffee shops and water cooler conversation. Gossip only drains us and does nothing to promote healing. It puts us in a position of judging another and serves no purpose. Rather than focusing on speaking out of turn about another, focus instead of actions steps you can take to heal and move forward.
6. Connect with nature. Get outside. Go for a walk, go to the beach (even in the cold), take a hike, walk a path by the river. Being outside in nature can give us a sense of peace in our hearts as it promotes a natural meditative state. If you find you can’t meditate seated, trying a walking meditation outside. This can have the same affect if you practice silence while walking.
7. Connect with something that gives you faith. Whatever your faith, take the time to lean on your faith as a source of strength. I say the same prayer before bed that I’ve said since I was little; I love to visit a church in the North End and just sit in stillness and send thoughts up to the universe. When we connect to our faith, we acknowledge that we are not in control and that there is a source of strength outside of us that can help us in times of trouble.
8. Let the anger out. Denying anger is no way to heal. One of the stages of grief is anger and in fact, part of healing is letting it out. Yell, go to a boxing class, write out how you feel, but take the time to let the anger out.
9. Listen to your body. Our bodies have such wisdom. When people say, “I knew I was going to get sick,” when they are sick, they usually realize that there were many warning signs that they ignored before the physical illness set in. Basic things like getting enough sleep and eating well are critical when you’re feeling sad but in addition, listen to your body when lying in bed and upon waking. Feel how you feel, both on an emotional level and physical. Ask yourself, “In this moment, I need,” and wait to hear an answer. Take the actions your body needs to feel better.
10. Ask for help. You can’t do it all. Along with listening to your body, you need to acknowledge when you are struggling to get it all done and ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s an acknowledgement that you are human.