Normally I am not a big fan of posts like “4 ways to….”, mostly because I often find myself nodding sagely all the way through them, only to emerge out the other side still as befuddled as I was before I read them.
I now suspect this is because (as one of my favorite new mentors, life coach and author Martha Beck, often says) you can’t just read about the suggested changes in order to feel their effect. For this, you actually have to TRY them.
Whoops. My bad.
So here I am now, fresh from trying so many of Martha Beck’s suggested exercises (as well as many others from different favorite mentors you are about to read about), writing my own “4 ways to….” post. Why?
Basically, because sometimes you just don’t have time to go read a whole book and practice 25 or 200 new techniques before you can figure out how to shove things around in your life and create some much-needed space.
Sometimes you need to create space in a hurry – like, NOW.
So here goes….4 tips to create space “right away no waiting” which is how my impatient parrot, Pearl, insists on having everything he wants.
1. Create space in the BODY.
As my yoga teacher, Adriene, often reminds us (in fact, she said it again just this morning in my daily yoga video lesson), “balancing poses show you what’s up in a hurry.”
In other words, in order to keep your balance on the outside, you have to find something to hang on to for balance on the inside.
I like “tree pose” for this, but even just attempting to rise up onto your tippy toes – which I happen to hate – works just as well.
As you wobble about at first, hanging on for dear life as Adriene describes it, you will cast about desperately for something to cling to so you can maintain the balance the pose requires. This will make you get resourceful and creative fast.
Think of it like “survival yoga.” Balance or, well, you know.
To help with this, Adriene recommends finding a point of focus – maybe something you really like looking at that isn’t moving (which typically excludes pets, especially if they are small and quick like Pearl) and focus on that. For instance, I have a lovely crystal by my window that I like to focus on.
Aim for 1 second of actual balance at first and work up from there. As a bonus, doing any kind of yoga/balancing pose will probably also ease a body ache or pain along the way, which is awesome in its own right.
PRACTICE! To create space in the body in a hurry, you can let Adriene teach you how to do “tree pose”. This is way better than me attempting to describe to you how to do tree pose, I promise.
2. Create space in the MIND.
To create space in your mind in a hurry, really only one thing can pull this off – your breath.
Typically when my mind gets really crowded – I mean like just jam-packed with thoughts – it is also usually busy scaring itself to death. In other words, it has been thinking about something, or lots of somethings, and in so doing has worked itself up to defcon 5 level panic.
And I can only speak for my own mind here, but it just seems like my mind is really good at “helping” me out by thinking all those thoughts, but it is terrible at helping itself. So it won’t be able to get itself out of the thought-jams it creates. It needs outside help to stop thinking, stop grabbing on to each new and more terrifying thought-cloud as it floats by.
Breathing is perfect for this. This is because breathing requires the mind to stop focusing on its thinking about its thoughts and start focusing on thinking about breathing instead.
My favorite breathing routine for creating mental space in a hurry comes from my mom’s yoga teacher, Aida, courtesy of none other than renowned health guru Dr. Andrew Weil.
Dr. Weil recommends a breathing routine he calls “4-7-8 Breathing.” Dr. Weil taught it to Aida, Aida taught it to Mom, and then Mom taught it to me. I particularly love this routine because it requires the mind to think about counting as well as breathing, which pretty much guarantees it won’t be able to also continue to think about all its other fear-producing thoughts.
PRACTICE! To create mental space in a hurry, I will let Dr. Weil teach you how to do 4-7-8 Breathing. It is also called “relaxing breath.” How perfect.
3. Create space in the HEART.
When I say heart, I basically mean emotions. Some people associate emotions with the mind and other people associate emotions with the heart.
For me, both are clear culprits, but I feel like my heart is the one that needs more help when it comes to escaping the clutches of a bunch of rowdy emotions run amok.
Creating space in the heart in a hurry, for me at least, requires a rapid infusion of two elements: gratitude + compassion.
In other words, when I feel grateful for something – anything – it feels so lovely both my mind and heart (depending on who that day’s emotional overload instigator happens to be) willingly stop what they are doing to go chasing after it. “More!” they demand. “More of THAT feeling!”
This gets them to stop feeling the other less desirable or downright yucky feeling so they can instead feel more of the gratitude-feeling instead. Score.
Next, I need some compassion. For compassion, I turn to a meditation practice called “tonglen” I learned from beloved meditation mentor Pema Chodron. Tonglen is a compassion practice to connect with the suffering we feel and the suffering others feel by giving and receiving compassion.
Tonglen doesn’t sound wonderful at first I realize – in the sense that it doesn’t sound like focusing on more suffering would help to lessen your heart’s existing suffering – but I will tell you, I started practicing this when I was in the middle of one of the most painful periods of heartbreak to date in my life. This stuff works – and it works FAST.
In the space it takes to breathe in and out a few times, you will feel better. It is like attending a support group for heart-pain where no one even talks but everyone leaves and feels better anyway.
Big sales pitch aside, you can do tonglen for yourself and for others. You can use this short, simple, sweet practice to ease your own heart’s suffering and to send easement of suffering to others. You don’t have to know the others either. You can send it to strangers, to animals, to plants, to the planet, to the universe.
Bonus, this is great for the mind as well, by the way, because it will get your frantic mind busy focusing on all the beings and entities to send easement of suffering to and this will stop it from focusing on its other painful/scary thoughts.
PRACTICE! I will let wonderful meditation mentor Pema Chodron teach you how to do tonglen breathing meditation.
4. Create space for the SPIRIT.
You wouldn’t think the spirit needs any space. After all, it has a whole universe worth of space already – how much more space can one spirit need?
Sometimes it needs more. Sometimes it feels like there is too much pain in the world, too much confusion in your life, too much “hurry up and wait” to bear it for one more second.
For me, I think this happens because my spirit, which loves tuning into intuition and just feeling or sensing the next best steps and then going for it, is currently saddled with a trio of much slower and more plodding companions, aka the heart, mind and body.
With these three along for the ride, my spirit can quickly start to feel like a dog that has chased that tasty squirrel all the way to the end of the lead and…CHOKE!
So frustrating. Maddening. Spirit-killing.
So when my spirit needs space, what it really needs is nature. It needs lots of nature and it needs it NOW.
I live about an hour away from the closest beach. That doesn’t sound very far (especially when you live in a city so big it takes approximately 10 hours just to drive from one side of it to the other). Still, I don’t always have an hour – two hours really – to drive all the way down to the beach just to give my spirit some urgently requested space and then drive all the way back home again.
What I do have – right next to me and often even sitting on my foot or leg or shoulder – is pets.
Specifically, I have Pearl, my 18-year-old parrot, who pretty much always insists on being wherever I am doing whatever I am doing. I also have Malti, my young red footed tortoise who will sit anywhere I want her to if I give her crispy dried mealworm treats. And I have Bruce, my rescued 3-toed box turtle who will occasionally stand on my feet but mostly just stares at me, and that is plenty good enough (“cuteness” makes up for a lot).
If you don’t have any pets of your own, you can always go look at animals outside the nearest window – birds are great for this since they tend to fly around and be quite visible. If animals aren’t your thing, flowers, trees, clouds, the sun, the moon, the stars, a blade of green grass – sometimes I feel like nature is the closest thing we have to spirit or God or the divine or the self or whatever you like to call that sense you sometimes get that we are all connected.
Even if you like your nature neat and bug-free and temperature-controlled, there are always houseplants. Or pictures of houseplants. Sunrise and sunset pictures are nice too. The point is, nature can feel like spirit’s best friend – the one your spirit can confide in, totally confidentially, in a way where even you can’t hear what they are talking about and that is just what is needed. And then afterwards your spirit will feel better…and you will feel better too.
PRACTICE! You are totally welcome to go look at my trio of cute pets, Pearl, Malti & Bruce! I think your spirit will love them (mine certainly does). Or you can look at your favorite nature in another form, just letting your spirit do its thing and go have a nice chat and a good cry if it needs to and a warm nature-hug and then you can both go on about your day.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you have your own favorite practices for creating space in a hurry in your body, mind, heart, spirit? I would love to hear them and I’ll bet other readers would too! 🙂