I recently attended a peacekeeper training in preparation for a Black Lives Matter march in my hometown. As peacekeepers, our job is to help protect marchers from cops, counter-protests, and even each other. Peacekeepers march along the perimeter of the protest, our eyes open to anything that might present a danger, and we work to deescalate potential confrontations. First, the trainers oriented us to the purpose of the march and the purpose of peacekeepers. Eventually, we got to what we should do in the case of a confrontation. I invite you to take a guess: 

What do you imagine was the first thing the trainer told us to do to deescalate a potential confrontation? 

Here’s what she told us: 

Ground yourself. Feel your feet. Breathe.

When we humans feel our feet and feel our breath, we settle our nervous systems. When we peacekeepers settle, we help to settle the crowd.

So how does this apply to you?

Let’s say you’re facing a big decision, and you feel stuck. Part of you wants to go one way. Part of you wants to go another. Part of you doesn’t even want to budge. You feel torn between the parts of you. You wish you could get everyone to stop fighting, get on the same page, move in the same direction.

What do you do?

Before you can make a wise decision, you need to pause and settle yourself.

Settling yourself means shifting internally from a dysregulated state to a regulated state. To shift from feeling triggered, activated, worked up, and reactive into a space from which you can consciously choose your response. Being settled doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop feeling angry or sad. It means that you are more present, calm, alert, and in control of yourself, no matter what is going on around you.

When you practice settling your body regularly, you have an easier time:

  • Healing trauma held in your body
  • Quieting the mental and emotional noise within 
  • Returning to a sense of calm in the midst of a challenge
  • Feeling what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, collapsed, ashamed, or enraged
  • Hearing your inner guidance
  • Creating internal space within which you can get curious and imagine what’s next
  • Coming up with more creative solutions to challenging problems
  • Making better decisions
  • Focusing on what’s most important
  • Sustaining your energy, even when the work is hard
  • Holding space for others 
  • Being present for what is good 
  • Experiencing greater joy and aliveness 

Here are five settling practices, each which takes a minute or less of your time. I invite you to try these out now. 

If possible, find a place that is quiet and distraction-free before you start. But if that’s not possible, you can still practice in the midst of commotion. It’s not as easy to learn this way, but ultimately, you are working toward being settled no matter where you are.

Also, you can do each of these practices by itself, or you can practice one after the other. Right now, I invite you to go through the entire list. It’ll take five minutes max. Here we go:

One: Feel your feet. Place both soles of your feet on the floor. Feel the space where your feet touch the floor. Hold your focus there for a moment. Feel yourself “grounding,” resourcing yourself with the constant stability and solidity of the earth.

Two: Feel gravity resting on you like a soft blanket on your skin. Feeling your shoulders, arms, the entire weight of your body, resting, settling downward.

Three: Notice your inhale and your exhale.

  • Without trying to force or change anything, notice your in-breath. 
  • Notice your out-breath. On your inhale, imagine breathing in love. 
  • On your exhale, breathe out gratitude. 
  • Sit for a few moments, noticing your breath, breathing in love, and breathing out gratitude.

Four: Scan your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. 

  • Beginning at the tips of your toes, slowly scan your body upward, moving from your toes to your legs to your knees and on up until you reach the top of your head. 
  • Noticing the sensations you feel. Noticing the parts that are easier to feel and any gaps in sensation. Greeting the feelings and emotions with gentle curiosity and without trying to figure out why you feel the way you do. There’s a good reason for everything you feel. Now is not the time to try to fix or solve anything. You are just noticing. 
  • When you reach the top of your head, bring your attention slowly back down through your body. 
  • Do the entire scan one more time, slowly moving your attention from your toes up to the top of your head and back down, gently noticing the sensations come to your awareness.

Five: Take in settling. “Taking in the good” is a practice in which you catch yourself in the act of feeling how you want to feel, you enhance how you feel and absorb the sensations into your body. We can take in any state that we want to feel more of (settling, focus, connection, confidence, etc.). When we take in the good, we strengthen the neuro synapses in our brains associated with the way we want to feel. 

When you take in settling, you catch yourself in the act of feeling settled, and you take the feeling of settling in your body. Just fifteen seconds of practice, repeated throughout your days over time, will change your brain and dramatically increase your ability to settle.

As you can see, these practices take almost no time at all. When you’re settled, it actually adds time to your day by making your actions more efficient. The hard part is remembering. 

Here’s one suggestion to help you remember:

Attach a settling practice to the beginning or end of an activity you do regularly. 

For example, you can feel your feet, sense gravity, notice your breath, or do a body scan before or after you:

  • Wake up in the morning
  • Brush your teeth
  • Open your computer
  • Eat food
  • Log on to Zoom
  • Sit down in your car
  • Go to bed

Having a regular practice like this that you come back to, over and over again, can offer a sense of coherence or groundedness, even in the midst of a constantly changing life.

Finally, I strongly recommend reading My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakem. This book offers powerful teaching on how to settle in general, and it teaches how settling our bodies can help heal racialized trauma.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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