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Self-Care Sunday with Allison: The Mind

A new series intended to support you throughout February by offering practices to help cultivate a deeper love: self-love

Self-Care Sunday with Allison: The Mind

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Welcome to the second installment of Self-Care Sunday for February. This week, we are talking all about The Mind. I will be sharing some tools and practices I have learned firsthand that help bring an overactive mind back to a place of balance and peace.

I find that it’s almost impossible to talk about The Mind without talking about my experience with anxiety. Anxiety is not a word or a condition I heard about growing up. It suddenly appeared as a concept in my 20s and never left. Anxiety has been one of my closest companions for the better part of two decades as a third party in my marriage–just me, my husband, and our old friend Anxiety.

At the beginning of our relationship, when my husband’s struggle with anxiety started to reveal itself as life and stress and responsibilities took over from the carefree days of our youth, I fought against it and the changes it would elicit to his normally calm demeanor. I fought hard. This anxious person was not the carefree, confident person I had met. The nervous energy between us that came on seemingly out of nowhere was–and still is–so uncomfortable to experience that I was desperate to do anything to make it disappear. Living with anxiety was not something I had signed up for.

At first, I got angry, and we argued about it. On my worst days, I tried to force or berate it out of my husband. We went to therapy together, which is where I learned that I wasn’t being very helpful. So then, wanting to do a better job (but not so secretly still wanting the anxiety to go away), I would try to gently coax him out of it with spiritual sayings and esoteric ideas to convince him that it would be so much better on the other side if he could relax. (As anyone who has ever experienced this knows, telling someone with anxiety to relax never works).

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Through all of my attempts to do away with my husband’s anxiety, I eventually came to understand that the best way to live with it was to accept it. In doing so, I was granted greater insight and perspective into a more generous view, not only of anxiety but of the mind, how it works, what happens when it’s out of balance or overwhelmed, and how to help calm it down when that happens.

The mind is an incredible tool and superpower, but as in all things, its superpower is best experienced when it aligns with your whole being, particularly the heart. The Mind and The Heart are both so connected. The mind allows us to move through the world and process what we see, experience, and learn in such a way that synthesizes it in a singular way that makes us all unique. However, as we are taught in yoga, mind intelligence must always bow to heart intelligence because true wisdom and intelligence are only ever found by going within.

This concept–that the heart is the seat of true intelligence–has been taught in ancient philosophical and religious traditions for eons, but now there is scientific evidence to back it up. The HeartMath Institute is a non-profit organization studying the heart-brain connection for over thirty years, and its findings have been published in many peer-reviewed journals. This finding can sum up the core of what they do in their work:

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“Most of us have been taught in school that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly known that the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart! Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function – influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. In other words, not only does the heart respond to the brain, but the brain continuously responds to the heart.”

When I discovered this research that there is physiological evidence of a heart-mind that also governs our bodies and our brains, it all started to make sense to me that the answer to the mind running rampant wasn’t about taming it so much as it was aligning it. Understanding that although the mind and the brain are a compelling set of tools, the only way that they function optimally is when they are in alignment with the heart was the key–not only to me understanding how to help support my husband and others in my life, but for myself as well.

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Because, as karma would have it, as the years went on and life stresses, parenting, and responsibility started to play a heavier role in my own life, I, too, began to experience anxiety and realized that I was, at times, becoming a prisoner to my thoughts and my mind. This experience led to deep feelings of hypocrisy when I recalled how many times I had told my husband while in the throes of an anxiety spiral “to just relax.”

Now I found myself on any old day, with nothing out of the ordinary happening, caught in a loop of thoughts that sent my heart racing and went something like this: What should I make for dinner? Are the kids doing well enough in school, or do they need tutoring? How will I get everything done in the daytime before I have to pick them up from school? How am I going to fit work in on top of all of that? I wonder if I should do Pilates or weightlifting; everyone on Instagram seems to be doing Pilates. And back again to the question: What in the #%$ am I going to make for dinner?

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Thankfully, when I started to talk to my husband about my newfound relationship with our old friend, anxiety, I received compassion and understanding from him, and none of the well deserved I told you so. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s no coincidence to me that my husband and I came together as partners–me, someone who lives almost entirely from my emotional body, beginning nearly every sentence with “I feel” and then him, the definition of cerebral, whose mind is something akin to a top of the line sports car with an unbelievably powerful engine. Both of us were meant, I believe, to balance each other out and to learn from each other.

And since we’d both had the benefit of knowing anxiety these many long years, we shared and learned together what we discovered helpful to bring the mind back to alignment, back in loving service of greater intelligence–the one deep within. I can’t say that either of us has mastered it, but a few practices helped us with this process, and as I continue to lean into them, I sincerely appreciate how effective they are each time I’m having a hard day. They are simple and gentle, but if you try them, they will help you calm the monkey brain and come into the heart-mind space where, at the very least, it’s a little bit calmer and quieter.

Meditation & Breath Work

In yoga, calm the breath, and the mind will follow. I have experienced this dozens of times, yet even as a long-time yogi, I tend to find pranayama (the practice of directed breath work) a chore. However, breathwork really does help clear the mind, which is why I enjoy a habit-stacking practice that does double duty, like combining meditation & breathwork.

One of the best free meditation podcasts is Mindful In Minutes Meditation. The podcast host has an incredibly soothing voice and offers short meditations that cover real-life themes (such as anxiety!) without being overly woo-woo for anyone new or skeptical of meditation. This excellent meditation for clearing the mind includes alternate nostril breathing (a staple in pranayama), so you get your meditation and breathwork together in less than ten minutes to help when you have racing thoughts.

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Yin Yoga For Anxiety

Yin yoga is the style I teach and promote to my community as often as possible. I believe that, especially for women and parents, it holds everything we need more of in the world and within ourselves. Ultimately, yin yoga is about doing less and achieving more by calming the nervous system and an overactive mind to return to a place of greater inner peace.

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Even though I am a yoga teacher myself, I often rely on classes to guide me so that I can give my thinking mind a break. Yoga with Kassandra is the teacher I most gravitate toward right now because her yin yoga practices are incredibly calming, and she has a wide variety in length and themes, some including positive affirmations for that habit stacking bonus.

This free class is one of my favourites for stress and anxiety because it’s therapeutic and can be done in less than 30 minutes. Perfect for a cozy Sunday (or any day!)

Expressive Writing, Always 

Expressive writing with a specific prompt is the most surefire way to help when my thoughts and overactive mind run roughshod over the day. There is something tangibly cathartic about seeing and feeling the thoughts leave the pent-up corners of my mind as they are released onto the page. The thing I try to remember, even on these hard days when the thoughts are spiralling, is that my mind is not the enemy.

The mind is a gift to help us navigate this human experience and bring order to the chaos. It is the agent by which we can read books, have memories that bring us joy, and accomplish incredible feats of learning and innovation. Sometimes, when I can, I remind myself that my mind is just doing its job, calling for my attention in the only way it knows how so that I can go more deeply inward to seek the answers I need instead of searching for them outside of myself.

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You only need a notebook and writing utensils to do this work. Sit quietly and take a few deep breaths, sighing it out so you can settle into the moment. Write down the following three prompts at the top of a blank page, and then let the answers flow through, writing down whatever comes up without judging.

What is it I need to know right now? 

How can I bow my mind intelligence to my heart intelligence?

What is one step I can take today to feel more at peace within?

When all of this fails–and some days, it does–I know the best thing for my mind is not to take it too seriously. It’s true what they say: You are not your thoughts. On those more challenging days, sometimes the best thing to do is call it quits. Throw the to-do list out the window, and forget whatever you had planned or thought you needed to get done. Cozy up on the couch, call someone you love, find a way to laugh, make a nice meal, pour a glass of wine, and remember what my mom (and Scarlett O’Hara) always said: “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

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Thank you so much for spending your Sunday energy with me here. I hope sharing my story has helped you feel supported in your journey. Next week, we delve more into The Heart.

Until then, I am wishing you much self-love!

Allison

Author:

Allison McDonald Ace is a YA Certified Yin & 200 HR Vinyasa & Hatha Yoga instructor, published author and expressive writing workshop facilitator. She is passionate about turning her own healing practices and experiences into offerings to help others on their journey.

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For more resources or to connect with me, please check out my website at allisonmcdonaldace.com.

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