Maybe we need a warm-up?

Feeling stuck? Turn to a warm-up to change your state and find your power again.

feet stuck in the snow
Feeling stuck? Don't get left out in the cold! Unpack your own bag of tricks to help get moving again.

I don't know about you, but I've been feeling stuck in a bit of a winter rut. Here in the North, a deep cold has moved in and settled over us, the kind of cold you feel in your bones. Your breath freezes and stings your nose. Even the winter-tough dog walkers of the neighborhood have settled inside, and you wonder, "is it weird to put a sweater on over a sweater?" while steeping yet another cup of tea. What I need is a change of state. Maybe not literally, for I love my Minnesota home, but maybe just a change of emotional state.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." Leo Tolstoy

When Your State Isn't Working

When I did theatre, whether as an actor or a director, I developed a playbook of strategies to change my state. Performing in shows night after night forces upon you, at least some nights, that feeling where you just aren't--well, feeling it. Your rhythm seems off, your energy low, your distraction high, and you just want to be home on your couch instead of going through the full deal. As a director especially, I would notice the bleary-eyed students arriving through the stage door late Sunday morning to get into hair and makeup. In their state of exhaustion, not even the thick pancake makeup could help. They needed a state change.

So this cold early winter morning, before I shift to my teacher role, I need to pull out my old bag of tricks. No matter what your role is, I'm sure you can relate to the feeling that the show must go on. Depending on your needs, I hope my go-to warm-ups will keep you going, no matter what season you find yourself in.

"Allow some warm-up time each day to stimulate your creative flow. A pianist does keyboard exercises. A gymnast stretches. An artist needs to loosen up too. It takes a few minutes to shift from the real world into creative mode." Nita Leland

Warm-Ups to Change Your State

Physical State

I'm a firm believer that emotion comes from motion. A few minutes of movement and stretching gets the blood flowing ands wakes you up. Getting yourself wide, which this sequence does, also helps reduce cortisol and increase testosterone in your body helping you feel more confident.

  1. Start with the breath. Place hand on lower abdomen/diaphragm and make sure when you breathe, your hand raises and lowers with the breath. Your chest should not move, but your diaphragm does. Breathe 3 times.

  2. Then release hands and take another deep breath in as you reach up. Exhale, bringing arms down. Repeat.

  3. Shoulder rolls two times, bend elbows and roll shoulders two times, and full arms roll back 2 times. Then repeat the opposite direction. Breathe normally now throughout.

  4. Shake hands up high for the count of 8, then bend down and shake hands down low for the count of 8. Repeat two to three times. Roll up from the lower shaking position.

  5. Then stand in yoga prayer position. Feel your heart beat and breath. Deep breath in.

  6. On the count of three, shoot both arms out to the sides with power and energy. I always add a sounds of "Ha" to help feel vocal power too. Bring arms down and stand up straight. Back to yoga prayer position and repeat again.

  7. Hold arms out to the side for 2-3 minutes in a power pose.

  8. You should feel more energized, confident, and focused.

Mental State

This exercise is one where you change your focus rather than your physiology. I like to use this warm-up in the morning when I'm sipping my first cup of coffee or in the shower, some activity that already brings me joy. In this activity, Flurry of Appreciation, I simply begin listing all of the things that I am grateful for. I start with things I am experiencing in that moment-- the warm coffee, my comfy bed, snuggly blanket, cozy home, loving spouse and so on. I scan the room identifying elements I am grateful for or spiral my thoughts outward to focus on expanding my appreciation outward into the world. I focus on the feelings of love, gratitude, and appreciation.

Another exercise that can be helpful for changing my mental state is asking better questions. As a teacher, coach, and parent, I've learned how asking better questions yields better results. Now I just use those questions on myself. Instead of focusing on my to-do list or things that stress me out or are irritating, I ask more helpful questions. What am I looking forward to today? Who do I love? Who loves me? What could I be excited about? Why does it excite me? What could I learn from this situation? How can my experience help other people? This question exercise also aligns well with the next exercise below, which I use if I am feeling more emotionally raw or in a negative emotional state.

Emotional State

These next two exercises are predicated on the concept of an emotional scale. Like a musical scale, emotions seems to be connected in intervals that are either closer or father away. You might recognize this in your own experience. For example, it is an easier transition to go from anger to blame to frustration that it is to go from anger to contentment. By working the emotional scale, you can progressively bring your emotional state back to a positive one, but you have to do so step-by-step.

This exercise is one where you need to tap into emotional state in order to identify it and thus your starting point. For example, maybe your colleague didn't recognize all the hard work you did on that project. You may start from a place of anger, wondering why you had to put in all of the extra work. But notice how this is a really low feeling on the emotional scale. So give yourself another thought, and then ask yourself Is this a better feeling?