Feeling stuck? Turn to a warm-up to change your state and find your power 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
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.
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.
Then release hands and take another deep breath in as you reach up. Exhale, bringing arms down. Repeat.
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.
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.
Then stand in yoga prayer position. Feel your heart beat and breath. Deep breath in.
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.
Hold arms out to the side for 2-3 minutes in a power pose.
You should feel more energized, confident, and focused.
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.
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?
Here's an example sequence to illustrate the warm-up:
-I'm so mad at my team. I did all the work on that presentation. (worse)
-I'm just disappointed my team didn't say anything about the presentation deck. I worked really hard. (better)
-I always work so hard, harder than everyone else. I must just be a sucker. (worse)
-People are just caught up in their own work sometimes and don't see others very easily. (better)
-I bet that if I asked for feedback next time we meet, my colleagues would say something. (better)
-But what if they don't? (worse)
-I really do have supportive colleagues. Remember the time when they organized that big event schedule. (better)
-I'm really lucky to be able to do what I do. (better)
-How fortunate I am to have a career where I can use my own gift to help others. (better)
-I love using my creative gifts, and I learned so much in putting together that presentation.(better)
-I was able to put that together in a unique way that shared my voice and I'm so grateful for that opportunity to lead in that way. My work makes a difference and is a unique expression of what God created me to be. (better)
Through that progression of thought, I was able to progress from a state of anger and resentment, disappointment, pessimism, optimism, happiness, passion, gratitude, and love. It might take some steps along the way--and some steps back-- but try it. Self-reflect on your own thoughts and ask yourself the key question, does this thought feel better? If not, pick a better thought.
If that last exercise is too much intellectual activity, try music! We all recognize how some days even our favorite song just isn't feeling quite right. That's because the music needs to resonate with our emotional mood starting point. Once you find your emotional resonance point, then you can gradually work your way up through the emotional states. If you are sad, just playing a happy song may not resonate with you in that emotional moment. You might need instead two or three songs to work you back through the emotional sequence. Alternately, sometimes simply good cry is exactly what you need to release the stress. Play that song that gets you every time, and then you can move up the emotional scale quickly.
3. Enthusiasm/ happiness
4. Positive expectation/belief
Meditation, especially mantra meditation, can help release mental clutter and focus into a relaxed yet energized state.There are many ways to meditate, and I have tried many types of meditation warm-ups since my college acting class days. I actually think in some ways my Catholic school upbringing had meditative qualities. The old grandmas and nuns kneeling in the front row of pews chanting the Rosary in the cold, open church echoes through my mind today. I have a simple meditation timer app on my phone.This one allows me to set intervals, and I spend the first moments just connecting to my breath or tensing and releasing body muscles, something to get me connected to the physical body. From there though, I shift to a mantra or Japa meditation style. I've tried different mantras, but the one I keep coming back to is to exhale on an "ahhh" sound. This ahh is an effortless sound that, beautifully, is also the sound of the name of God across languages and cultures. From a practical perspective, I also like this because I can voice the "ahhh" or do it quietly as a breath if I am with others as I often meditate first thing in the morning near my sleeping husband. As my eyes are closed, I make sure to relax my facial muscles and focus my eyes center in my third eye point. Sometimes between the breaths, I imagine one word to the left like "all" and then another word to the right like "love"and then imagine the space between for my "ahhh" mantra. The late author and teacher Wayne Dyer leads a guided version using the first ten words of the "Our Father" prayer as the words to imagine. I find this meditation practice to be especially helpful if I am carrying stress with me, or if my mind keeps circling back to my to-do list or unhelpful thoughts. I also find the more I meditate, even if for just 5 minutes, the quicker I can get into that relaxed,conscious state.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed and progressively changed by the renewing of your mind." Romans 12:2
The cold will still be here a few more days. It's negative thirteen today. But I no longer feel frozen, not in the same way at least. Taking some time for a warm-up, helps me function at a higher level than I would without that investment of time and energy. I'm reminded that I can change my state, even while still choosing my beloved, yet bitterly cold, Northern home.