I recently explored the concept of state and the necessity of becoming aware of the state we’re in for self-growth. You can read about that here. Often we unconsciously attempt to shift our internal states in less than ideal ways or seek attention based on our childhood patterns. However, if we become aware of our state, we are then freed to choose a more skilled way to shift this state. We learn how to live from our empowered adult self.
Finding new ways
The first step in working with our state and internal world is to simply tune in and observe what is happening. Do you have a sinking sense of dread in your belly when you drive to work everyday? Do you get a pounding headache when you hang out with your extended family? How does you heart and body feel when you are out in nature or when spending time with friends you feel safe around?
Long before we do anything with our state, we simply need to learn to sit and observe it. Or you could say that we need to learn to become mindful of our current state. Mindfulness is defined as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” says John Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.
It is about knowing your state without moving to any sort of action to “fix it” or “change it.” With this spacious practice we learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, or sensations that may arise. Often times sitting with what comes up in our inner experience is uncomfortable and difficult, yet this process is foundational for learning to self regulate as an adult.
How do we show up and support ourselves in a more useful way? How do we act as full grown adults opposed to acting out the patterns we learned as kids?
Here are a few of the most important practices to learn to skillfully work with our states so we can grow up and become the adults most of us want to be.
Working with a practitioner who can mirror back to you
For those of us whose internal worlds and emotional states were not acknowledged as children, we are likely beginners at identifying our state. That is ok, but staying emotionally underdeveloped as an adult has some major drawbacks. Working with a counselor or a skilled practitioner who is committed to doing their own internal work is incredibly helpful in learning to sense, tolerate, self-soothe, and navigate our internal experience. When someone can accept you with all your emotions and really see you, it allows you to build a container for your own self-acceptance and gives tools to navigate as an adult.
Start tracking your states
Start thinking about your states as clues.
Are you always feeling exhausted after a day of work and find that this exhaustion leads to frustration and frustration leads to over eating before bed which leads to more exhaustion?
Your internal state is always talking to you and as you learn to track your patterns you can start to get clear on things that are consistently not working in your life. If you start a journal and have set times to check in with your mind, heart, and body, you will most certainly start to see patterns emerge. These patterns can then inform what large or small shifts need to occur in your life to feel your best.
Finding ways to shift your state that are healthy and balancing
I feel good now, but will I feel good later?
After we have felt into our body and sat with the feeling, breathed into the sensations, and given ourselves permission to feel and observe our state, we may decide we want to shift our state. How do we know if what we are reaching for to help us shift is true self-care or just a distraction or way to numb out?
While many things allow us to obtain a different state (food, drugs, sex, exercise…) we need to determine if our activities have a neutral, negative, or beneficial effect on our long term health
One useful question to ask is, “While this feels good now, will it feel good later?”
Meditation, yoga, exercise, and time in nature generally feel really good while we are in them, but we often feel even better when we are done with them. These practices tend to shift our state and create a balancing effect with very little bounce back. Contrast this to alcohol, binge watching TV, overeating, or playing hours of video games, which may feel good in the moment, but don’t generally lead to a long term feeling of an improved state of being.
As we learn to identify the activities in our lives that help us get back to a settled, open, and expansive feeling in our bodies and mind, we start to build a toolset and practice to keep us connected to ourselves, each other, and the earth that we all inhabit.
So before you reach for another beer or turn on the TV, you might ask yourself, “What am I really feeling right now and is there something that will support me and allow me to feel even better tomorrow?”
Here are some of my favorites and the most common practices I see that are useful for the clients I work with.
Meditation and mindfulness
Time tested, these practices have been shown time and time again to shift our states and are incredible tools of self noticing and stress reduction.
Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness is a great resource in West Michigan. For those of you who are new to meditation and mindfulness and wanting to get started, they offer a variety of courses all throughout the year.
If you want to get started at home, the free apps Headspace and Calm are great tools for guided meditations and mindfulness based practices.
Yoga provides meditation in motion, and there are a huge variety of practices that will help you get connected back with your breath and body. There are studios all over Grand Rapids as well as communities that are supporting people from all walks of life in getting reconnected back to their bodies and hearts. One of my favorite communities in town is EmbodyGR who has a free weekly yoga practice and a community to get involved with to support you in your process.
For those of you wanting to start at home there are thousands of free yoga practices on the internet that can get you started.
Spending time in nature
As humans we are not separate from nature, but a part of it. Most people feel more grounded, clear headed, and settled from consistent time in nature. Go camping or hiking, climb a tree, or just lay on the ground in your backyard, but don’t underestimate the powerful effect nature can have on your health.
Move your body to change your state. Start wherever you are. Maybe a brisk walk is all you are up for now, or maybe you are training for a marathon. Humans are meant to move and tend to become stagnant emotionally when they aren’t moving. Before you reach for your normal “pick me up” see what vigorously moving your body for 15-20 minutes feels like first.
Whatever opens you up
Cold showers, saunas, bike riding, prayer, reading inspirational books, calling your best friend, laying in a hammock, crying, screaming, laughing, taking a trip, creating art, singing karaoke… you get to decide what works for you. Does it make you feel better now and later?
Nobody can do this work for you. You can get a counselor, guru, or teacher. You can read books and listen to podcasts, but this work starts when you decide that your set patterns are no longer working for you. Many people spend their whole lives in the same patterns, states, and personality traps without realizing that change is possible. Humans are capable of living powerful and dynamic lives filled with amazing acts of love, compassion, and courage. We humans are also capable of allowing old stories, shame, and fear to run our lives taking us to a self-defeated place of just surviving life. Take the step to shift your own state today. What are you needing to take the next step? Can you give yourself what you need today? Can you say yes to yourself?
Author: Micah McLaughlin is a naturopathic practitioner specializing in the integration of the body and mind. In 2008, he founded Continuum Healing, a holistic health clinic located in Grand Rapids, MI. Micah is passionate about walking alongside men as they work out purpose, power, love and vulnerability in their lives. He is also a co-founder of the Wellness Collective Grand Rapids.