Have you ever had one of those “intuitive hits” when you just knew--as clearly as a brick in the face--that you had to go to a certain place right now? Like you’re being drawn to a place for no good reason, and when people ask why you’re traveling or moving to that place, you have no idea what to tell them? But you know in your gut that it’s exactly where you need to be.
That’s how I felt when I moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area.
But even as I told people “I’m moving back to the Bay to be closer to family,” I knew in my heart of hearts that that wasn’t the whole story.
It was culture shock when my feet landed in Northern California, never mind the fact that I’d grown up here. Strangers said “hello” and “good morning” to me on the street, and even looked me in the eye and smiled as they said it. People were passionate and driven in a totally different way. And the hipsters--oh, the sheer number of them.
But what was most refreshing was how openly spiritual people were. Never have I seen so many quietly contemplative folks within a 30-mile radius.
They showed this by how they commune with nature, going on redwood hikes and wearing hiking boots to the market like a badge of honor. They showed this through practicing yoga in a way that was gentle to the body, and not purely for exercise like I’d seen so many times in LA. They showed this through taking their damn time, from the way they moved to the way they talked.
It was honestly a relief to move back to this gentler place, away from the noise and cynicism and broken hearts of LA.
Now, LA will always have my heart. She’s the mistress who I’m always daydreaming about. She’s taught me a hell of a lot about being a grown woman, having courage, and how to protect myself. But I’m afraid she also made me hard--much harder and more cynical than I’m meant to be.
So as I settled back into the Bay, I finally grasped the whole story of why I’d come back. I came back because I needed to soften.
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class before, you’ve probably heard a yoga teacher or two waxing poetic about how you should “soften” into a pose. What the hell does that mean? Well, I didn’t know what the flip that meant until I actually felt it.
I’ve also worked with many clients who’ve dealt with such hardship that they literally have never felt “soft” before, ever. They’ve never felt how it’s like to be totally safe, relaxed, and free to be their full selves--perceived flaws and vulnerabilities and all. This resulted in constant defensiveness, easy agitation, and vigilance, which leads to a whole host of other mental and physical health issues.
Now, I’m not comparing my trauma to theirs or yours--there’s simply no comparison.
My point is that it’s tough to soften when you don’t remember or even know how that is supposed to feel like.
Don’t get it twisted: when I encourage you to “soften”, don’t associate it with being naive, gullible, or weak--which is what our culture has taught us it means. They. Are. Wrong.
To be soft, by my definition, is to literally allow your body to relax so you can recover from stress, and therefore stay resilient.
Being soft is what keeps us strong, in other words? You bet.
Let me explain.
Maybe you’re recovering from a rough past, coping with a toxic relationship, bracing against a chaotic living situation, or otherwise spending most of your day being un-you. Maybe you’ve been living these situations for so long that you’re in a constant state of vigilance without knowing it--just like how I was before I moved back to the Bay.
When you’re in this constant state of tension, your body is on heightened alert: your sympathetic nervous system is activated to prepare you to fight, flee, or freeze during the emergency that it’s sure will come at any moment now.
And as I’d just mentioned, being in this constant state of emergency actually hurts your body and mind. Human beings are not built to be activated on a physiological level like this 24/7. It makes people sick with colds, headaches, irritability, substance abuse, and lost sleep in the present, and it makes people sick with adrenal fatigue, mental health issues, heart disease, and other chronic diseases in the future.
But when people are either born into or accustomed to living in chronically stressful situations or environments, it may actually take practice for them to relax their bodies, and therefore activate their body’s “rest and digest” response.
This can be especially relevant for those of us who are sensitive introverts, because many socially-accepted environments are naturally overstimulating for us.
Here’s the good news: (1) You, as a grown ass woman, can now take responsibility for your own well-being, and (2) I’m here to show you how.
Just like cars, we need to turn off our engines sometimes, otherwise we run out of gas.
We just need to be smart about it; there are ways to calm down the sympathetic nervous system and protect our health without also ignoring the fact that there’s real life moments where we DO need to be on the alert.
The key is to carve out safe niches in your daily routine where you can set aside 10 minutes (or less!) to soothe your body. Better yet, leave the toxic environment or situation completely… but I know that’s a luxury for most. So until you can do that, take 10 or so minutes to soothe your body every day.
Not surprisingly, I learned a whole bunch of ways to do this the moment I moved up to the hippy-dippy Bay Area. (I poke fun with love.) Mindfulness-this, and mindfulness-that. But lo and behold, that shit actually worked!
I’ve compiled some of my favorite body-soothing practices on a handy two-pager for you. Enter your information below to get instant access to it.
Once you’ve had a chance to take a look, pick one breathing, meditation, stretch, massage, or muscle relaxation exercise to do this week. I’ve made the how-to instructions for each as barebones, jargon-free, and simple as possible--because who’s got the time?!
But seriously, do one body-soothing practice a day to get back to your baseline, because this constant state of tension is not it. Take responsibility for softening your body so you can stay strong and resilient, my friend. Because I truly believe that strength and resilience is your baseline.