After a bout with seasonal allergies (but wait… could it be COVID?) turned into a sinus infection (…or COVID???) that just kept on lingering (are you coming for me, Rona?!?!?) my husband suggested I needed to build more relaxation into my life. Relaxation? I’m trapped in a house all day with two demanding and emotionally unstable people (a toddler and a preschooler) while the world around me is literally bursting into flames, with no end in sight. I’m fine, I assured him. I’m relaxed. What makes you think I need to relax? Two days later (after two nights of insomnia), with my eye twitching, my nerves frayed, and my “cold” still hanging on, I decided to look into this whole relaxation thing.
Full disclosure—I like to think I’m a pretty crunchy person. I buy organic, limit my kids’ screen time, and practice #positiveparenting. So I’m not new to the idea of mindfulness and relaxation. In fact, my kids have so many books, pictures, and games on the subject, we all should be thisclose to reaching nirvana. But, surprisingly, we’re not quite there yet. In particular, I’m not quite there. I mean, does it count as meditation if you lay still mentally tracking your physical symptoms, so you can google them later to see what new disease you have? Asking for a friend.
So it seemed I had some more work to do. The most pressing issue, as I saw it, was the insomnia. Who can relax when you’re facing bone-crushing exhaustion? Being a mom to two young children, one of whom preferred to sleep in 1-2 hour increments all night for the first two years of her life, I’m no stranger to sleep deprivation. But this self-imposed sleeplessness was some fresh kind of hell. Truth be told, it’s easier to tolerate when you can blame it on someone else. My husband, being the helpful guy that he is, found me an article claiming I could learn to fall asleep in two minutes. Two minutes, guys. No matter what it is, I can do anything for two minutes (or so my barre instructor constantly reminds me as we get to our third thigh section of the class…). I eagerly read the article before bedtime, ready to embrace my best night sleep ever. Let me save you some trouble—the big secret to falling asleep in two minutes? You just need to relax. Thanks, that’s really helpful. Sometime around 3 a.m. I realized a good night of sleep was not going to be my key to zen, and decided to try a different tactic.
I’m always preaching the importance of deep breathing and mindfulness to my kids. And I even downloaded the meditation app, Headspace, about six months ago (and in that six months I have meditated a total of…63 minutes. Turns out that just having the app on your phone doesn’t do much good.) So I set a goal to meditate for 10 minutes every evening, after I tuck the kids in bed. I settled on the couch, popped in my AirPod knockoffs, and fired up the app. Have you ever spent some time really focusing on your breathing? Turns out, my body forgets how to breathe when I start (over)thinking about it. Are my breaths too fast? Too slow? Too shallow? Is my chest supposed to rise like that? Should my belly be filling more? A few lightheaded minutes later, I decided to let go of the breathing focus (my body seems to have had that under control just fine for the last 35 years without me butting in) and instead work on keeping my mind in the present. Headspace teaches mental noting, where you notice your mind is wandering, make note of the thought or feeling, and then “effortlessly let it go.” OK, focus on the present. Deep breath in. But wait, don’t think about breathing. That makes you stop breathing! Ok, think about something else… No wait, don’t think. Don’t think. Think about nothing. Nothing. What does that even mean? I can’t think about nothing. Everyone has to think about something. I should be thinking about what we’re having for dinner tomorrow. Maybe chicken. But it will take too long to thaw. And the kids don’t always eat chicken. Well, they can just have peanut butter sandwiches. Are they eating too much peanut butter? I need to remember to put peanut butter on the grocery list; we’re almost out. What else do I need to put on the list? Wait, wait, I’m supposed to not think. Not think. OK, so this is me thinking. Right. Effortless. I feel more relaxed already.
Well, deep breathing and meditation wasn’t working. Maybe I needed to get more active, get my blood flowing, and get out of my own head. So Yoga was the next step in my plan. And for this, I turned to YouTube. Because I’ve never been one to embrace yoga (I prefer more active workouts that don’t give me a chance to sit with the “quiet” in my mind), I decided to start small—10 minutes. How hard could it be to carve out 10 minutes of me-time? Turns out, pretty damn hard when you’re quarantined with two young children. Somehow, I think the “flow” I’m supposed to experience doesn’t include kids climbing on my back during my upward-facing dog, showing off their tree poses, and demanding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Once I finally got the kids settled with their lunches, I tried again… Mountain pose and inhale up—but wait, don’t think too much about breathing; remember how that turned out. Exhale fold, inhale to flat back—is this flat enough or am I arching? Exhale to plank—or was it inhale? Exhale to lower your chest—but wait, I need to inhale. Should I inhale first, then lower down, or can I inhale while I’m lowering down? Wait, stop thinking about breathing! How did we get to cobra? I think I missed a step! Exhale to downward-facing dog—this I can do. But wow, are my legs tight. Is that normal for them to be so tight? Maybe I should make a point to stretch more often… Inhale up—wait, stop thinking about breathing! Exhale back to mountain pose. Oh yeah. I feel more centered already.
Although my journey into mindfulness didn’t prove to be quite as relaxing as I hoped, I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel on it all just yet. After all, there are proven, scientific benefits to yoga and meditation—and besides, I already have so much laundry. But for now, maybe I’ll just stick to the good old-fashioned tried-and true-relaxation remedies—carbs, comfy pants, and crappy TV. What are you doing to stay relaxed?