Set Conditions to Feel More Calm, Clear, and Open This Year - with LARLAR
I remember it like yesterday. It was January 1993, I was walking up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan when a small gold sign advertising a yoga studio caught my eye. I turned on a whim, went in, and some two hours later, found myself sobbing on my yoga mat.
I knew I was tight from years of working out, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized that under the tightness I’d lived with from pushing myself around — muscling through everything I encountered without taking a rest — was also a deep, pervasive tension that came from the way I held myself together.
Sharing how to release this habitual tension has been at the heart of my teaching the past 25 years.
Tension has a psycho-neurological component. We need to realize that our bodies respond to everything we hear and experience around us, as well as to what we think and experience on the inside. Every time we don’t feel okay about something, we tense up in our body and it doesn’t release until we feel grounded, slow down, take a deep breath, and soften our body. In other words, in order to release tension we need to feel safe.
Our tension can be from an hour ago or a decade ago. What makes a difference is how we meet our tension. In fact, in all my years of teaching, I have never met a person who doesn’t benefit from recognizing where they hold habitual tension and it is what inspired me to write my book Deep Listening.
Deep Listening isn't so much a specific technique as it is an approach to how you receive and respond to yourself — it's how you listen to your body, breath, feelings, and thoughts. Through this process of showing up and connecting with ourselves, we are able to be more aware of ourselves in relationship to others, our environment, and the conditions around us, so that we are not reacting from a place of stress all the time.
For the past few years I have been using an acronym, LARLAR, to help students remember how to practice returning to this place of calm in the day to day moments of our lives: How to release tension, create a sense of spaciousness, and feel a deeper connection in our bodies, minds, and hearts.
L - Land
A - Arrive
R - Relax
L - Listen
A - Allow
R - Repeat
The first part of the acronym, is that first you have to "Land." I’m literally referring to the way we feel connected to the ground underneath us. Like feeling your feet on the earth or letting your body weight drain down. When we literally experience the support, we can stop gripping and clenching and holding ourselves up. It’s only when we begin to feel support that we can begin to feel safe, and support and safety are prerequisites to being able to relax.
Next, we "Arrive," and what I mean by that is become present or aware of what is happening in the moment. Initially we use the breath as a tool to help us arrive, as the breath is only happening in the now moment. Therefore gently paying attention to the flow of the breath helps us to naturally arrive in the present. Placing our awareness on the breath also begins to deepen the breath, which in turn will calm the nervous system. As the breath deepens it stimulates the vagus nerve, which is the switch to what we call the Rest and Digest response.
Finally, we "Relax" on purpose. There are areas in our body that harbor habitual tension. In this phase, we notice the places we are gripping and clenching and holding — the jaw, the shoulders, the fists, the belly. When we relax areas of habitual tension, we send a message to the body that we don’t need to be armoring ourselves and defending ourselves from a threat. The nervous system gets the sense that it’s safe, and it puts in motion physiological and neurological responses that allow us to begin the process of moving out of the stress response and into the relaxation response.
These first LAR steps set the foundation for the next three steps of LAR. They create the conditions for us to "Listen" inwardly to our bodies, breath, and mind. As we listen in this way, we can begin to discover where we are out of balance or holding tension in our body and mind. We may experience stored sensations, emotions, or thoughts that need to shift in some way. To create conditions for this evolution, we practice "Allowing," or kindly meeting our inner experience so that long-held, often hidden stress and tension can be released. We then relax all over again and "Repeat” the process: LARLAR.
The thing to remember - it's not about staying present and relaxed all the time. It's about being able to notice when we are no longer centered, grounded, and open - and to be able to bring ourselves back.
The thing to remember about practicing LARLAR - is that you don't have to be on your yoga mat for two hours or sit on a cushion for 20 minutes. In fact, there are so many tools that take just a couple of minutes that you can use regularly to land, feel your body, and relax.
I am including a couple of easy practices. These simple practices can be done upon waking, before a meal, before entering your house after work, before picking up the phone to have a conversation. In fact, I set the alarm on my iPhone to alert me every three hours so that I can pause, take three breaths, and release the areas I tense. The main point here is to commit regularly, like the way we brush our teeth, to simple practices that help us to relax more in the daily moments of our lives.
This is also a perfect sequence of easy practice to do before a New Year’s Intention Setting Practice. Enjoy this today - tomorrow - this week - or anytime really!
Enjoy these free practices to get you into the mindset of LARLAR: