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Get Your Shoulders Out of Your Ears

As I sat watching this classroom of squirmers none of us had any idea that within the next week these squirmers would be homebound bouncing, giggling and whining within sneezing distance of frazzled parents. Before we knew about social distance this pile of puppies clamored and touched and poked and prodded while I waited amused and slightly nervous as their teacher called for silence.

I was there to help them cope with the FSA. The third grade equivalent of passing your boards. The pressure that had been placed on these kids and teachers seemed insane to me. I had dreaded third grade after hearing stories from friends of hiring child psychologists just to cope with the anxiety of the test. It seemed I was right to be worried. I immediately scrapped all plans jotted on my crumpled blue index card. Bullet point one was irrelevant. No need to define stress. These kids could pass that test.

The verbal assault that came from children under 10 surprised me. The air was thick with words like stress, anger, frustration, I feel hot, I feel scared, my palms sweat, my heart races, it’s hard to breathe, my stomach hurts.

Little echoes of what would become the collective conversation of our nation.

As the air is now thick with stress, anxiety and racing hearts I can see our community holding its breath. Slowly with each news report, as the stock market plummets, and each tick of the John Hopkins case tracker increases our shoulders are creeping up into our ears. Case by case the shoulders inch further up as we try to physically burrow into ourselves.

In my studio, I said at least 75 times a day, “get your shoulders out of your ears, stop holding tension in your chest, don’t forget to breath, put your shoulders down your back, pull your abs in, watch those shoulders they are creeping up again, try and relax, do less, oh, and get your shoulders out of your ears.”

Stress and uncertainty wreak havoc on the body. Our bodies become vessels for tension. Everything tightens, contracts, shrinks and creates an inhospitable place to live causing us to either want to crawl out of our skin or sink in our own abyss. Shoulders collapse, chests cave in, anger unleashes and we carry ourselves in a defeatist, tense, unsustainable posture as we walk through life braced for the worst and at the very least inviting back pain, shoulder issues and trouble breathing just by the way we move.

I saw it in 9-year-olds, I see it now as the news floods our system with FEAR.

Item number two on that blue index card was intention. This was something my young friends were not as familiar with.

Intention is defined as an aim or plan and it also has a medical definition that I love: the healing process of a wound.

As intention filled the air I noticed more space drift back into the room. With each beautiful sentence, we dissipated the heavy cloud of angst. Little thought bubbles drifted above our collective consciousness filled with “ I will stay calm” "I will do my best” “I will breath” “I will try.”

Our world is suddenly filled with a new vocabulary. “Social distance, shutter in place, flatten the curve.” In a world filled with so much tension we can move the needle if we all set an intention every day to get our shoulders out of our ears, pull our abs in and up, straighten our spine assume a proud warrior posture, take a deep grounding breath and pray each day for the best possible outcome.

If we each work on calming ourselves and creating a hospitable climate within our own bodies that will start to radiate outward and permeate our stressed-out nation.

I am no Pollyanna. I know this is hard to do. We are home with kids, called to work and simultaneously homeschool. For anyone who knows me and knows I “don’t do math” this prospect is terrifying. Inducing shame-filled visions of my children’s future college rejection letters because I let them eat snacks, watch “educational shows” and play in the sprinkler rather than tackle third-grade math. Stress is high, space is limited and the house volume is LOUD.

My husband is out every day in the community and I freak out when he leaves his scrub top on the floor in the bedroom. I want him to strip down and Lysol every inch of his body before he enters our airspace. I lose it over a chocolate stain on the new couch. When I do go out I am irritated by bad driving, bad parking (which is ironic as I am serial offender) stupid conspiracy theories. I shout at the TV and find myself with even less compassion for our president than I thought possible. My shoulders are in my ears, I’m driving around like Cruella Deville, manic, crazed, tight.

Then I hear my own studio voice and tell myself to get your shoulders out of your ears, pull your abs in, create a long spine and breathe. Meditation helps at a time like this. Yoga helps. The kids and I have been doing cosmic yoga.

My five year old ends every session with “butaste” instead of “namaste.”

Even in a national crisis, you cannot escape the potty humor of a five-year-old boy.

In our house as we try to elevate our energy or potential power. We are keeping it real and embracing our inner light and trying to acknowledge one another's light. At the same time, we give a nod to the butthead in all of us.

At the moment we are all a nation of squirmers, uncomfortable in uncharted territory and fearful of what the unknown looks like. It’s time to get our shoulders out of our ears, take a deep grounding breath, show ourselves and others (for me this includes the president) some compassion and humor and honor our light and our dark. Shoulders back, deep grounding breath and Butaste as we move onwards.


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