When Survival Gets Triggered, Go Back To These 4 Basics

It’s pretty obvious, by the many photos of bare shelves in a multitude of stores across the country, that there is whole lot of survival instinct getting triggered at this time. We are in unprecedented times and out of our familiar thoughts and routines that normally bring much needed comfort. As we all are fielding the masses of information that are coming to us via myriad media outlets, we find ourselves sifting through a mix of fact and hype. Understanding that there is not a vaccine or much solid data to help support us through this tumultuous time in history, we do not feel in control of our circumstances to the degree that could bring a strong sense of confidence. There is uncertainty, and the more we are hyper-vigilant in keeping this uncertainty cycling around in our minds the more we trigger fear and drain our energy reserves, poking “holes” in our energy buckets. In that case, we also end up lowering our own immunity simply by diverting the vast amounts of our energy reserves toward worry, doubt and fear.

man in gray crew neck shirt with brown hair

When our survival instincts get triggered, the best place to go is back to the basics. In yoga, we learn that our survival instinct “lives” in the first, or root chakra energy center; where we experience the fear of our existence being threatened as well as the basics of life being interrupted or in low supply. Under duress, the energy flow gets corrupted, and can’t flow in the healthiest ways. There are many things we can do in terms of yoga postures and practices to ease and restore the flow of energy to the first chakra. That said, here I’d like to offer simple, practical and powerful information that is useful to anyone, whether or not they practice yoga. As much as it helps to know what to do “on the mat,” we spend the greatest amount of time off the mat. And, if we don’t tend to, soothe and restore that first chakra energy, then even in the times we spend on the mat, we may actually find our minds activated in a way that we aren’t able to ground ourselves enough to be present for our practice.

Restore rituals and routines: In a time of pandemic, it is likely that our normal routines can get bumped or replaced by watching news or by taking unfamiliar actions that can certainly disrupt the comfort of the familiar framing of our days. Routines and rituals are powerful and can help ease our fears; they give us a sense of grounding certainty in our days and allow our minds and bodies to relax by creating a sense of safety and familiarity. Two important, basic routines and rituals are, keeping mealtimes and bedtimes the same as before the pandemic. Eating and sleeping are two of our most basic survival actions. Knowing when meals are coming will also help keep the body from feeling unnecessary urgency, as the body needs predictability daily in order not to trigger the sympathetic nervous system response. Key: keep in place or restore as many familiar rituals and routines as possible.  

group of people sitting on chair in front of table with plates and drinking glasses


If you have a work routine but are not currently working due to governmental regulations, find other work that you can do at home that mimics the relative hours that you are normally working. If you are not working from home, you might consider working on organizing your home, your important papers, doing a deep cleaning or even doing some yard work. These things will keep you focused on the basics, as well as the task at hand, rather than spending time with worry or mental churning. They are also things you might normally do at this time of year, which eases fear. When it comes to sleep, if you are having trouble with sleep quality, think about shutting off all technology 30 minutes before bedtime, taking a warm Epsom salt bath, spend a few moments in the quiet outdoors, or having a warm cup of herbal tea to help you relax. The good news of course, is that the Coronavirus is not fatal for the greater proportion of people. That said, even those with compromised immune systems can benefit from holding to normal routines and rituals as much as possible. The more we preserve and reserve our energies, through a bouquet of easily repeatable practices, the more energy we will have in those moments that we may really need it in the form of strong immunity.

Keep digestion of body and mind healthy though relaxation: Because our minds are on high alert, so then, are our bodies. Now more than ever, it’s so important to take time to intentionally calm minds and bodies for better digestion. Let’s be real, right now there is a lot to digest! And if you don’t know, a very large proportion of our immune system lives in the gut. We have mental digestion of our thoughts as well as physical digestion of our food. As an experienced teacher and practitioner of both yoga and Ayurveda, I have learned that our bodies and minds are always “talking to each other,” influencing and assessing, to become mirror images of one other. This means when our minds are on high alert we organically communicate that message to our bodies, which then responds in-kind. As above, so below. This puts us in the sympathetic nervous system response--causing a disturbance--interfering with healthy digestion of both: our thoughts and our food. What people might benefit from knowing is, if we don’t calm ourselves at least periodically and clear out some of those fear-driven thoughts, then our mental/emotional and physical digestion will likely become problematic. How do we do it? We digest our thoughts, through deep, intentional, rhythmic breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and through other relaxation practices like slow, mindful walks outdoors, meditation or yoga nidra. This way our physical digestion will also relax and work in tandem, again, reflecting the qualities and benefits of calm. Relaxation is a grounding energy, and like gravity, brings us “down to earth.” Here we restore and relax into the parasympathetic nervous system response, which is activated by our feeling safe and relaxed. This is the phenomenon of “rest and digest” for both body and mind.

person sitting on brown wooden floor near pool

Notice what you are focusing upon: It is so important to check in with yourself multiple times each day, even each hour, to notice what you are focusing on, thinking about, and what feelings those thoughts are creating in terms of your emotional response. Do you feel sad, afraid, angry, helpless, or like a victim? It’s important to remember this: what you focus on is driving your life. In other words, no matter what is going on in our larger outer world, we all control our inner world with our focus. We can use our ability of focus, to “land” or see with intention, certain things or facts that help us to stay grounded. It’s easy to keep cycling fear thoughts, anxiety or worry. Yet, when we think those things, we are driving our lives into those exact realms. What we think, we become. Universal Law says: what we focus on grows. So if we focus on all that is going wrong, that will make up the bulk of what we “see” as well as how we feel. However, even if there are uncertain things going on around us, we can focus on what is going right, and what is still the same. Becoming more present in our moments, we can empower ourselves to circumvent the fear-response of negative hyper-vigilance. Staying present, noticing the positive, grounding in what continues to be there for us, we take the wheel of our lives in the most positive of ways. Something as simple as focusing on your posture and standing tall can improve mood and immunity. Want to learn more? Check out my recent blog post, on the power of posture, BE A QUIET MOUNTAIN.

Grateful Awareness: Another basic is grateful connection, which can bring tremendous grounding and soothing. Let your awareness of what you are grateful for be the touchstone to bring your focus back to again and again. Use the power of your voice to express out loud your gratitude for the basics: those we love, the earth, the sun, moon and stars, our breath, bird’s morning songs, green sprouts, day and night. No matter what comes; there are always energies, things or people that we can count on, are connected to, and can be grateful to have in our lives. Even now, we can’t forget that happiness is our true nature. I love going outside in the morning, standing barefoot in the cool grass and listing all the things I am grateful for each day. Lately, I’ve also been taking time to imagine the earth pulling all of the negative energy out of my body and the sky providing limitless breaths for me to take in to re-energize and reboot my system. Here I get both: grounding and soothing. Convening in gratitude with the elements of nature through walking or gazing is also very nourishing to our energy cup. It’s the simple things, those basic connections that help keep us in good memory of all we have to be grateful for in this life. Be sure to add your gratitude for some comic relief or sacred support to help to balance out the news of the day!

woman holding balloons

Rituals and routines, relaxation of body and mind for better digestion, honing your focus and expressing gratitude, are powerful “basics” that can sustain us in all times. Going back to basics will be like a balm to your survival triggers. The truth is, having control over anything or anyone, other than yourself, is and always has been a fairy tale. Stay focused on how you can take control of your own thoughts, emotions and actions, now. Be intentional and strive to consistently do the simplest practices that restore your sense of calm. Then, give the remaining concerns left over that you cannot control, away, for blessing, clearing, healing and transformation by your Higher Power. Remember, this too shall pass.

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