Affirmations, mantras, exercise, meditation — I have a list of strategies to buoy my spirit when I’m not able to trust the ebbs in my life’s flow. Here is a mnemonic device I learned from a Tai Chi teacher 20 years ago that restores balance during mistrustful times.
Rhymed memorization tools work because they stick like glue in my brain. What makes this one especially effective is it joins the mind to a physical sensation in the body. Follow the instructions for each number with three breaths. It’s only 27 breaths long, which is approximately three minutes.
This exercise can be done sitting or standing. Either way, begin with relaxed and erect posture with your feet flat on the ground and hip-width apart. Your arms can be relaxed at your sides or resting on your lap.
1-Fun. Lightly place the tip of your tongue behind the front teeth on the roof of the mouth. You’ll feel the muscles lift at the corners of your mouth, creating a tiny smile. Inhale and imagine lifting this smile one-eighth an inch off your face, then exhaling as you float it down the front of the body, right through the top of the foot to go “plink” into the earth. Follow the same pattern and float the smile down the center of your body and then a third time, inhaling to float the smile down the back of the body. Each time having the smile finish by plinking into the earth below your feet.
2-Shoe. Open the pad of each foot to the ground. Even if you’re in shoes on the 18th floor, you can ground yourself to the earth. Just imagine the skin on the bottom of your feet melding into the surface they meet. One way to experience more of a cleaving sensation to the earth is by lifting and spreading your toes, then return them lightly to the floor . I silently repeat to myself “2-shoe” as I imaging my feet joining with the ground on each breath.
3-Tree. Lift and open the chest, keeping the arms (limbs) relaxed. Now imagine from your grounded feet, two roots equalling your height, nudge down through the earth, twisting around rocks or any obstacle in the way. With each of the three breaths, send another root gently penetrating downward.
4-Core. Two inches below the bellybutton is a place considered the body’s energetic center. Think of it as a balloon you are filling with each inhale. It may help to place your hands, one over the other, just below your bellybutton. On an inhale, imagine energy rising up through your new roots. And on the exhale let your hands float back to your side. Inhale and exhale two more breaths, renewing your core with energy drawn up through your roots.
5-Alive. The energy stored in your core is now invited to spread throughout the rest of the body. With each of the three breaths, refresh the body with this new found reserve.
6-Thick. The air all around your body is viscous. It’s holding you up as surely as if you were standing in a pool of warm water. This one is my favorite for some reason. Feeling the air embrace me is comforting on a deep and visceral level.
7-Heaven. Press the crown of the head skyward to lengthen the neck, the sensation of pressing your crown into the sky may have the sensation of tipping the body forward slightly. Remember, three breaths for each expansion upward.
8-Gate. The opening in your crown is now a pathway into the body. Breath the heavenly energy down through this gate on the crown of your head.
9-Shine. Saturated with energy rising through your feet and down through the crown, shine it out through every pore.
This device can be used as a whole or in parts. In a panic, implementing even the first two helps me get grounded. All nine together work nicely as a warm-up prior to flowing Tai Chi, but I utilize them in any anxious situation.