What do teachers mean when they talk about reactivity? Here is what it might feel like:
My body feels electric and erratic. I feel tight, i feel stretched. I feel pushed. I feel pulled. I’m not sure what i feel. It’s overwhelming. My vision is somehow both piercing and blurry. I can’t quite focus. All i know is i need to defend myself. I feel invulnerable and impulsive. I need to speak up and hold my ground.
This usually happens when i’m not sleeping much. When i’m not moving my body much. When i’m not eating much. When i’m not respecting my boundaries.
There is a blind spot here. The momentum of life has taken over and I don’t believe I can slow down. I’ve gone into a reactive mode and begun to blame others for how i’m feeling. I don’t believe I have time to step away and care for myself.
This is reactivity. And these are all symptoms of not putting yourself first. In the heat of the moment it can feel impossible to stop, impossible to know what you need. This is the reactivity speaking.
Underneath that there is a still, quiet voice that knows what you need. Listen to it. It somehow always knows what you need to do next. It doesn’t exist in stories of the past or future, or even in what happened 5 minutes ago to trigger you. That still, quiet voice exists only in this moment.
How do you hear that voice? It is going to look different for everyone in each situation. Here are the four things that work best for me:
- Put your bare feet in the dirt
It is incredible how rarely most of us touch our bare skin to the dirt of the earth. Usually when we are reactive we are out of our bodies and ungrounded. The best way to get grounded is to touch the ground. Bare feet on the earth. What do you once you’re standing there? Listen to your breath:
- Practice Pranayama.
Breathe in to a count of 4.
Breathe out to a count of 6.
~ Repeat for 5 to 15 minutes.
In the Vedic yoga teachings, there is a concept of the Koshas or “sheaths” of consciousness. If you are stuck on layer, such as mental reactivity, change your perspective. Most of us are unconscious of our breath when we are reactive, so that is a good place to check in. If you change on one level of consciousness, it effects all the others. So when you’re stuck in your mind, change your breath and your mind will change too. The signals the brain receives from short, shallow breaths are fight or flight responses. The signals the brain receives from long deep breaths are resting and digesting responses. By deepening your breath, you deepen your presence in the moment. There by deepening your ability to respond with consciousness and intention.
- Drink water
Now that you have moved breath / prana / energy in the body, keep it moving by drinking water. It seems simple and obvious, and it is. The body is 65% or more water. Drinking more water keeps everything moving. In your energetic field, something was stuck, and now it is moving. Adding fluid is essential to sustain movement.
- Remember it can be a good thing to react.
Reactivity can be rich compost for personal growth. Pema Chodron says "fear is a natural reaction of moving closer to the truth." So know that you will face reactivity and fear from time to time. It will take over some times. And there are tools to work with it.