Besides the usual throwing open of windows and letting in the fresh air as spring arrives, I’ve been thinking about ways to reset my mind this year as well. I know that I can’t think things away, but I know I can refresh my outlook and choose to engage in a different way.
Sometimes, though, the thought of mentally shifting gears can feel overwhelming. Especially if you feel like your brain already has too much going on. But imagine the feeling you get from a home that has been deep cleaned and readied for a new start. Our bodies and brains deserve the same cleanse and care. Here is a list of simple activities to bring you a fresh perspective. Spoiler alert: much of it has to do with breathing.
1. Try Meditation
My relationship with meditation has shifted a lot over time. My mother used to lead me through guided meditation when I was in elementary school to relieve massive migraines. I remember the practice being so helpful I can’t believe how long it took me to get back into it as an adult.
Part of the reason I’d get frustrated by meditation was because I was seeking such an explosive response and was disappointed by the lack of fireworks. The simple act of slowing down and paying attention to my breath didn’t necessarily make a big leap overnight, but after committing to a month of practicing, I could feel the benefits in every avenue of my life.
While I have a few apps I like (HeadSpace, Calm, etc.), I can’t sing the praises of the company Black Zen enough. They offer tailored-to-you guided meditations and they are willing to work with folks who need help and can’t afford it. They also have a meditation guide if you just want some additional materials to support your practice.
2. Take a Free Yoga Class
I have struggled a lot with yoga over the years: sometimes it seemed like people assumed I would enjoy it because I’m South Asian. And sometimes I’ve been frustrated with teachers who have focused on workout benefits rather than mind and body connection. I have succeeded the most when I found teachers that prioritize breathing and how to live fully in the body that we have.
There are a lot of really wonderful BIPOC practitioners now, with free or accessible classes online: Jessamyn Stanley, Aham Yoga, MX Puja Singh, collectives like Yoga Journal and so many more. It has made it so much easier to have variety throughout my practice. There’s also YWA (Yoga With Adriene; also free) which is where I started two years ago when I fell back in love with yoga permanently.
I was feeling anxious all of the time, unsure about my career potential and having some interpersonal turmoil. I rolled my eyes every time people talked to me about YWA, but then all of a sudden 15 people had recommended her to me and I felt like I had to at least try a class. The joke was on me, because YWA felt like starting yoga with a friend. She’s super down to earth, has my sense of humor and levity, while still acknowledging the depth and true spirit of yoga. It made it easy to stick to the practice.
3. Sing for Stress-Relief
I find that when I throw on music when I’m doing other work, it can bring a joy to the work that I couldn’t find before. All of a sudden, scrubbing the toilet bowl feels like I’m having a music video moment.
But even outside of singing while working, I find when I sing at the top of my lungs my whole body reboots. I drop into my belly (deep breathing) and it feels like different parts of my brain wake up. “Singing is an aerobic exercise which sees the release of endorphins, the brain’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals,” said Baishali Mukherjee, the Southeast Asia regional liaison for the World Federation of Music Therapy, in a BBC article by Sarah Keating.
It’s why many of us love a good shower serenade or belting at the top of our lungs while driving.
4. Spend Time Outdoors
Winter always makes me think of hibernation because I’ve lived in the northern half of the U.S. my whole life. My time spent outdoors usually diminishes in the winter months.
The light outdoors gives us a boost alongside the fresh air reviving our concentration. It gives full-body health benefits while also removing the proverbial cobwebs in the mind. I often find that heading outdoors pushes out the stale air I’ve been circulating, bringing more oxygen into rotation for me, which sharpens my thinking.
I know we all know this, but sleep really helps to restore brain function. It is imperative if you are going to tackle things that you need rest. Take a hard look at your schedule and to-do list; what can wait until tomorrow, or the weekend, or next month? Give yourself the space to take a proper nap or a full night’s sleep.
On top of everything else, hyper-productivity is a way of making us unable to engage in care for ourselves. I fell in love with this concept when I was turned on to Tricia Hershey, also known as The Nap Minister. Her theory is that napping is restorative and an important part of how human beings recharge. She talks about rest as a tool for organizers and Black people in particular, but she also discusses how resting fights against the white supremacist and capitalist system we live in: we are only worth as much as we produce, telling us rest is not essential. But as mothers and as human beings, we all know that rest is imperative for brain function. The Nap Ministry references rest as resistance and when you stop to choose yourself, you are re-centering the person you need to tend to the most: yourself.
6. Have an Orgasm
OK, I know that I used to tell myself as a youth that orgasming brought stress relief and sleepiness because I couldn’t admit that I actually liked it, but it turns out that I wasn’t far off. There are chemicals released in your brain after orgasming (oxytocin and prolactin) and they are why you feel relaxed and sleepy after the fact. It helped me understand why I have sometimes sought sex or masturbation in moments of high stress or grief, even.
I’m not saying that you have to even bring a partner into this. Solo play works just as well, especially if you have the right tools at your disposal. The point is that in order to reset your brain sometimes, an orgasm can help stimulate the chemicals that help you get there. The chemicals are the same if the orgasm is brought on by our partner, ourselves, or a fun and handy tool. Our brains are releasing hormones all the time, and some of them keep us stuck in a funk or stuck in a toxic framework. If we know a targeted way to do shift the chemical makeup, why not explore it? Nobody said that shifting our brain can’t be an extra dose of fun, as well.
This article was originally published in April 2021. It has been updated for timeliness.