The Londolozi Healing House has a very special intention; to return wilderness to wellness. Over the last few months I have had time and space to practice my own inner work.
Two techniques consistently bring me into a state of calm: yoga sun salutations to the dawn (a wonderful body movement practice) and harnessing the power of my breath. Today I would love to share those two things with all of you from all over the world, hoping that in some small way they may bring you a moment of calm.
I can hear the short tonal alarm call of a vervet monkey in the tall ebony outside my house. It’s an unmistakeable call, so I emerge to cautiously investigate fully expecting to see a leopard pace by somewhere at any moment. Our operations manager Phil appears on the scene and casually assures me that this is a false alarm. I am unconvinced. Phil, although skilled in the art of hospitality, is not a guide or what I would call “nature conscious”. In this moment he continues to reassure me that what the monkeys are actually alarming at are the images of leopards on our neighbour’s porch. Anna Ridgewell, our executive chef, has a few striking images of some of her favourite leopards displayed on canvas inside her porch. I give a closer inspection to the velvety grey mammals who are bobbing their heads, still agitated and on high alert up in the branches above. Sure enough they have their eyes keenly trained in the direction of Anna’s porch.
Phil was right; False alarm.
False only in that the leopard is not alive, it is an image of the real thing and striking enough to cause a rise and alert in the vervet monkey’s physiology.
They keep up the alarm for a good few minutes. It’s loud and persistent.
There are many interesting facts about vervet monkeys’ alarm calls. For instance they constitute the classic textbook example of semantic communication, as they give acoustically distinct calls for different predators.
But let me leave the ranger speak to those more educated on these matters.
What interests me is human behaviour.
When I lived in Cape Town living just above the city bowl below the mountain, I would sometimes hear sirens in the distance and could feel my body tense up, quickly to discover that it was a false alarm. Coming to the bush has forever changed the way I listen to my surroundings. I am grateful to have exchanged the sirens for birdsong and impala and monkey alarm calls, and I would take the cheeky vervet monkeys over a human thief any day.
With our world presently in a state of alarm and most of the world’s population confined to limited spaces, we are – more than ever – in need of the ability to create internal space. A healing sanctuary housed within our own bodies. A place that is always with us and if given attention can refill us in the most reviving way.
What is this magical key? Our breath – the very first thing we do as we enter the world, our birth right, and the only thing that stays with us through everything, offers a wonderful passage into sanctuary.
When we breathe there are some wonderful processes that take place in our physiology.
Our breath is involuntary but can be consciously controlled unlike our other involuntary responses like digestion, glandular functions and temperature regulation.
Our brain houses our amygdala, basically our body’s panic button. If it perceives a threat it will send signals to our adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline and cortisol readying the body for action. Many of us are in a state of hyper-vigilance; anxiety and stress will have our amygdala being constantly triggered. This causes tension and inflammation in the body – simply reading an alarming piece of news can activate the body into a sympathetic fight or flight response.
When our bodies are stressed our immune systems are weakened and we become more susceptible to disease. Through the simple act of consciously using our breath as a healing tool we can counteract this, using the breath as a handbrake on adrenalised energy taking over.
This will also affect our relationships, making us less reactive and more attuned to what is needed in our present situation.
With all our plans being disrupted we have a prime opportunity to learn to stop and breathe.
If history teaches us anything, pandemics have come before and will come again. But it is how we respond with our time now and what we give our attention to that will be what defines us in the future.
We have all found ourselves on a journey that is not of our choosing in the last few months. Unsure of our what our destination will look like. Our wish for you is that your internal pilgrimage in this time yields a beautiful reward, an opportunity to reset and restore.
Never has there been a better time to sit quietly and reimagine our world, and never has there been a better time to learn the secret key of the breath within you. Because of this we have incorporated breath work into our next mindfulness challenge, which launches in the next few days. Keep your eyes peeled and be sure to sign up to better understand this internal, calming technique.
In the meantime sign up here for our first 7 Day Mindfulness Challenge, if you haven’t done so already.