• Jake Russell

Elvis, The Pelvis And Meditation

Hi everyone, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling the strain these last few days. Just pottering about the flat, staying on top of what’s left of my daily duties, has left me drained, and I have a sense there’s very little to draw on from the communal pool of reserves.

It’s as if the plug was pulled a few weeks ago, creating an eddy of frenetic energy as we all raced to make sense of things and adjust. Now the big collective tub stands near empty except for a sorry little wet patch and a suspicious looking hair. I feel like that suspicious looking hair right now: solitary, sodden, a little downtrodden.

Which sounds like I’m after your sympathy—and maybe I am a bit. Maybe we all are.

Because maybe we’re all in a shared state of trauma. And what we need is our universal mum to come give us a hug and tell us to hang on in there. Better yet, she’s baking our favourite biscuits and we’re to curl up in front of Netflix and snooze until they’re ready.

The shock of this whole thing isn’t to be underestimated, is it? And in times of shock it’s perfectly normal to feel a little dazed, a little grazed, and in need of a big old cuddle. I keep telling myself that.

And yet if you’re like me and live alone then hugging, for the time being and foreseeable future, is as good as a banned act.

How weird is that?

No hugging. Right when we might all need it most.

Our dad used to give the longest, strongest, deepest hugs. It was either my brother Joe or Michael who said just that in their speech at the memorial we put on for him way back in the hazy days of February.

His hugs were sumptuous and wonderful.

I remember when I was about 10, he told me to put my hips into it when we hugged. Self-consciousness had been holding me back, so after that, whenever I entered an embrace, I commanded my pelvis to make like Elvis and tilt in the required direction. I still get shy sometimes now and stiffen up, and whenever I do, I hear my dad telling me to put my whole body into it.

Funny how seemingly trivial little things can be so important. At the moment it feels as if hugging might be one of the most important things we have. And when you think about it, how can it not be?

Those sad and terrible studies from the Romanian orphanages that show how a lack of human contact is devastating to the development of the body and mind—impairing behaviour, cognition, emotional response and motor skills—surely prove as much. Humans need touch.

A good squeeze every now and then, and preferably more often, is nourishment like cold-pressed fruit and veg.

And so, during this time of distance and isolation, without handshakes, kisses and hugs, without essential human touch, let’s not deepen the potential side effects by also falling into self-neglect.

One very simple, age-old and proven way to stave off neglect and care for yourself instead is to meditate—just a little every day.

For anyone that doesn’t already, I dare you to sit for 5 minutes and try it.

The mere mention of meditation might’ve already turned you off but hear me out.

When could be a better time to try, or develop the practise, than now? When we’re all pretty much locked up with nowhere to go, with all the time in the world to stare at our screens, how about siphoning off a mere 5 minutes to sitting still and quiet instead?

The comedian and podcaster godfather, Joe Rogan (a muscle-bound, cage fight-loving, elk-hunting ruffian—in other words he’s certainly no chanting swami) says he thinks of meditation the same way he thinks of exercise or brushing his teeth – just something you have to do every day to stay healthy.

I like that plain-talking approach to something that (still) gets all too quickly dismissed as hippy-dippy bullshit. Because it really isn’t.

We exercise to maintain physical form (and speaking of which, do standby for a few new movement and exercise videos later today on, we clean ourselves to stay hygienic, we eat well for fuel and immunity, we seek human tenderness to stay in touch. But what about our mental health, especially now during this period of global and personal strain?

Forget about spiritual hypothesis, ego-loss or consciousness—if that kind of thing doesn’t float your boat, don’t fret—meditation need not be esoteric or metaphysical. Think of it in terms of unpretentious science: straightforward physiology, no-nonsense neurology.

Simply sitting (or standing, walking or lying down, you choose) while focussing on something in the present, such as your breath, has the very real effect of calming the cardiorespiratory system. Your heart rate decreases, your breath deepens. This triggers your nervous system to switch from its sympathetic setting (which mobilises internal resources such as blood, oxygen and hormones to the frontlines of action, preparing your body to either do battle or make light and skedaddle) to its parasympathetic mode (which downs tools, puts on some comfy socks and presses play on Sade – although if my nervous system put Sade on I’d fight it to the death).

The point is, the parasympathetic division restores the body—and therefore mind too—to a calm and composed state. And that, put simply, is really all meditation is.

If you’ve never done it before, the easiest way is to sit comfortably in a chair. No need for crossing your legs or touching forefinger to thumb, burning incense or saying Om. You can do all of that if you want, but none of the paraphernalia is essential for meditation.

Instead, just sit, close your eyes, and direct your attention to your breath.

Then watch how quickly you get dragged off into your thoughts. I guarantee it’ll be less than 10 seconds, probably less than 5. So smile to yourself when it happens because it will, don’t admonish, and return your focus to your breathing. In and out, in and out, no need to force it slow and deep, but notice how when you do pay attention it slows and deepens by itself.

Then notice how you’re lost in thought again. Swept along with the current of your mind without you having even realised. Smile to yourself once more, don’t chastise, and go back to breathing, that’s all.

And every time you wake up, as Sam Harris so eloquently puts it, from the reverie of your thoughts, and you realise you have indeed been thinking rather than staying present, just keep returning to the anchor point of your breath.

Before you know it 5 minutes will be up. And when it is maybe take a second to notice how you feel in your hands, neck and shoulders, in your jaw or in your belly. Were you holding on and clenching? It’s perfectly normal if you were. Maybe next time you can let go a little more, maybe sit a minute longer.

Meditation isn’t a substitute for being hugged, that’s not the point I’m making, but while we’re deprived of usual human touch it can indeed be nourishing and help fend off feelings of neglect.

Try it. I double dare you. Tiger King can wait.

If you do have someone to hug, however, be sure to Elvis your pelvis and do it proper because who knows when you might get to next.

And meanwhile, I’m still wishing you all love in the time of quarantine,

Jake x

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