Every morning we wake up, and before we even open our eyes or get out of bed, we strap on a backpack. Not a school backpack – you can’t touch this backpack or see it with your eyes. But it’s there. You can feel it. When it’s full, your shoulders get tired, it is hard to breathe, and it’s tough to think about anything other than this heavy backpack!
Do you know how your backpack gets filled? It doesn’t hold books or school supplies. Every time you worry about something, it’s like you put a rock in your backpack. If you get angry with your mom, you put a rock in your backpack. If you worry about your soccer game, you stuff another rock into your backpack. If you forget to eat and feel weak, you put a rock in your backpack.
Did you notice something? YOU are stuffing rocks into your backpack. Not your mom. Not your teacher. YOU alone.
Here’s how it works. The rocks are the negative reactions and feelings you have, and they are stored in your backpack. The angrier you are, the bigger the rock. So if you have a bad day, your backpack is really full and, even though it is imaginary, your body feels real discomfort. Your teeth might clench together and your neck might feel tight. Maybe the heavy backpack tightens your shoulders or makes it hard to breathe? You might feel tired from carrying that backpack around. Think about the last time you were really angry or worried. What did you feel? How did you breathe? Not a good feeling, was it?
So how can you carry an empty, light backpack, instead? Remember the weight of your backpack is completely up to you. You don’t have to add rocks. You can choose to be happy, grateful, and forgiving no matter what other people say or do to you. So, imagine you do poorly on a test. Rather than making fists, scrunching your eyebrows and getting angry at your teacher or yourself, choose to take a few big breaths and remind yourself that you did your best and (aren’t you lucky) next time you have another chance to do better. Choose your reaction. Don’t add a rock!
Stop: Take a moment to stop and notice how crummy you feel when you are upset. Feel the weight of your backpack pressing down on you. It’s there. Really stop and feel it. Just noticing this feeling will empty out a few rocks.
Stretch: Open your jaw and wiggle it around. Roll your shoulders. Open your hands like starfish. Reach your arms overhead and fold forward, hanging like a ragdoll. If you know any yoga poses that make you feel strong, do them(Warrior? Downward Dog? Cobra?) Work your body any way you enjoy. Dance, run, jump, whatever gets you moving will empty your backpack.
Breathe: When you are choosing to add rocks, you aren’t really breathing, not with your whole body. Sip in a long inhale through your nose and exhale slowly, super slowly. Feel the breath moving through you. Every breath empties the backpack out a bit. The slower the exhale, the lighter your load.
One last way to get rid of some of those rocks? Go find someone and give them a hug. Science shows that hugging someone lowers your blood pressure and relaxes your body. A hug is like a full body breath; it can fill you with energy and leave you calmer and happier. Try it! You’re backpack will empty out quickly.
Remember the weight of your backpack is completely up to you. Don’t’ stuff rocks in! Choose to stop, stretch, and breathe.
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