The last couple of years have been challenging for almost everyone, in Hong Kong as elsewhere in the world. Whether you’ve left the city, are undecided about whether to go, or determined to stay but concerned about the future, you may be rattled. Yoga therapist Charlotte Douglas, who has called Hong Kong home for 13 years, has decided to stay put and deal with the uncertainty of Hong Kong’s future – but it hasn’t been easy. “I consider myself a pretty steady person, but … 2022 has challenged that on every level,” says Douglas. She lives with her husband, children, two dogs and a cat in a quiet beachside village on Lamma Island, southwest of Hong Kong Island. Despite this rural idyll, she has felt the strain and describes anxiety – which she says rises like a beast in the densely populated city – as contagious. The antidote is “core steadiness”, she says. Nothing to do with building a six-pack, it’s all about being steady in a time of uncertainty. “Wherever you are right now, whatever your life looks like at the moment, there is a requirement for steadiness – to be able to stand on the rocking bow of the boat and be able to make moment to moment adjustments in relation to all that is happening,” says Douglas. What’s the key to better sleep and less stress? It’s how you breathe Influenced by a wide range of teachers – yoga teacher Donna Farhi, somatic movement masters Thomas Hanna and Moshé Feldenkrais, and trauma specialists Stephen Porges, Peter Levine and Gabor Maté – Douglas’ approach is one of inquiry. “Core steadiness for me is how can we retain a sense of softness and fluidity so we can go with the flow because things change all the time, but have the strength, the stability, the uprightness to deal with whatever happens,” says Douglas. The core or centre can be a physical thing – your diaphragm, pelvic floor, the muscles of the spine and abdomen – and also esoteric. Eastern traditions refer to the “centre” – for the Japanese, hara is translated as “belly”, but at a deeper level it is not just the centre of the body but also the centre of one’s true nature. Douglas has some straightforward suggestions for how to attain core steadiness, in four key ways. 1. Breathwork : Manipulating the breath is a quick, simple and effective way to attain centredness. Whether you are seated or standing, taking a moment to stop and breathe through the nose is profoundly powerful. The key is to have a long exhale, as the exhalation is the calming aspect of the breath cycle while the inhale excites the system. “The irony is when we are stressed, we tell people to take a big deep breath in; actually it’s the opposite, it’s the long smooth exhale,” says Douglas. 2. Sound: Humming, making an “Ommm” or “Ahhh” sound, or singing creates vibrations in the body which have an effect on your vagus nerve, the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system which controls involuntary body functions such as your digestion, heart rate and immune system . “I hum in the shower. And we know there is something joyous about singing – whether it’s Lady Gaga or the Beatles, whatever floats your boat,” says Douglas. 3. Movement: Specifically, movement with an open-minded and curious approach, can build core steadiness. Often we approach movement as something which we have to do – no pain, no gain – but Douglas advocates movement which is playful. If it’s not playful, your nervous system might perceive it negatively. “The movement part is, what do I need? If I’m feeling tense, then I know what I need is something soft and playful. If I’m feeling really collapsed or sinking into a bit of a fog, I’ll go and pick up a kettlebell,” she says. 4. Social interaction: Trauma and addiction specialist Gabor Maté says that “safety is not the absence of threat, it is the presence of connection”. Social interaction affects the way our nervous system functions, and being isolated impairs brain health. “That’s been the problem of the last two years [of the pandemic], there’s been so much isolation. Through a screen, it is so difficult to feel connected,” says Douglas. These four elements – breath, sound, movement and social connection – have kept Douglas grounded over the last couple of years. Having a daily routine which includes one or more of these practices will help centre you, but even so there may be times when they aren’t enough. “To be steady, you do need to practice it. You’ve got your daily stability, that can get toppled still. Sometimes, you need an SOS. It’s knowing your practice isn’t holding you. For me the sign is, I’m on Facebook far too much, my addictions start showing up,” says Douglas. In which case she turns to one of a small clutch of friends who she knows can hold her, or a long, hard walk in the hills . Core steadiness isn’t something you pick up and drop, it’s a daily practice that encourages us to be mindful of where we are at, what we are feeling, and respond to that in the moment to keep us centred . And it’s a skill that will serve us well not just now, in these turbulent times, but in the future. If we live long enough, we will all experience loss, disease, change. The warning signs of stress, how it can make you ill and what to do “You can start in the body, but you can take it out too, What’s going on for me right now? What do I need? The somatic people say, ‘What’s your weather today?’ Be your own meteorological expert. Am I sunny or cloudy with a chance of rain? Get to know yourself and in knowing yourself you become less reactive,” says Douglas. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . 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