In Israel, a group called the Zaka are tasked with picking up body parts after a terrorist attack or accident. Our team in Israel worked with them to integrate mind-body skills into their everyday lives so they could cope with the traumatic scenes they witnessed. The Zaka now do "soft belly breathing" before they go on a call after a disaster and report less stress, greater ease, and less nausea and vomiting as they recover body parts; they meditate with family members whom they are informing of a death and do guided imagery to explore and resolve fears and concerns.
Soft belly breathing is the most fundamental technique we teach. It balances the “fight or flight” response with the relaxation that comes from our parasympathetic nervous system. You can listen to this podcast from anywhere when you want to begin practicing. Breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth. This will improve the exchange of oxygen, even as it relaxes your nervous system.
Say to yourself “soft” as you breathe in and “belly” as you breathe out. Do this for five minutes two or three times a day — not right after meals, you may fall asleep — and at bedtime, if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Use a timer (but not at bedtime) so you won’t be preoccupied with how long you’ve been doing it or how long you have left. Soon, you’ll find that in times of stress you can take a few deep breaths and say, “Soft…belly,” and relaxation will come.
3. Drawing Exercise
Azar Jendia, a young Palestinian girl living in Gaza, witnessed the deaths of her father, two uncles, and an aunt. As a participant in one of CMBM’s Mind Body Skills Groups, she learned to express her grief and trauma through drawings. In an interview for CBS 60 Minutes, Azar describes how the drawings helped her process emotions and regain hope for her future.
First she drew her home that was bombed, with the bodies of her family members. Then as her solution to her grief, she drew herself in a coffin, lying as a martyr in a grave next to her father. After nine Mind Body Skills Group sessions, Azar drew a different present and future: she saw herself surrounded by blossoming flowers and green trees, and drew herself as a heart doctor helping to treat people who suffered during the war.
To practice the Drawing Exercise yourself, use three sheets of plain white paper and a variety of crayons. You will complete three drawings, in the following order, taking as much time as you like:
1. Yourself as you are now
2. Yourself with your biggest problem
3. Yourself with your biggest problem solved
Afterward, you can write about your drawings in a journal and discuss them with a trusted friend, who may help you see the situation from a different perspective.
4. Shaking & dancing