Physicality is a beautiful and powerful thing.
It has always provided a great sense of support to my life, allowing me to not only maintain a level of health and fitness that kept me strong, but also giving me an outlet for those inevitable times when frustration or disappointments crept in to my life.
As a professional dancer and avid athlete, I had to be disciplined, willing to push myself physically and I loved it! In other areas, after a bad day there was nothing I needed more than to move my body with a challenging run, bike ride or yoga practice. I craved motion rather than rest, even when it clearly was not what was “best” for me. More often than not, this would lift my mood, give me clarity and bring hope and reason back into my life. Thank you endorphins!
I had long been a dedicated yoga practitioner and I gravitated to the physical practice rather than the spiritual or emotional components. It wasn’t until a series of challenging circumstances left me unable to muscle and action my way to a better emotional place, that I forced myself to explore the more mindful side of yoga and life.
We all have our breaking points. Those moments when we become overwhelmed and unable to cope with the situations in which we find ourselves. I had always considered myself someone with a high tolerance for such things and that in the long run I would be ok.
Five years ago I found myself having too much challenge, in too many areas of my life, all at once. I was dealing with a very difficult breakup, I had lost my job, was broke and had not one but four members of my immediate family dealing with serious illness.
One or two of these elements could have been manageable for me, but the accumulation of all of them was too much. For the first time in my life, I had no idea how to bring myself back. I had lost interest in and energy for my usual pick-me-ups and would spend days on end at the brink of tears. I was often unable to meet my basic needs of food, a job search and other daily tasks, let alone meet the pre-existing expectations for my physical self. I wasn’t me and it was scary.
Knowing that my connection to my body was strong, I continued to seek ways to a better mental state through what I was capable of (and interested in) doing physically- a far cry from my inflexible programs of the past.
My long-term vision was uncertain and I was forced to live moment to moment.
Honesty played a key roll in this, so did yoga and rest. Being faithful to the varied requirements of my heart helped me learn to listen to my needs and begin to meet them. My light had to come from checking in, asking the question “what do I need today?”, receiving the genuine answer from my self and providing that with love, rather than perceived obligation. I had no choice but to accept that this was my truth as I was incapable of anything else.
I began by exploring alternative means of connecting to my body, ways that were more gentle and less effort-full than the strenuous output of energy I was accustomed to. This inquiry was vitally important to me on my muddled days. Those junctions when I could not muster the spirit to push myself, and yet I thought I may just be able to manage something more than a full afternoon nap. Both remained appealing options on days when they served me!
I gave myself permission to go to a gentle hatha or yin yoga class and simply do what I could. I invited rest periods, tears (lots of them) and stillness into my practice, both inside and outside my home. I did so unabashedly and unapologetically.
If I could release myself from the learned need to hold it together, than others could learn to let me do it on the mat next to them. I listened to and guided my experience on the mat, based on my own personal needs. Isn’t that a big part of what yoga is meant to encourage?
I also added my own breathing meditations. Visualizing and following my breath entering and exiting my body allowed me to notice what areas freely received the breath and what parts were so stagnant that they were immovable to the prana. For me, it was often the center of my heart that was the tightest- not surprising given all that was going on at the time. This new form of self-investigation provided me with endless information about myself. Where I hold tension, what I focal points would be useful to work on in a gentle and loving way in order to feel, just a little bit, better.
In time, my queries extended to the rest of my life. Did I want to escape into the land of Netflix today with my cat by my side, or would it be nice to spend time with a friend? Did I need comfort food, or a more sensible salad for dinner? Shall I be alone with my thoughts and worries to sort them out, or would it be beneficial to let them breath in conversation? I did not make the “smart” choice everyday, but I truly feel that asking the question and giving myself the suggestion of a healthier choice (with the welcome opportunity to opt out of it), planted the seed for more positive action. I felt powerful and forward moving on the days when I asked for help and I was proud of myself for adhering to my truth with kindness and patience on the days when my couch and pajamas won.
This darker period of experience opened up my practice, my mind and my heart to more sensitive way of living. Fewer obligations based on strategy, and more injection of activities and souls that I love, and that make my days better. I am thankful for having lost my power in its previous form, because the strength I have gained in its absence has enriched my life tenfold both on and off the mat.