Changing the things we can
Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself - Rumi
What a strange start to the year it has been. It felt like there was a burst of hope and optimism as we entered 2021 and then only a few days later, a big sense of deflation as the lockdown was announced. I started off the year in self-isolation with my daughter after someone in my support bubble contracted Covid, which meant no fresh air for 10 days as we live in a first floor flat.
I feel like I've been really tested in the past couple of weeks and I know I'm not alone in this. After 10 months of varying restrictions many of us are feeling really worn down by it all. But what can we do? Lockdown looks like it's here for a while to come. The power we have right now is in how we choose to deal with it.
Luckily yoga offers a whole system of practices to turn inward and change our experience of the world around us. Here I'll be sharing some of the ideas and practices that have been helping me to find my way through the testing times.
Breathing through it
Many of us have extra pressures right now and less support than we'd usually have in managing our workloads and childcare responsibilities. Or we're just stuck indoors more and feeling bored and fed up. We might find that we get stressed more easily and we're reacting to the little things much more than we usually would.
By quietening our thinking minds, yoga helps us to find a sense of mental space and clarity. Focusing on the breath as we move through a physical practice is great for stilling the mind but we can choose to take a few conscious breaths at any point throughout the day. It might seem like a small thing but it can provide us with a vital gap in our thought process if we're feeling overwhelmed by things.
One simple practice is to inhale through the nostrils and exhale out of the mouth with a deep sigh. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest wing of our nervous system) which helps to induce a state of mental and physical calm. Doing this 3-5 times at various points throughout the day and especially anytime we are feeling overwhelmed can really make a difference.
Stronger than we know
There are times when we are dealing with a challenging situation and we feel like we are collapsing on the inside - we just don't know how we are going to get through it.
A yoga practice can help us to access resources we might not have known were available to us. One example of this is with Warrior 2 pose - a pose that summons up feelings of inner strength and empowerment. Sometimes I like to take a snapshot of how this pose feels in my body. Then when I'm facing a challenging situation at some other time, I can re-awaken that feeling and use it to help me feel stronger.
Warrior 2 is also a good pose for exploring the yogic quality of 'tapas' - the ability to be present with discomfort and to let it transform us. When we hold Warrior 2 a little longer than is comfortable for us, we start to feel the burn. We could frame this simply as pain but through the lens of tapas we start to see it as a fire of transformation. This tapas approach can be applied more generally to our experience in lockdown. Every time we are dealing with a challenging situation and navigate our way through it, we are growing in some way. Nothing is wasted.
In our yoga practice, we learn to access a sense of support from the earth beneath us. At a time when everything around us might feel crazy and overwhelming, there's something very reassuring about the feeling of solid and stable ground. Certain postures really lend themselves to this connection with the earth - Child's Pose for example - but we can find it in all of them.
At any point in the day, we can tap into the support of the earth. Whether it's feeling the ground beneath our feet or the sensation of our seat on a chair, it offers us a feeling of stability when everything else feels shaky.
Attuning ourselves to this feeling of support is helpful in the moment but it also serves to remind us that we are held by, and need support from, something beyond our individual selves. It can be a reminder to ask for help from other people when we feel like we're not coping. Even if it's just a phone call or WhatsApp message, it's amazing what a difference it can make to say when we are struggling.
The more we practice yoga, the more we realise that our internal state shapes our view of the world around us. This time right now is hard and it's important to recognise that so we can go as gently as possible on ourselves. However, we can also use it as an opportunity to draw on resources that we did not know were available to us, to try out new ways of dealing with our challenges and to open ourselves up to the (very yogic) idea that times of difficulty offer our greatest material for growth.