My yoga practice hasn't changed my life in the way that you might think. I don't float through life on a blissful cloud while performing gravity defying, pretzel shaped movements worthy of Cirque du Soleil. My practice did not elicit a poignant moment of enlightenment where all of my prior life changed in an instant. Rather, I have experienced a series of poignant moments, both on my mat and off it over the years. This is not to imply that these shifts have been any less profound for me.
The truth of the matter is that mental resiliency is not something that came easily in my early life and I have struggled over the years with strong surges of emotion that felt like they would consume me. And at certain points of my life, these surges of anxiety and depression left me feeling incapable of functioning at any capacity, other than to crawl into my bed in defeat. When you experience emotions as strong as these, the sensations that you feel throughout your physical body, leave you feeling unsafe in your own skin . . . betrayed and wary of the next episode.
There is something important that I would like to speak to here. So many people, over and over again have expressed to me a difficulty with getting onto their yoga mat when they are feeling this way. Often with an air of guilt or shame over the matter, again and again, like a dirty secret that only they are guilty of. What I would like to say here, is that when you are feeling these emotions, it is a very physical experience. Your breath feels restricted and the tension in your body can feel so palpable that you would claw it out of your body if you could. IT IS PERFECTLY UNDERSTANDABLE THAT YOU WOULD GO TO THE SAFEST PLACE YOU KNOW OF WHEN YOU ARE FEELING THIS WAY. And for many of us, this safe place is our beds.
I think that for many of us, there is a perception of yoga that prevents us from seeing ourselves engaging in yoga and even for those of us who do practice, there are stereotypes that subconsciously, we feel we need to live up to. When the truth of the matter, is that yoga, quite simply, is the choice in any given moment, to take an action that better connects us to ourselves. It is an action of reclaiming our bodies and becoming at home with ourselves again. It is a learning of how to release those overwhelming bodily sensations that coincide with challenging emotions and a way to retrain our nervous systems and our minds to cultivate ease and contentment.
As I said earlier, I have experienced a series of small, yet not insignificant moments through my yoga practice that over the years, have helped me in a profound way. It is my intention, to share a few of these yoga epiphanies, here in this post and also, to continue this thread through the month of March.
Yoga Epiphany # 1 - Create a safe space
While crawling into a cozy bed can feel wonderful at first, when you are feeling stuck, your bed can quickly become a trap. Create a safe space for yourself in a sunny spot in your home and make it as inviting and nurturing as possible. I keep a yoga mat rolled out on my bedroom floor by the sunniest window in the house. If I am feeling upset, it is natural that I will start to head toward my bed, my go to, but having the mat there allows me to make a choice in those mere moments when I may not feel like a have a lot of energy for decisiveness. If I feel immobilized by my feelings, I put myself into a gentle back bend lying on a bolster and even take the duvet off my bed and snuggle into it. (I have even on occasion borrowed the table warmer from my massage table to make my mat that much more enticing and nurturing.) I am still lying down because that is what I feel that I need when I am feeling overpowered by my emotions; but I am lying in a posture that forces me to keep my chest open, instead of allowing myself to lie in a closed off position.
Yoga Epiphany # 2 - You don't need a yoga mat to do yoga
Listen to your body. If you feel fidgety and agitated, you may respond well to movement. If you are feeling stuck mentally and physically your body is charged with frustrated energy, this can be especially hard. I have found that when I am feeling this way, that the hardest thing, is for me to do something new. In fact, I am painfully resistant. This is about safety too. The more you can remove the barriers for yourself to engage in something that you need, the more likely you will be to engage in the activity. Ayurveda classifies stuck emotions and feelings of depression as Kapha dosha and according to Ayurveda, when Kapha is in excess, we need the help of others to help us regain our momentum. Reach out to others and get them to help you in making healthful movement based activities FAMILIAR to you.
Yoga Epiphany # 3 - Just Stand Up
You do not need to do something grandiose to shift into a healthier head space. In fact, it is the smaller, more attainable actions that you are more likely to repeat that will give you the greatest success. All that you need is to do one small action that gives you enough momentum and inspiration to do the next small action. For example, if your house is a mess and you feel overwhelmed, just stand up and pick something up and put it back where it belongs. Repeat. If you are feeling stuck and movement feels inaccessible to you, try the breath of joy that we demonstrate in the clip. That may just give you the momentum that you are needing to take the next small action, that over time, will lead you in a healthier direction.
Stefani Wilton and Contributors
Finding beauty in the midst of joyous imperfection