As I went through my yoga routine today, I pondered a comment a yoga teacher made while she explained proper Virhabadrasana B (Warrior Two) alignment. She said when we look over the fingers of our extended hand, we aren’t focusing on the hand but the space around the hand. It is fascinating to stop and ponder the Space around us as we move through each posture and how we use space as we live. This idea goes beyond yoga practice.
Every moment of every day we inhabit a unique space in the universe.
Because we take up space, we exist.
Other objects can’t inhabit space where we are.
No person can use space the same way.
No matter my physical or mental state, I’m glad I exist.
Life circumstances today reminded me there are still things in this world I fear. I know others besides myself suffer at times from PTSD. These feelings are rooted in fear and are triggered randomly.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”
I don’t like viewing my reoccurring symptoms as a disorder. The word ‘disorder’ puts my Obsessive Compulsion into overdrive. It makes me want to rid myself of any feelings of fear in order to avoid shameful judgment. Seeing it that way causes me unnecessary stress and anxiety. I view these feelings as they are, naturally occurring feelings I face and overcome sometimes. There is no shame in feeling fear or being sensitive to our trauma.
Sometimes it feels like these emotions and thoughts are me. But one of the benefits of studying yoga is separating who we are from our thoughts, feelings, and other elusive human characteristics. I love how Caroline McHugh talks about identity in her TED talkThe Art of Being Yourself.
You are not your thoughts because you think them. And you can’t be your feelings because otherwise who’s the you that feels them? You are not what you have. You are not what you do. You are not even who you love or who loves you. There has to be something underneath all that.
I featured artwork from Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls to illustrate how giving our fears and traumas a name helps overcome them. Just as Connor needed to speak his truth about what he feared most, we all need to face our monsters. But just like Connor, our monsters take on different forms based on our experiences. As real and frightening as our fears are to us we can overcome them.
There are important truths I remind myself of to help me endure my mental pain and trauma.
My personal worth doesn’t hinge on my experiences. Individual worth is inherent. That is what yoga is for, so we can se our true, glorious selves.
I am not alone. I have friends, family, and other kindred spirits who I can turn to. Most importantly, no matter where I am I can turn to God in prayer.
I grow beyond my fears. I’ve overcome fears before and I can do it again.
Though this may not seem like a yoga post, I really believe facing and seeing these parts of ourselves reflects how we practice and teach others. I hope my thoughts and feelings came across well enough.
I’m grateful I’ve built a solid foundation for myself in my yoga practice. Looking back at my first year practicing, even going through the basics was incredibly challenging. Part of it was I had not developed the right muscles to fully support myself in those poses. I also didn’t have ample experience to believe I could do it.
If we don’t master the basics and learn to solidly hold each pose, we will fall and even hurt ourselves. Yogic experience builds physical stamina, muscles, and confidence in ourselves. I like to think of having a solid foundation as being fully committed in each pose. To be committed means syncing breath with movement. It also means activating proper muscles to deepen each posture. Most importantly, we commit our minds to being in the moment.
“Do you suppose you will look the same when you are an old woman as you do now? Most folk have three faces—the face they get when they’re children, the face they own when they’re grown, and the face they’ve earned when they’re old. But when you live as long as I have, you get many more. I look nothing like I did when I was a wee thing of thirteen. You get the face you build your whole life, with work and loving and grieving and laughing and frowning.”
I often wonder why The Ashtanga Primary series constantly switches directions for the standing poses. Having finished the teacher training, I understand how logically it is more effective. It is easier to flow through Trikonasana (triangle pose), Parsvakonasa (extended side angle pose), and Virabhadrasana A-B (Warrior one and two) by simply turning back and forth from the back to the front of the mat.
But yoga is more than just a physical exercise. It mirrors a deeper, more personal experience running parallel to our physical attentiveness. Since I started my teacher training, I always feel jumbled switching sides for the standing, extended postures. Funnily enough, after going through my yoga practice for the day, I started thinking about how these feelings extend into my everyday life.
Then it hit me all at once during my run. How we see the world and face its challenges varies as we age, as does our attitude towards life’s challenges. Much of our life is also centered on longing. Children long for experience and respect. Young Adults long for purpose and direction. Mothers and Fathers wistfully yearn for personal space and better finances. Single adults long for marriage, married adults long for personal time and freedom from obligations. And so the list goes on.
It takes a special eye to see the value of the life we are living in the moment. Every stage of life is valuable and needed for our personal growth. Taking time to do yoga helps in developing a mindful perspective. Just as we move forward, change our gaze, and shift directions on the mat, we steadily evolve on our life journey.
Today I had a walking meditation under blues skies and beautiful sunlight after church. Seeing the sunshine is a rare treat in Upstate New York during the winter, so I was glad I took the opportunity to go out and soak in the light. Just being outside for a half an hour in the sunshine lifted my spirits exponentially. This experience reminded me of my hardest winter in Rostov, Russia.
January 2017 was the grayest month I’ve ever endured. Rostov winters aren’t white. They are grey, windy, cloudy, and cold. Having grown up in the West my whole life, it was difficult never seeing the blue sky. At the time, I was also working through painful emotional challenges. Long story short, I had terrible seasonal depression.
During my scripture study one dank morning, it occurred to me I had the power to bring sunshine into my day in other ways. I decided to write all my daily blessings on sticky notes and put them all over the hallway mirror where I could see them every time I came home. Around that time, I also took the time to write fun daily events texts to other missionaries serving in my area.
This change in attitude made all the difference for my missionary service. The greatest change, however, was most present in my heart and mind. My thoughts were brighter because my focus was not on my pain or the sad, winter landscape. I created daily sunshine to stimulate and enhance my life.
What does this have to do with my yoga practice? I like to picture the sun salutations as a way of opening my heart to change and honoring the sun, which anchors me physically, spiritually, and mentally. Traditionally, Surya Namaskar A and B sequences represent a persons’ external and internal veneration for the sun. Hands are placed at the heart at the beginning and end of each salutation, symbolizing this reverence and connection.
One of the means of honoring the sun is through the dynamic asana sequence Surya Namaskar (better known as Sun Salutation). The Sanskrit word namaskar stems from namas, which means “to bow to” or “to adore.” (The familiar phrase we use to close our yoga classes, namaste—te means “you”—also comes from this root.) Each Sun Salutation begins and ends with the joined-hands mudra (gesture) touched to the heart. This placement is no accident; only the heart can know the truth.
The ancient yogis taught that each of us replicates the world at large, embodying “rivers, seas, mountains, fields…stars and planets…the sun and moon” (Shiva Samhita, II.1-3). The outer sun, they asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).
However, sometimes we salute the sun even when we can’t see it. It is wonderful to think each person has an anchoring light within them. We don’t need to always see the sun to know it’s real, to feel its warmth, or experience its power through the earth’s rotation. I like to think all of us are beings of light, and yoga reminds us to look inward and recognize this within ourselves.
I did a bedtime yoga sequence for the first time in a while. Usually, I do this if I need to wind down after a stressful event during the day. I’ve had too many of the world’s problems on my shoulders lately. I’ve found yoga, above anything for me, helps me focus on what’s most important at the moment: breathing and anchoring my mind in the present. I can’t solve the world’s problems. I can’t change social trends on marriage, family, or religion. What I can do right now is breathe, bend, and be in the moment I have.
One of my favorite things to do is deep breathing and stretching. After being sick, enduring finals, finishing huge writing projects, or . . . going through monthly womanly experiences, taking the time to stretch deep into my aching body feels wonderful. It’s miraculous how much stress gets trapped in my muscles.
Today I dedicated my practice to breathing and stressing my anxiety out of my hips, legs, shoulders, and back. I wondered why stretching helps fight stress so effectively. A fun website Resilient Educator I found explains, “Stretching stimulates receptors in the nervous system that slow the production of stress hormones.” Ashley Previte explained in the article “Stretch Your Body, Stretch Your Mind” other benefits. Deep Stretching,
Releases hormones for mood and emotions.
Increases blood flow and circulation to your muscles and your brain
Encourages a relaxed awareness of your body and mind
Improves balance, flexibility, range of motion, and strength
Focuses your awareness to the present
Though I prefer yoga sequences that push me physically, there are times like today, after I built up too much stress, I need to really stretch it out. These kinds of sequences, for me at least, don’t follow a predestined pattern. I like to pay attention to my body and ponder which muscles need a lot of focus. (Most of my stress goes to my lower body in my hips, lower back, and legs.)
What I especially like about these yoga sequences is how fun it is to think about how I would teach this to a class. There is nothing so liberating as allowing yourself to stretch and flow according to your needs. Because, when it all comes down to it, we do yoga for ourselves, not to please or impress other people.
All in all, I had fun today and enjoyed releasing several days of tension from my body.
Today I give a shoutout to one of my favorite YouTube yoga teachers. After I maxed out a yoga exercise video almost ten years ago, I looked up different yoga teachers online to learn more. Money was tight, but I knew I needed extra guidance if I hoped to progress. So I went exploring and finally found Adrienne’s channel!
She is a great teacher for beginners. I often go through her videos to learn new ways to teach beginner students. We have never met, but I view her videos like an old friend’s. She helps me identify and ground into the basics. By going through her videos once a week or so, I can focus on what is most important in my yoga practice.
Adrienne has multiple monthly yoga challenges beginners, and seasoned practitioners can experience. Her latest 3-Day yoga series Breathe inspired me to conduct my month-long challenge. She’s a gentle, personal, and calming yoga teacher. I recommend her videos to anyone interested in either getting back to the basics or starting an at-home yoga practice.
I made a monumental discovery today. Meditation is more than sitting on a pillow with my eyes closed while concentrating on deep breathing. Not that I don’t love doing this! But I have an eclectic mind and thrive on variety and exploration. So today, on my third day off from intensive yoga practices, I meditated on different ways I mediate off my yoga mat and pillow.
Honestly, yoga teaches how to practice mindfulness in all aspects of our life, even during activities and habits usually not associated with meditation or spiritualism. Here’s a small list I’ve made for myself.
Reading Familiar Books
Rereading favorite books creates a safe space for the mind. The more I read a story, the better I understand its meanings and life applications.
Reading New Books
Discovering new and wonderful books is one of my life’s joys! I believe attaining knowledge through reading is one of the most beneficial medicines we can find.
Re-watching Favorite Movies
Much like revisiting favorite books, re-watching my favorite movies has a medicinal effect on me. Many of them remind me of the things that are most important to me.
Watching Children’s Shows
Watching old cartoons or children’s shows brings me a lot of joy. I don’t feel myself opposing, sorting, and relabeling what I see. Nor do I have to switch on my language in my brain.
I am empathic, so going outside, breathing in fresh air, and walking is one of my favorite ways to sort and quiet my thoughts.
Clean rooms are happy rooms. Clean minds are happy minds. Cleaning my space helps me simultaneously clear my mind of anxiety and turbulent thoughts.
Researching and Writing
I love research projects! I love sharing what I learn! Research and writing taught me to FOCUS and connect my thoughts.
Playing and Listening to Music
I’ve loved music since I was young. When I need to unwind in a very personal way, sometimes I sit and play the piano or sing. I can’t list all the times beautiful music has uplifted and enlightened me.
Riding in cars, buses, trains, or airplanes sometimes brings me wonderful enlightenment. I especially love to look out the window and ponder the scenery and people I see.
For any who read my posts from the last few days, my physical practice has been on a steady decline. I had high expectations for myself, even while I am not feeling completely up to it. For several days I was going to do deep breathing exercises with longer-lasting asanas. But after doing it for one day, I knew it was not the right thing for me. Thankfully, this February yoga challenge is about understanding my limitations. For the next few days I want to focus on different aspects of my practice.
I’ve often wondered what it means to rest mindfully. People are so busy nowadays I wonder if they have forgotten how. For me, it is a matter of mindfully setting aside busy things I can do that I think I should do and being still.
I don’t need to go onto the mat today if I am not physically up to it.
I am not obligated to do extensive research if I am mentally tired.
I don’t have to walk three miles if it is 10 degrees outside and snowing to feel accomplished.
If I take the time to rest, it doesn’t mean I failed to meet my goals. It just means I’m listening to my body and adjusting what I do according to its needs.
My affirmation today is I will mindfully rest without judging or criticizing my choices.