I was 18 years old when I first started doing yoga. I was working on starting a modeling career and they advised me to start yoga to lose weight. I was living with my fiancé in an abusive relationship, I smoked cigarettes, and I drank alcohol fairly regularly. I certainly wasn't what you would call Zen. Looking back I was a ball of anxiety who was just so used to functioning the way I did.
After my first yoga practice, (a video cassette in an upstairs room of the house), I felt an immediate sense of relief. Like I was in a quiet room inside another quiet room and there was no one around me that could permeate that space. I did it everyday, to such an extent that my fiancé would get irritated with my daily practice. (Isn't it weird how someone who loves you will decide that something you are passionate about and makes you a better functioning human is annoying?) But I imagine my sense of peace confronted his alcohol and cocaine abuse.
At this time I did not have the knowledge of why yoga was impacting me in such a powerful way. I just assumed it was the stretching.
I slowly stopped smoking, I stopped drinking, I went to bed early so that my practice the next day would be enjoyable. Everything I did became a devotion to my yoga practice. Everything I did became a devotion to me. It was profound. In the final moments of my relationship, I remember my ex yelling at me and punching the wall next to my face and I do not even think I flinched. It was like I was watching the events understanding the absurdity of his domestic abuse and how absurd it would be to engage.
It felt like the fuckin matrix.
"A punch slowly passed by my cheekbone while I popped the red pill in my mouth and swallowed it gladly." That was the night I left that relationship. The lessons didn't stop there. They came hard and fast in the following years. Healing from abuse took experiencing more abuse and learning how unhealthy my perception of love had become. It took repeated behaviors and failures that I feel to this day. I would slip and fall, and when I realized I was off track I would go straight back to yoga. It was my place of solace, the place where I could realize myself again. The only thing that changed was that I would catch myself slipping a little quicker each time.
My life slowly became less messy.
In my mid twenties I was signed up for my second Yoga Teacher Training. A few weeks prior to this training I injured my back in yoga and felt a lot of stress about entering a training and not being able to perform at the level I was used to, (as if yoga is a performance).
The training was one weekend a month for 9 months. We were required to create practice sequences according to what we learned in each session, explain our reasoning for the sequence, and log each practice. And it was a certain number of practices that we were required to complete. I was uncomfortable at not being able to get the movements in and kept making excuses to my teacher, River, about how I couldn't do the homework. River took the time to listen and then encouraged me to use the 3-4 postures I could do and breath work to get the homework done, emphasizing that it is not necessarily the amount of postures you do, but your intention behind them that creates a powerful practice.
During the training River said "If you practice breath work regularly, your life will change. We don't know how it will, but it will."
And it has.
This is where I fell deeply in love with breath work. It was like sinking deeper into myself than I had ever gone. I witnessed my discomfort to the stillness and the varying things my mind would create to project the discomforts.
It was only within the last 7-10 years that I really started to understand the reason that I felt so good after my first yoga class was because of the breath. Targeted breath practices regulate your nervous system and create the reaction inside of you that is needed at that moment in time for you to heal, energize, rest, or recover. Practices do not necessarily need to be the perfect every time, but they do need to have the knowledge and understanding of the nervous system behind them... no bro science here please :)
Solace comes in layers. For many in the yoga world, it started with more intense styles if yoga and as they gradually moved through the layers of themselves they have been drawn to slower variations of yoga that will, eventually, lead to stillness.
It can start with yoga, going to the gym, hiring a nutritionist, beginning therapy, Wim Hoff breath work, hiking, biking more places, martial arts, or mobility practices. Something that presents a physical challenge that leads you to emotional reactions of all kinds. This is where we can begin to see ourselves and assess what serves us and what doesn't, and then seek out answers to our problems.
I think we all have the ability to live our best lives if we choose the red pill and everything that goes with it. It takes a lot of the right things falling into place to overcome adversity. We need our community, money, access, and a safe place to land within ourselves. The more tuned in we are to US the easier it will be to find and secure the rest of the things.
Peace comes from within ~ Buddha
Years ago, my bff and I began saying this to each other and actively began practicing the ability to reflect on how we participated in each discomfort that we experienced. The effect has been both devastating and profound. I am constantly amazed at how I can look at changing my reaction and engagement with the circumstances of my life. It has changed the way I engage in relationships, it has changed my approach to money, it has changed the way I respond to peoples criticisms and expectations of myself. This simple belief and sentence has been a catalyst for some deep and meaningful shit in my life.
There are things in life that can make self reflection difficult to focus on: anything from money to jobs to relationships, family, and living situation. Basically life. I am a firm believer that you can have both a life and self reflection. It just requires sacrifice and carefully gauged expectations. We are not required to be perfectly enlightened or miserably unhappy.
THE EFFECT OF MENTAL RESTRICTIONS ON OUR MENTAL HEALTH
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Our mental restrictions that create time restrictions or our time restrictions that create mental restrictions?
There are so many fast tips to being happy out there that are actually just more restrictions on how much we should enjoy life to one day earn the ability to feel free within ourselves. Suffer and you shall gain glory. These restrictions may help us feel in control, but the truth is that the more restrictions we place on ourselves the more we have to tiptoe through our own lives. The more external things that we need to manage rather than managing our internal relationship to our external world.
We get told over and over again that our happiness is dependent upon our bodies, relationships, jobs, food, exercise, community, money, etc. LIES! Our happiness is dependent on how we choose to relate to the things outside of ourself.
There are a myriad of things that can help us begin this process, but the first one is taking time to be quiet enough to listen.
We often function by all or nothing mentalities which builds mental restrictions for things in our life that we would like to work on. Gauging our reality and pushing the boundaries gently to give ourselves space to understand our emotions and our reactions can help us feel more rejuvenated. We just have to insure that we don't try and commit to a 30 minute practice each day if we have young kids, or two jobs, or one demanding job. It would be more appropriate to say "I will take 6 slow breaths at 1130am before I eat my lunch reflecting on how I might feel at that moment in time". That sounds much simpler right?
So, where do you begin?
Just do it.
Maybe try not beginning it like a New Years resolution with so much gusto that you will certainly burn out within weeks.
Here is how you can begin: 15 minutes a week. That is 3 minutes a day. Or 5 minutes 3 times per week.
You can even begin a guided practice and set a timer for 3 minutes and once the timer goes off you stop the video and move on with your day remembering that it is not the completion of the video that defines your practice, it is beginning the practice that matters and sticking to it for the time YOU designated.
Making our habits manageable is the only way we can and will achieve our goals. James Clear wrote a book called Atomic Habits and he gives some very good tips on how to create new habits in a way that you can stick too.
Next week I will chat about why I choose breath work and yoga as my reflection modalities and what other options are out there for you!
Being forced to explain your emotions makes you a better communicator.
Take a look at how women can and often do explain themselves in times of struggle and hurt feels. This is the product of a lifelong necessity to explain why you have done what you have done and what made you do it to avoid/justify being called a slut, a bitch, a whore, a psycho, a crazy bitch, a gold digger, a cougar, and a series of other things pertaining to ones character. Generally speaking women are forced to show up differently than men out of necessity.
On the other end of the spectrum, is the quiet reservoir of mens emotions. Taught not to speak about them or to give them too much credit. But they still exist, for some simmering under the surface turning them into various degrees of "nice guy"material and for some open and honestly with those they trust. Sure it can really work out for us to not be controlled by our emotions but the detriment is being incapable or articulating our feelings in an effective way.
It is not just black and white like this right?! Here I have termed it as men vs women or we could say feminists vs misogyny but if we step back and take a look at our emotional landscape we could see how with varying emotions we have varying comfort levels of expression, and then different expression with different people in our lives. So the men vs women need not apply, but it is a way of being validated in our experience and also catches our attention to how we class things up.
Regardless of where you stand in all this grey area it is guaranteed that emotions will find their way out of a person, in a healthy or destructive ways. We just have the choice of healthy interactions or unhealthy interactions. I say choice because we are adults, and we can learn to take action over the unhealthy habits in our lives to make them better.
Emotional intelligence is like a muscle. Use it or lose it.
But how the fck do we strengthen it?
The best way, is when you begin to feel uncomfortable, stay quiet and hit a practice with the intention of paying attention to what you are actually feeling. Now what can come up is "I am fine" or "This person did this to me" which creates the space for us to start to ask questions:
Do I feel jealous? --> What am I jealous of? --> How could I feel more secure?
Do I feel loved? --> What makes me feel loved? --> How do I show love? Is this how I receive it too?
Do I feel appreciated? --> What makes me feel appreciated? -- How do I show appreciation? Is that what I need?
Do I feel hurt? --> What has hurt my feelings? --> Who can I communicate these feelings with that will hear me and give me honest and supportive feedback?
I like to think that the optimal way of functioning is to be capable of understanding where we are at most of the moments through out our day. Creating designated quiet time for emotional check ins with the intention to look at our internal dialogue. After we have taken a look, we can further question our experience to see if we need rest, food, water, a conversation, a hug, alone time, exercise, and so on down the line of things that make you feel whole and cared for.
See what I am sayin? Just like we learn to communicate with others... we must first learn to communicate with ourselves through experience and discomfort. Oh, and I am always a proponent of therapy! It is healthy and normal to have someone to process your shit with so that you don't make your loved ones responsible for that.
More on that next week. xx