Future Worries

Last night as I was falling asleep, I couldn’t stop worrying about something that, depending on the state of the pandemic this summer, may or may not happen in July. Even though that’s nearly half a year away, I was sick with anxiety about it. I couldn’t relax.

However, in the middle of my worrying, I had a realization. Why was a worried? Presumably because I feared being anxious or uncomfortable in this future situation. Yet by pre-emptively worrying about it months ahead of time, not only would that not change the reality of the situation when it finally arrived, but would ensure I was anxious and uncomfortable in this very moment as well. Fixating on the past or the future does nothing but steal the peace we could find in the present.

This train of thought led me to also understand that there will always be a time in the future to worry about. Or a memory to miss from the past for that matter. If we don’t teach ourselves to prioritize and be mindful of the present moment, that anxiety, that sadness, will always remain.

Peace is only to be had in the present. It is always here waiting for us, waiting within us. Why waste it? Difficult times are sure to loom on the horizon. But there is nothing to be done about them until they arrive. I always feel like if I don’t worry about things before they happen, then I won’t be prepared when they do. But even I know that is ludicrous. Anxiety and worry do not make you more prepared. They just extend your suffering. To truly prepare, it would be best to stay grounded in the present. To allow myself time for peace and rest, so that I may face the future when it comes with strength and confidence and a firm connection to that peaceful place within myself. Besides, who knows who I will be, where I will be, when that future does finally arrive? I will not be the person I am today, the person I am right now. I must have faith that whoever I have become by then will be ready.

So I will let the future come in its own time. There will be plenty of time to agonize over it when it arrives if I still feel the need to. In the meantime, I am going to practice learning how to more fully enjoy the present. I am going to give my brain a new system to follow. Whenever I notice myself becoming distraught over something yet to come, I will practice pivoting away from those thoughts. I’ll ask myself: How does it feel to exist in this body right now? Do I feel heavy? Light? Is there tension in my jaw? My shoulders? Can I release it? Can I relax into this body? What is my breath like? Short and fast? Long and deep? How does it feel to breathe all the way down into my belly? How does it feel to pause between inhales and exhales? Can I feel my heart beating steadily in my chest? Can I hear it pumping away? Can I feel gratitude for these things I so often take for granted? Can I remember that the future is not guaranteed? Yet I have this precious moment in the palm of my hands. What a crime it would be to waste it.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Resisting Stillness

Even though I have been practicing meditation every day for years now, there are still plenty of days when one of the most challenging things I do is those 15-30 minutes of stillness. My breath just won’t come naturally. My mind frantically tries to cling to racing thoughts. My anxiety will not be tamed. Today was one of those days.

When I have these difficult meditation days, I try to remember to take a step back and observe the mere fact that I’m struggling. I think, isn’t it interesting how much my mind is resisting this stillness? What is it so afraid of? Why does it try to prevent this deep peace it knows is waiting within?

We are so conditioned in our culture to see any time not spent working or producing something, planning something, is time wasted. We are being lazy, unproductive. Yet setting aside this quiet time to observe our breath, our minds, this existence, is quite possibly the most valuable thing we can do.

It is important to remind ourselves when we have these difficult days just how important our practice is. We need these few moments of stillness even more when sitting down and just breathing feels impossible. And even though your mind may continue racing through the whole meditation, you can’t stop fidgeting, or you can only bring yourself to sit for five minutes rather than thirty, thank yourself.

You have still given yourself a beautiful gift. Don’t dismay. Don’t allow these challenges to make you disregard all the progress you’ve made. An ebb and flow exists in all things, even your practice. Don’t let your “bad” days overshadow all the others. You’re doing just fine.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

Yogic Wisdom

As I drove to my yoga class this morning, I was contemplating what I would say before starting practice. I have been having some minor issues involving poor circulation recently, so I thought I could emphasize directional breathwork. Teacher often tell their students to visualize the breath traveling through the body, often down to the soles of the feet or the tips of the toes.

Thanks to medical science we know so much about the body and the breath that the original yogis never could have known with any certainty. We know that our breath is absorbed by the lungs into the bloodstream so that oxygen can be transported throughout the whole body. So in a sense we really can “breath into our toes.”

I found this thought rather amusing so I continued pondering it. I began to wonder what other ways the wisdom within these ancient teachings may come to be better explained through science. I know we have come to learn even more in the last few decades about the incredible power the mind has to influence the physical body. Placebos can have real healing effects if we believe that they will, for instance. We are also somewhat able to control our heart rate and cortisol levels with mindful attention to the breath.

I wonder if directional breathwork can actually have the power to guide more oxygen to different areas of the body. Perhaps just focusing on the blood circulating, bringing that breath into every cell can really physically impact the way the body is working. Yet another concept I would love to have tested scientifically in a controlled experiment. I often wish I had my own research team at my disposal to gather new, interesting data for me. Without that these are all simply intriguing thoughts.

However, anecdotally, I have noticed that “sending the breath” to the areas of the body feeling the most tension in a pose seems to make a noticeable difference. I’ve always felt that helps my muscles to relax and find that sukha and sthira, the ease within the effort. I have little doubt of the breath’s power. And I am always finding new ways to explore that power.

Even though I am not sure I’ll ever discover the amount of truth behind this idea, I am going to try to implement it in my practice as if it were. After all, it couldn’t hurt. The next time I settle in for my daily meditation, I am going to focus not only on my breath but sending that breath into my toes, my fingertips, the tip of my nose. All of the extremities that are effected most by poor circulation. Who knows? I may even begin to notice a difference in my body. If you decide to experiment with this visualization in your own practice, let me know how it goes! I hope somehow it can be helpful.

Breathing Through Discomfort

As my yoga practice continues to grow deeper, it is slowly saturating every corner of my life. It is amazing to be able to integrate this knowledge into my day. One of the invaluable things that yoga has brought to my life is an awareness and connection with the breath. There is so much power in the breath.

At first I began to concentrate on my breathing during my daily workout. Just like in yoga postures, I am often able to find a beautiful balance of effort and ease (sthira and sukha) as I am doing vigorous exercises. The connection to my breath assures that my muscles receive all the oxygen they need. Instead of focusing on how difficult my workout is, I am able to focus on full, deep, and steady breaths. I experience less discomfort (often even finding pleasure) as I push my body to its limits. In addition, time seems to fly by as I find a flow-like state. I find excitement and gratitude for what my body is capable of.

After seeing the benefits mindful breathing could have in my physical experiences, I began to utilize it to benefit my mental state throughout my day as well. I started to notice my breath in moments when I was experiencing something emotionally difficult. I realized that when I am feeling extremely stressed my breath is very shallow. Sometimes it even feels as if I am holding my breath! Once my mind has shifted to my breathing and I begin to breathe slowly and fully, I immediately feel much calmer and less overwhelmed. It’s incredible how much this has helped me cope with challenging emotions. Even my experience of mundane daily tasks, like vacuuming and doing the dishes, has become more pleasant.

I am still struggling with and improving my awareness of my breath every day. I am so grateful that my yoga journey continues to give me new perspectives and new things to focus on in each moment. I am so excited to be able to share the things I learn and give my future students the life changing gifts that yoga has given me. I am so lucky that in a few months I will be certified to teach this ancient, beautiful, and profound practice. Until then I am going to continue learning and growing and enjoying this beautiful journey.

Just breathe. ♥