Once again, my yoga class this morning has inspired my writing topic for the day. In my yoga teacher training we learned about something called PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation.) Essentially this is just using your muscles to resist or push against whatever stretch you are in for a few moments before relaxing the muscles, allowing you to sink and relax even deeper into the pose. It is similar to the idea of clenching different muscles before releasing them to relax more fully and release stress. It is a fascinating and useful technique to be sure.
One of the beautiful things about yoga is that we can take what we learn on the mat out into the rest of our lives. So what can we take with us from PNF? Well it draws our attention to the idea of working with resistance. A lot of the things we do in yoga class can be looked at as metaphors for how to live our lives with more ease. For the most part, people don’t like resistance. We don’t want to have our plans altered or interrupted. We don’t want disagreements or dissent. We just want everything to run smoothly in exactly the way that we want it to. We can even start to feel cheated or hopeless when things don’t go our way.
Using PNF in yoga not only allows our bodies to become more flexible and go deeper into difficult postures, it reminds us that we can use resistance in our everyday lives to our own advantage as well. We just have to be patient and use what life gives us rather than trying to reject it or avoid it. The other day at work my friends and I were discussing the idea of having bad memories changed or erased like in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although it is undoubtedly an interesting, tempting concept, none of us were convinced actually going through with such a procedure would be a good idea or something we would choose for ourselves. Thought experiments like this help us to reflect on the ways in which we can actually be grateful for all of the hardships we have experienced in our lives. In the moment, a lot of the things that happen to us seem unfair, unbearable even, but later on we come to realize that those same events have allowed us to become who we are today. Perhaps they made us stronger, wiser, more resilient, or even led us down a new path we wouldn’t have taken otherwise.
Looking back, it can be easy to see how some of my worst life experiences were worth the pain I went through. However, that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the difficulties I face in my present. I’m trying to remember that PNF perspective though. Even if at first it seems like I’m being held back or led away from where I want to be, it may actually be the opposite. I’m trying to stay strong in the face of adversity and trust that one day I will be grateful for even these painful times. I’m even trying to be grateful for them right now, even though I don’t yet know what they may lead to down the road. All I can do is keep moving forward and have faith that I’ll get to where I want to be one day, despite (or even because of) the struggles along the way.
I heard this phrase used in a yoga class the other day. Essentially the point is, whatever happens in life, whatever strange turn your day may take, use it to your advantage. This is a great way to reframe difficult situations. Instead of allowing things to bring you down or stress you out, try thinking of a way in which you might benefit.
I am really trying my best to embody this mantra in my own life. We have a lot scheduled at work this week, so I am going to have to come into the office practically every day. Normally this would either infuriate me or suffocate me with stress. But I’m not going to let either one of those happen today. I am going to use this sudden busy schedule to my advantage.
Even though it might seem unpleasant, it is important that I be confronted with situations that stray from my rigid daily outline. How can I use this hectic week to help me grow? Is there a lesson I could learn by persevering? Instead of looking at this as a burden or an inconvenience. I am going to choose to look at it like a blessing. This is a perfect chance for me to practice my yoga off the mat. Can I learn to be centered in my breath even when the world is spinning so quickly around me? Can I find reasons to be grateful no matter what life places before me?
This is the universe giving me the chance to discover for myself that, yes, yes I can do these things. I can do anything. The outside world is not what dictates my inner atmosphere. There is nothing for me to fear. I am going to use this week to show myself that this peace, this love, this stillness is always within me. Nothing has the ability to lessen it or lock it away besides me. It is always my choice how I want to respond to the world around me.
Taking life too seriously seems to be a common problem. Yet life can be anything we want it to be. Why not make it a fun game? Or a story that we are writing about ourselves? Challenges are part of any game. They are part of any story that’s worth reading. Can we use them to become stronger? Can they help us become better versions of ourselves? Things aren’t always going to be easy, but we can learn to find enjoyment and pleasure even in the difficult times. Growth is often painful, but it’s always worth it. We can all learn to find a blissful ease within the effort though. We can all learn to use it.
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.