Working with Resistance

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.

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You Have Everything You Need

I have been feeling really drained and stressed out lately. I feel like the weeks have been flying by without leaving me any time to do the things I need to do. It seems like I have an ever increasing list of chores, but less and less time to take care of them. Whenever things start feeling frantic like this, I tend to lean on self-medication hard. I start to use marijuana, kratom, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. as a crutch to get me through the day. Inevitably these things become less and less effective as time goes on. And when that starts to happen, the panic sets in.

There is so often this lingering sense of fear that looms around me. It is an ever-present unease, a whisper in my ear, telling me I need to go, run, flee, get away somehow. From what? I couldn’t say. To where? I don’t know. Yet this feeling is powerful, it waits for those moments of weakness and overwhelms me. It is momentarily placated when I am able to “escape” my own mind for awhile with some substance or another. But as I’ve said, that is only a highly unhealthy, temporary fix at best.

While I was meditating today, I came back to a realization that I’ve had a few times before. Even though I was pressed for time and could only sit for 5 minutes today, it was enough for a few moments of profound healing. Just like always, I felt a lot of resistance to the stillness at first. It never ceases to amaze me just how hard it actually is to just breathe. Once I allowed myself to surrender and drop into the soothing rhythm of my own breath, I found so much peace within that was waiting for me. Everything always seems so simple in those moments, so clear.

I remembered that I already have everything that I need inside of me. I don’t need any chemicals or substances to calm me down. All I need is this breath. I have the power to go within whenever the outside world becomes to much. I can go to that silent, still, safe place. A place that is even deeper than the constant noise inside my head. My own private sanctuary where I can heal and stay as long as I like. All I’ve got to do is give myself permission to go there. To let go of all of the things that are weighing me down. It may not be as easy as it sounds, but it is possible.

Short meditations like today’s remind me that even a few minutes can make a huge difference. It isn’t always necessary to set aside a half an hour or more for meditation. There is always time to center and ground yourself in the breath. Even if it’s just a minute, even if it’s just three deep breaths. Anything is better than nothing at all. And I don’t need to limit myself to practicing once a day. This isn’t just something to check off of a list. Meditation is a tool that I can utilize in my most difficult moments. It is also something I can do when I want to savor a particularly good one. There is really no limit to the potential of this mindfulness practice. I would like to learn to integrate it more into my day to day existence. It isn’t simply a healthy activity like daily exercise. It is a way of life, it is taping into that deep peace and wisdom that we all have inside of us. It is an opportunity to drink from that bottomless well of energy within.

Everything is going to be alright. You have everything that you need. You are more powerful than you know. You are the love, you are the peace, that you seek. Just breathe.

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Denying Myself

Last night I was able to manifest an enlightening moment of expansive loving kindness. Just the moment before that, I felt like I was on the precipice of a panic attack. I felt held together by just static and stitching. I was afraid I was going to pieces. But I managed to blossom instead. I decided to stop fixating on trying desperately to hold myself together. Instead I chose to reminisce, to remember what it feels like to feel in love with this life. To find a seat of gratitude within my soul. To shift my vantage point.

I so rarely remember that I am capable of doing this. It seems so impossible, yet so easy. I forget to even stop and consider trying. So often we feel like merely the passengers on this journey, or like we are lost at sea, at the mercy of the ocean waves far from the shoreline. We are fighting so hard to keep our head above the water, that it doesn’t even occur to us that we can choose to breathe below the surface.

Life is very similar to dreaming in a lot of ways. Maybe that’s why I am always looking for messages and lessons from my sleeping mind. Last night felt like a dream in which you realize you are dreaming. Suddenly you remember that you are in control. In waking life we may not be able to completely alter the world around us, but we can completely alter our inner world whenever we want. We are the artists of the landscapes inside of ourselves.

If this is true, why is it so hard to believe it some days? I know very well there are times when fluffy thoughts like these cannot reach me. I mentioned in my post yesterday that this loving awareness, this simple bliss, these are my natural state. These feelings are the true expression of my soul. All I have to do is allow them to flow from me, to let my heart remain open. How quickly I’ve forgotten all the profound wisdom I read in The Untethered Soul.

So often I stifle and block my own love, my own happiness, my own peace. I block off that flowing spout of energy from my heart space. I begin working with brick and mortar from the moment I awake. I am an expert at denying myself. When my thoughts begin racing with everything that is “wrong” what it’s really doing is tallying up all the reasons that I’m not allowed to feel okay, to be happy. I’ve been telling myself “no” for so long that I started to forget I had the power to say yes. I am the one who has written these arbitrary rules on love and happiness.

I don’t have to wait for everything to be perfect before I let myself be happy. In fact, I have the power to decide that everything is already perfect right now. Today is an excellent, magnificent day to be happy. Nothing can take that happiness away from me, except me. It’s always easy to be in love, to be blissful, because this is how we are meant to be. The suffering and exhaustion that accompany depression, anxiety, anger, fear, hatred, are created from the immense effort of acting and feeling so contrary to our soul’s essence. It’s always harder to be something you’re not.

I think somewhere along the line this ever-present mindset of scarcity and limited resources, led us to believe that we have to ration our love, our joy. But that well has no bottom. We never have to fear we will run out of these things, because they are us, we are one and the same. I’ve learned to let the thinking mind limit my potential. I give myself “rational” reasons not to be happy. I tell myself I don’t deserve to feel good because of (x) or after doing (y). I’ve been feeling like I have to choose between denying myself or denying reality. But that isn’t true. I can be flawed and imperfect and still happy. Love and happiness have never hurt a situation.

No matter what I am faced with in this life, no matter what mistakes I’ve made or continue to make, I still deserve to be happy. It’s not silly or selfish or wrong. Because by sharing this energy with the world, I am doing what I have always been meant to do. What we are all meant to do. What everyone has been telling us to do since we were children. Just be yourself. That timeless, limitless, ever-present, powerful self that lies at the seat of every soul, the manifestation of love, of joy, of light, of hope. All we have to do is remember. Remember who you are.

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The Mirror of Yoga

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A yoga practice is quite often a reflection of the yogi’s inner life. Yoga has the potential to be a window into our personal struggles, fears, strengths, weaknesses, and much more. Even before I knew about the spiritual side of yoga, I could feel it changing the way I thought about and perceived the world as well as my place within it. Those who have a personal yoga practice as simply exercise or stretching like I once did, still can’t avoid the deeper impact and insight it provides.

It is a rare opportunity to go within, to be alone with ourselves, to notice the patterns of our own minds. Are we easily frustrated? Are we critical of ourselves at every turn? Is it hard to let go? Is it hard to be still? To remain focused on what’s in front of us? Can we learn to settle our minds, to use our breath? Yoga provides us with a chance to learn all of these things about ourselves. When we practice yoga, we are not only training the body. We are also training the mind.

I have noticed my own struggles reflected in my practice lately. It has felt like my safe haven recently, a way to escape from my reality. Yet yoga has a way of showing us things, even things we don’t want to see. Having an “escape” inevitably begs the question, why is one needed? Allowing my practice to be a shield from the rest of my life, has caused it to become rather stagnant. I feel stuck. Just as I do overall right now.

Our daily lives feed our practice just as much as our practice feeds into our lives. That vital loop has been severed for me for awhile now. It is hard to feel passionate, inspired, playful, or courageous in your practice when you aren’t able to feel that way day to day. It is hard to practice self-love, self-care, compassion, and ahimsa in a one hour vacuum. It is hard to teach from the heart, when you have been hiding your heart from even yourself.

Lately my practice, while always an enjoyable time of peace, rest, and rejuvenation, has felt like hypocrisy at the same time. I am isolating myself within my yoga, instead of allowing the nutrients of my practice to sate the gnawing pangs of my real life problems.

My yoga mirror has been showing me the reflection of my fear, my avoidance, my inertia. I am afraid to challenge myself. I am afraid that I won’t be able to rise to those challenges. I am afraid to fail, to fall. I have remained in one place for so long, not progressing in life, nor my asanas. Telling myself I can’t do it before I have even given myself the chance to try.

But I should know better. Because yoga has also taught me that there is no reason to be afraid. There is no reason to fear failure. Because even failure is not final. When you are learning to do a headstand, you are going to fall. A lot. If I had taken that first failure as proof I was incapable, my body would not be able to do any of the incredible things I’ve taught it to do. Yoga teaches us that failure is a necessary part of growth. When you fall, you laugh, get up, and try again. And with each fall, you learn something new. I need to engage my core more. I need to place my hands wider apart. I need to focus. I was holding my breath. Failure is not something to avoid, it is a valuable chance to learn vital information.

I want to use these lessons and the many others yoga has given me. I want to move forward in my practice, in life. I want to try new things. To be playful again, curious, excited. To laugh and learn and love myself despite my missteps along the way. No matter what happens, I know I’ll always have a safe place to rest. On the mat, and within. We all do.

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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.

Learning to Allow Discomfort

Setting aside time to just observe the mind is so valuable. I have found so many glimpses of inner wisdom and true peace through daily meditation. Today as I allowed my mind to follow my breath and concentrate on surrendering fully, relaxing each muscle, I noticed one of the many cycles I go through constantly inside my head.

I saw myself finding a moment of bliss, then losing it immediately in desperation as I turned my thoughts away from the present to the future. I saw fear begin to destroy that bliss and take me away from the moment. I not only feared the unknown, I feared the fear I was experiencing. I was so desperate to get away and escape from those thoughts and feelings.

It’s usually easy to distract the mind at this point in the cycle, but the beautiful thing about meditation is that there is no where to go. Instead we are forced to deal with these difficult sensations. I got to witness what happens if I just accept those thoughts and allow them to exist without resisting them. And sure enough you eventually come full circle, returning to that bliss, that deep well of stillness inside.

Now don’t don’t get me wrong, that wasn’t the moment I found Nirvana of Samadhi or anything like that. The cycle continued and continued as expected. The point is, there is an immense comfort is being able to witness that cycle. To know that it’s okay to feel afraid. Reminding yourself that running from that fear only holds you in that part of the cycle longer. It’s an extended interlude, like a skipping record.

By resisting, ironically we are holding on. The sooner we can let go of our perception of these thoughts and feelings as “bad” and “unacceptable” the sooner we can return to that bliss that we find preferable. By no means is this an easy thing to do, however. I of all people should know that. I basically spend every moment of every day running and hiding from myself.

Yet that doesn’t lessen the significance of those few moments of clarity I am occasionally able to find. While it may be hard to remember these profound realizations when we really need them, it is still a victory to have them at all. One day I hope I am able to more often take the role of that silent witness. To watch myself through patient, loving, curious, impartial eyes. Practice makes perfect. And I intend to keep practicing. I hope that you will too.