Hello, honeybees! It’s been a while since there’s been a post. In my life, the quarantine has made things even more busy. What have you been doing during this time? Have you been taking care of yourself? Businesses are starting to reopen and many people are living their lives as if COVID-19 doesn’t exist.
There are those of us who are making small and conscious changes to improve our lives spiritually, mentally, and physically. A couple of days ago, I was thrilled to get a text from a really good friend telling me that he had begun practicing yoga daily. He has been practicing for 12 days straight. That may not seem like a lot but it is for someone who has not done it before. To take the leap to care for yourself in healthy and sustainable ways is to be appreciated and applauded.
As much as I practice the physical part of yoga, it’s been a challenge for me to focus on the more meditative aspect. So for the past two weeks, my goal has been at least one meditation session a week. The session could be as short as five minutes. Even five minutes has made a difference. I meditated before work and a stressful day was handled a lot better because of the grounding that had been done that morning.
The pandemic has made many people even more on edge and agitated than usual. High levels of stress is deleterious to not only our mental states but our physical states as well. These high levels can increase our blood pressure, mess with our immune systems, impair our judgement, hinder our memory, essentially wreak havoc. We must be mindful of our stress levels. It can be difficult when we have so much to do. That is when we must stop and even if it’s just for five minutes, breathe. If we have too many thoughts in our head, have a notebook next to us, where we can write those thoughts that we don’t need in that moment. Let those five minutes be your time and your time only. Be your own shelter of peace.
Last week, I decided not to practice yoga. I thought I could use a break and see how my body responded to it. I practice yoga daily, it is part of my life but I had a lot going on last week so used that as an excuse to take a break. So from Tuesday until Sunday, I did not practice yoga. I do not plan on doing that again as long as I am physically able to move.
One of the reasons that yoga is recommended is because it helps the yoga student be mindful in their present moment and this helps regulate emotions. When I review my mood from last week, it was more anxious, and I found myself easily agitated. I practiced my breathing less and I went through each day on autopilot. I just did not feel like myself.
To add to the mental unease, I started feeling physical pain. My calf and hamstring started having sharp pains. It felt like there were knots in them. One morning, I actually woke up with a muscle cramp. This was highly unusual as I haven’t been awaken by a leg cramp since I started practicing yoga and stretching in the evenings.
After a week of this, I decided the experiment was over. Within a day of returning to my mat, my physical pains were gone. I started to feel more at ease in my physical self. The spiritual self took a little hit and has been more challenging to overcome. I realized that even when it felt like yoga was not doing anything, it was doing the most. What I had started taking for granted was because of my consistent practice. I will still take breaks but I will at least try to do five minutes a day. Yoga is like my apple a day.
As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, ‘I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.
Yoga has become “on trend” in Western society. With Instagram yogis attempting to outdo each other with contortionist like poses in exotic places and activities such as “yoga with goats” prevailing, yoga is popular. In some ways, it is not popular in the way it was originally intended. I am not here to judge Instagram yogis or people who like “yoga with goats” or “beer yoga”. They get judged enough by the yoga purists who turn their nose up at those who profit off yoga in this way. The yoga purists who believe that the only way to practice yoga is their prescribed way and any other way is not practice.
The yoga snob is the one who tells you that you cannot practice yoga at home. She will question and doubt stating “How can you practice yoga without a teacher? It’s not yoga. You don’t know what you are doing. You cannot learn on your own.” What’s interesting is that if the yoga snob is a “she”, one could easily respond that she is not a true yogi as yoga’s history was initially 100% men. Not only that, yoga was originally taught with one teacher to one student, practicing in a studio was unheard of until yoga came into Western Society. So a yogi practicing at home whether using Youtube or a yoga app is closer to the origins as it is just one student and one teacher (granted the teacher is on a video screen) but essentially it was a solo journey with the help of a teacher.
Going to an expensive yoga studio does not make one yogi better than another. With the advent of technology, it is more affordable and less time-consuming for people to practice at home. As a busy working mother, I do not have the time nor the budget to practice at a studio where I have to deal with yoga snobs, the smells (I once went to a class where there was a strong malodorous odor coming from a student), and the overall weirdness of yoga studios. I practice when and where I want to with the only distractions being my family.
The snobbery does not help those seeking to practice yoga. Yoga is for every body and any body. Ethnicity/race, creed, gender, body type, financial class status does not determine whether you can practice yoga or not. I am thankful that Youtube exists because without it, I do not think my yoga practice would have flourished. I have been given recommendations on good yoga books and have been introduced to really good teachers. You do not need a fancy outfit to practice yoga, you do not need a fancy studio, you do not need a yoga snob who only practices in a studio but never at home. All you need is you.
Peace of mind is a perception of a calm and quiet mind.
My mind is a noisy place. It is very rarely if ever quiet. Its at the quietest when I practice yoga. And I truly practice to clear the busyness of my mind. It is what makes yoga more challenging, it is not just the asanas, it is my mind having a conversation with itself. It may be telling me that I cannot do a specific posture or that I need to hurry because I have so many things to do during the day. It is not always like that, there are times in which I am able to reach the sixth limb of yoga: dharana. I am able to be completely engrossed in my practice. These times are rare.
Dharana may come across as being single-minded because in it the yogi is focused completely on one task or object. Meditation is an example of dharana and I have never been able to meditate longer than five minutes. Sitting still has always been a challenge for me. It is a work in progress as I am sure that there is a deep benefit to mediation. I consider savasana to be the closest I can get to meditation because after a good practice, it is easier for my mind to rest.
There is one way that I have been able to have a stilled mind, though it could be debated that my mind is not actually stilled, and that is while I am reading. Yoga has still not been able to bring me to the state that reading does. If I am reading a good book, I am completely in the book that I hear or see nothing else around me. In fact, if I am interrupted, I can become agitated. This agitation comes when I am interrupted during a yoga practice. I am hoping to reach that same calmness and quiet as I grow in my yoga practice. This is why I practice with no music; to minimize distractions. The beauty of yoga is that it is not a straight and short journey; it is winding with hills, valleys, many climaxes, and there is no end to it. That certainly makes it better than a book.
This is a question that I ponder daily, one that I have had my entire life. Who am I? This question leads to even further questions. Why am I here? Who was I before I got here? In my last post, I talked about breath (pranayama) and how I use it to bring myself into the present. However, I would be remiss if I ignore that it does not help me understand who I am just yet. I admire those who seem to know who they are and where they are going. At this stage of my life, I am still figuring that out and one would think I would know that by now. Sometimes, I wonder if I my life will just be a finite journey seeking the answer to that question.
The fifth limb of yoga seeks to help answer that question: pratayahara. In a basic sense, this is self-examination. For a yogi to self-examine, she must be in tune with her senses. This may involve withdrawing from external stimuli and in today’s modern world, there is so much external stimuli, it becomes so overwhelming and loud that it drowns out our internal stimuli. For me to “find myself” and I say that with tongue in cheek, I need to be able to hear myself and to hear myself, I need to tune out mostly everything else. I say mostly because I still need to work, feed my family, and pay attention to my son and husband. However, even with all that I have going on, I need to find the good in it all, the joy, and with that, I may be able to “find myself”.