Cultivating calm

I have the distinct advantage of crumbling into a simpering mess if I do not care for myself.  It wasn’t always this way.  I used to be able to ingest all manner of unhealthy substances, stay up all night, never exercise, and laze around all the time.  Even now as I type out this list, there is a part of me that is still tempted by the prospect of this lifestyle – but now I know better.  I wasn’t happy or healthy while I was indulging all of the time.  In fact, I was downright miserable.

Since I am not able to drum up any willpower unless I am faced with dire consequences, life finally stepped in and took over.  The angry face of prolonged hormonal issues coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle that was starting to span the better part of a decade when I was just barely of legal drinking age finally reared its head.  I was profoundly exhausted, depressed, and anxious almost all of the time.  Feeling lousy takes so much energy that I barely had any for other endeavors.  I still think it is no small miracle that I found myself a sangha of yoginis (including my wonderful teacher) and dedicated myself to intensive study that eventually blossomed into teacher training.

Once I started on that path, there was no stopping.  My entire being clearly had a powerful thirst for these teachings.  The spring of wisdom that I began to draw from has proven endlessly deep.  After twelve years of rolling out my mat on a semi-regular basis and six years of deep study, I finally have a regular practice that includes many tools to draw from depending on my need for that day.  Yoga allows me to look at the good, bad, and the ugly while maintaining compassion and understanding for myself – and others.  Have I achieved this mind state at all times?  Absolutely f*%^&ing not.  But when I can breathe through a tough emotion rather than mindlessly reacting to the situation at hand, I look back on my many years of practice and breathe a sigh of relief that I suffered a bit less thanks to the nourishment I find on a daily basis.

So yes, yoga is important to me.  But what do I mean by yoga?  Is it measured in sweat, in consecutive minutes in meditation, in pranayama rations or arm balance quotas?  For me, yoga is coming back to center.  If I am tired in the morning and don’t want to start the 203023742934 tasks facing me on the to-do list, I add a bit of extra vigor to my morning asanas.  If I’m too ramped up, I can dial down the physical intensity and focus more on soothing my nervous system with slow, flowing movements.  There are endless combinations of movement, intention, and focus that can soothe any moment.

And then there is the breath.  Although awesome all by itself as an involuntary, life sustaining process, the breath itself can be transformative with the right focus.  Even better, it is portable, it is a handsfree device, and everyone has it.  The thing is, not everyone realizes how powerful this free technology can be.  Go ahead, try yours out:

Notice your breath without trying to change it (and when it changes anyway, that’s OK).

Notice the quality of the inhale.  Where in your body do you feel the breath coming in?

Notice the quality of the exhale.  What parts of your body react as the breath is moving out?

Take ten breaths like this, just noticing the ebb and flow.  Close your eyes if you like.

When you are done, notice if you feel differently now than you did ten breaths ago.

So far, this practice that helps me sink into the present moment – if for only a moment – is the best antidote I have for the stress of working full time and caring for a baby.  It’s the perfect reset button for any kind of day.

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