Strength of Mind
As I mentioned in part 1 of this two part blog, by the end of day one of Blue Sky’s January yoga challenge, I was pretty over it, both physically and mentally. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the nagging voice that told me it wasn’t worth it and to quit, though, because what I gained was an increased awareness of just how strong I am, both in body and in mind.
You Can Survive Anything for an Hour
It was a mental challenge not only to get to yoga everyday (sometimes twice a day), but to choose to participate fully and not check out. Multiple days I (half) joked that I planned to be in child’s pose for most of the class. I knew, though, that while that was always an option (if I truly needed it), it wouldn’t be one that I would choose unless it was what my body truly needed. There is a scene from the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where the main character states ‘“I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds, then you just start on a new 10 seconds. All you’ve got to do is take it 10 seconds at a time.” During this January challenge I decided that, similarly to the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I would take things one moment (or one hour) at a time, both on and off the mat.
On the Mat
On the mat during moments when I felt like I needed to give up and I couldn’t finish out the class, I chose to stay in the present pose for just a moment longer. In moments when my mind was tempted to drift to thoughts and emotions outside the present moment, either making sense of something from earlier that day or planning for something that would come later, I chose to stay in the ‘now’ for just another moment. Oftentimes after that ‘moment’ I found I could choose to stay another moment, and another moment, and so on until the moments became minutes and sometimes, the minutes became the vast majority of the hour. I learned through this practice that my mind and body are stronger than I often give them credit for, and I can tolerate much more than I think I can. While there were many days I felt tired and weak, I recognized that my greatest limitation was not my body, but the power I gave my mind. This lesson began to extend and generalize far beyond the mat for me as I learned just how much more I could tolerate off the mat as well.
Off the Mat
We live in a world where distractions are just a fingertip away. When an unpleasant emotion arises within us, it is so easy to turn to any number of avoidance behaviors to ease the intensity of what’s going on in our heart and our mind. Whether it is scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, binging on Netflix or Hulu (my current drug of choice), eating or drinking our feelings away, exercising until we can’t think, or any other number of mind-numbing deflections, we live in a time when distraction from what we’re truly feeling often seems much easier than actually engaging with our emotions.
January brought with it a lot of unexpected heartache, and as someone who experiences emotions deeply, the temptation was certainly there to numb myself out to the pain. Recognizing on my mat that I am stronger than I give myself credit for, I made the decision not to try to avoid the emotional pain I was feeling off the mat, but instead to allow myself to face and feel all of my emotions, both positive and negative. I’ve learned that we can’t selectively numb our emotions; we either keep ourselves open to our emotional experiences, or we don’t. We can’t numb ourselves to pain, but still expect to experience pleasure. We can’t shut ourselves off to disappointment, but still expect to experience joy. As humans, we are either open to our emotional experiences — ups and downs and everything in between — or we are not.
There were moments during the challenge when my emotions felt like they would consume me, but I reminded myself that just as I can survive an hour of yoga on the mat, I can survive an hour of thoughts and feelings off the mat. And here’s the thing about the many difficult feelings January brought with it: while they felt all consuming, they didn’t devour me. While emotional and physical pain can feel overwhelming, the comforting truth is that neither will last forever. So I have chosen (and will continue to choose) to give it my all on the mat, because my body is capable. In my day-to-day existence, I will let myself cry so that I can also laugh, to feel heartbreak so that I can also feel love, and to experience disappointment so that I can also experience joy and gratitude and hope.
Come as You Are
On and off the mat, it took an immense amount of strength to show up physically and mentally exactly as I was during January’s challenge. I’ve carried that strength with me past January’s challenge and continue to work on staying present in the moment, no matter how I’m feeling physically or emotionally. My mantra this week has been some variation of “I am okay.” On harder days, it is simply, “I am okay” and on my better days, “I am okay; I am more than okay.”
I would challenge everyone wherever they are in mind and body, to dare to let themselves be fully present to physical, emotional, and mental experiences exactly as they are, all while knowing that deep down I am okay and can survive anything for one more hour.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite reminders of the impermanence of our emotions, Rumi’s “The Guest House”
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all.
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.