I walked 2 km on a frozen lake today. About 1 km in I started experiencing thoughts like “what if the lake is not frozen”, “what if i fall in”, “maybe i should turn back”. These thoughts were making me so nervous that I was spending more time in my head than I was looking out to the incredible scenery. There were some other people out there too, they seemed to be having such a great time, it was sunny and the mountains looked amazing. I wished I could be carefree as they were but alas, I was plagued with these thoughts. Nevertheless I kept walking, I wanted to cross the lake to arrive at this beautiful frozen waterfall. I had set a goal and I didn’t want to quit. I started changing my thoughts into “what if the lake is frozen solid”, “what if nothing bad’s going to happen”, “what if I’m going to see something breathtaking”. I kept walking on the lake and step by step I was starting to feel more at ease and more able to soak in my surroundings. Reversing the anxiety thought loop was neutralizing my fear. I made it to the waterfall and my panic had subsided, I was just excited to be there amidst the awesome hills.
Anxious thoughts and feelings don’t have to paralyze us, they don’t have to make us turn back and avoid experiencing the beauty of life. We must carry on in spite of our efforts to self sabotage. Yoga teaches us to keep going. Warrior II pose, or Virabhadrasana II, increases our strength and stamina and teaches us to stay despite feelings of discomfort.
- Begin in a standing position with knees in line with hips and ankles in line with knees.
- Spread your legs 2-4 feet apart
- Turn your right foot out 90 degrees and your left foot in 45 degrees (right heel inline with arch of left foot).
- Shoulders and hips should be facing forward on the same plane as your legs.
- Tuck your tailbone under to avoid overarching your lower back.
- Raise your arms up to shoulder height with palms facing down.
- Release your shoulders away from your ears.
- Bend right knee until it is over your right ankle
- Gaze over right middle finger.
- Hold for 1 minute or longer
- Straighten right leg and release arms
- Repeat on the other side
I was thinking today about mindfulness, about how it can bring us closer to one another. Being mindful does not involve thinking about our actions, rather it only requires us to be present in all that we do. Having a mindful conversation with another allows both parties the opportunity to truly be heard and the privilege to truly hear. This sort of exchange fosters understanding and from understanding blossoms compassion. A compassionate world is the dwelling place of love.
Pranayama (breath work) practice builds mindfullness. A great and easy exercise to increase our ability to be present is Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing). You many want to empty your nasal passages before beginning this exercise.
- Find a comfortable place to sit down, either cross legged on the floor with a cushion beneath your sit bones or on chair with feet flat on the floor.
- Take your right hand and place your first and middle fingers on the space between your eyebrows. Place your thumb gently over your right nostril and your ring/pinkie fingers gently over your left nostril.
- (Keep your mouth closed throughout this entire series.)
- While applying pressure to your left nostril, lift your thumb from the right nostril, inhale and exhale 5 times slowly.
- Then apply pressure to both nostrils and hold your breathe for 5 counts.
- Move on to the next side, apply pressure to your right nostril and release the pressure from your left, inhale and exhale 5 times.
- Close both nostrils and hold for 5 counts. Repeat on the right side.
- Do this 5 times on each side. When you are done, pause for a few moments and be.
I recently watched a TED talk about vulnerability. (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame.html). The speaker made some great points, most notably about how those who truly succeed are not necessarily the most prepared but are those most willing to be vulnerable. Not to say being somewhat prepared isn’t necessary, by all means it is, but without the courage to be vulnerable the attainment of dreams will be slightly out of reach.
To be vulnerable means to allow yourself to dangle, to be unsure if the rope’s going to hold you up or if it’s going to unravel and send you pummeling down towards the ground. It’s a scary place to be, terrifying even. And what’s at the root? Uncertainty, of course. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is allowing yourself to stand in the face of uncertainty and say, “I accept that I do not know how this will end, but I’m going to do it anyways.”
Asanas like Bakasana, the Crane, help us release our fear of the unknown. This pose allows us to take a chance. It is both a balance and a strength pose which requires our full dedication, once you start you must commit and the success is uncertain. Alas, we try. In this pose, the hands and arms support the weight of the body. The legs are bent, the shins resting on the backs of the upper arms or knees squeezing the outer arms. The feet are lifted off the ground. This pose resembles a crane wading in water. Simply attempting this pose is enough to benefit.
I was speaking to a friend recently about anxiety and it struck me that although the source of our anxiety may be different, the experience is very similar. Anxiety begins with a feeling, that feeling becomes a thought and that thought tends to become many thoughts that form a loop in one’s mind. Once the loop is formed it can be very challenging to get over the anxiety and we can become stuck in the spiral of worry and nervousness. The fact is that the whole process could have stopped with that initial feeling, we could have just let it pass through us without attaching any thoughts to the experience. That’s something yoga teaches us, to allow ourselves the space to have an experience, be it pleasant or unpleasant, and not to attach our thoughts to the it, rather just be.
It is said, “The pose begins when you want to leave it.” That is true about life as well, when we are in a difficult situation our reaction is generally to DO something about it and we think that’s the right way, but the truth is that evolution comes from staying, from adapting, that’s where the real growth happens.