Yoga for uncertain times

There's no doubt we're living in uncertain times. So how do we maintain a steady yoga practice when our lives are in a state of constant flux?

Welcome. Thank you for being here. Please, take a moment for yourself before we go any further.

Read that first line again. I am inviting you to do three things; acknowledge yourself with a welcome; show gratitude; and practise presence by allowing yourself a centring pause, free from any (one else's) agenda.

To say we live in uncertain times feels like stating the obvious. Our internal worlds of mind, feeling and emotion are constantly in flux, and our external circumstances are never the same. 

Some times feel more uncertain than others; sometimes in a good way, such as starting a new job, school or relationship, or going on holiday. Starting something new might bring up “butterflies” for most of us, but we may view it with a sense of excitement, enthusiasm and possibility. When we acquire or attract the circumstances we feel we need, want and deserve, our sense of self and security is bolstered.     

Acquisition, achievement and attainment are the mores of the modern world; we can always and immediately have what we want, it only takes one click.

Acquisition, achievement and attainment are the mores of the modern world; we can always and immediately have what we want, it only takes one click. 

Even in “spiritual” circles, we are told to concentrate on manifesting positivity to make our dreams reality. There is nothing wrong with aspiring toward professional excellence, mutually satisfying relationships or financial solvency. I hope for all of us that we have the opportunity to cherish the things that make life beautiful. While they last. It is a wretched feeling to be in the middle of something great and be unable to enjoy it for fear of its (inevitable) passing.

 

Pay attention

You may be familiar with the expression, “Time flies when you're having fun.” So when you're on a roll, welcome that and be grateful (I like to write down one beautiful moment each day on bright paper to keep in a jar by my bed). Pay attention to how good things feel. Being mindful is a skilful practice, and learning to be attentive when things are going well can be especially useful to those new to it, for at least two reasons; you develop an appreciation for the abundance that already exists in your life, both gross and subtle; you learn to make sitting and checking-in a habit, not just a tool for managing stressful days, but a conscious, integral part of your life - a way of being in the world regardless of circumstance. 

Everything passes

It is a truth universal that all good things will come to an end: there will be cloudy days. We might face times where we are between jobs or relationships, experience ill health or lose a loved one. We might not get the promotion or scholarship we were hoping for. Loss, disappointment and uncertainty can be sudden and shocking, and/ or prolonged and protracted, we can be left wondering “Will this ever end?!” 

The ego boost we felt when all was right in the world evaporates and our sense of self can be knocked. The mind attaches to what is pleasant and affirming and has an aversion to what is uncomfortable and unwelcome. In times of stress and uncertainty, we develop ways of avoiding our Selves - the broken-hearted, wounded, vulnerable parts of us. We become expert escapists and procrastinators.

In times of stress and uncertainty we develop ways of avoiding our Selves - the broken hearted, wounded, vulnerable parts of us. We become expert escapists and procrastinators. 

This might mean seeking validation through social media and communications technology, or retreating into books or TV re-runs with an attitude of defeat, or confronting the backlog of admin and housework in an attempt to control our surroundings. Whatever it is, it is a distraction from being still.

So how do we approach our yoga in what can feel like desperate times?

Let go of perfectionism

Accept that you are not meant to have your life 100% sorted, 100% of the time. And that the person giving you most grief about what you “should” be doing, or how your life “should” look, is probably you.

Accept that you are not meant to have your life 100% sorted, 100% of the time. And that the person giving you most grief about what you “should” be doing, or how your life “should” look, is probably you.

The same is also true for your yoga practice. I know that for my perfectionist friends, this is a tough cookie to swallow. While it is useful to show up to Life and to your yoga practice with some sort of plan, don't expect or even hope that the two will always be in accord.

Show up!

Start by showing up, even when it's inconvenient. So when the (hypothetical) register is called, you can say that you are “Present.” Put your procrastination projects aside, and either get out to a class, or roll out your mat. Do as my favourite musician-philosophers Nirvana say, and Come As You Are.

Turn off your phone

Most of us won't even do that anymore. So put it on flight mode, or silent, in another room. If you go to a class at a gym or studio, don't have it next to your mat, just don't. We are conditioned into believing that we must be available 24/7, and that not automatically responding to a text or notification is rude or flaky. It is re-assuredly not.

Furthermore, by learning to break the cycle of instant gratification we experience when our devices ping or light up, we weaken our dependence upon these things for feelings of validation and security.

Lower your expectations

This one is important. If you absolutely must have some structure or plan, then I recommend you go to a class, or follow an online video. The main thing is that you relinquish the idea that there must be a specific outcome at the end of your practice - leave space for spontaneity, surprise and grace.

Relinquish the idea that there must be a specific outcome at the end of your practice - leave space for spontaneity, surprise and grace. 

Hopefully you will feel better. But it is more important that you feel, better. Namely, that you pay attention to the physical sensations within the body; the feeling, shape and quality of the breath; the story-telling mind; and the dynamic, energetic nature of your emotions. 

Be kind to your unique self

It might help to start your practice by laying down and doing a quick (or slow!) body scan. I like to rest a hand on my belly and soften there. I am self-conscious about my stomach, so by deliberately relaxing my tummy I relax my insecurity, and having to suck it all in becomes one less thing to worry about!

It is an act of self-acceptance and loving kindness to relax here. How can you be kind to yourself now? What judgements can you let go of? Try some simple self-care.

The way we ordinarily respond to stress, danger and uncertainty is governed by our fight and flight reflexes, our unconscious Central Nervous System. In Hanna Somatics these are referred to as the Green Light (fight/ confront)and Red Light (flight/ cower) Reflex. The posture of someone with Green Light tendencies is a very upright one, shoulders back, chest and chin up, hips forward (like a soldier), this shortens the whole back body. Conversely, the Red Light posture is stooped; head down, shoulders hunched, back body rounded, front body compressed. 

Do you notice any of these tendencies in yourself? As you lay on the floor can you find a way to first move into a more exaggerated expression of that shape, before completely relaxing out of it? What would this look like as part of your Shape Making Asana practice?

The outward expression and style of your movement or asana practice will be completely unique to You, Now. 

Trust your body

Allow how you move, or even whether you move at all, to be guided by the whispers of your body.

Allow how you move, or even whether you move at all, to be guided by the whispers of your body. 

Follow your breath; all the way in, and all the way out. Let your head get really quiet as you move from that heart led space, trusting that this Body-Mind-Spirit being, that is You, knows exactly what it needs to come back to its centre. Chart your course from there.  

Becky x

Yoga for tough times

EkhartYoga members can practise this class with Irina that will help you to keep breathing when things seem to break apart in your life.

Through the cracks - Hatha / Vinyasa Flow, All levels, 35 mins

About the author:

Becky Bond trained with EkhartYoga and is a yoga teacher and complementary therapist working in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, where she lives with her dog. She tries not to take herself too seriously as a teacher and encourages her students to approach yoga with a similar, playful, childlike curiosity.

She is fascinated by anatomy and biomechanics, and also by the experience of the Living Body: the weave of mind-body-breath from within which we perceive and experience reality. Out of this love of explorative movement she is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Dance and Somatic Wellbeing. 

To find out more about her, visit Becky Boo Yoga on Facebook or www.purushatherapies.org (currently being updated, but please stop by anyway!)

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