[repost from August 2013]
There’s a beautiful yoga tradition known as Ashtanga that has been my primary practice for the last three years and, as such, holds a very significant and tender place in my heart. With its challenging postures and vigorous pace, I do not only strengthen and grow physically but am tested and humbled mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well. The place where I call “home” in my yoga practice is known to most by now as SYL and I am forever grateful for Kristal for everything she is able to offer through her instruction, her studio and her friendship.
Through a series of approximately 91 postures (including the opening sequence which is needed to heat up the body), it’s easy to lose focus, release the breath, start to wonder what in the world you got yourself into, become afraid you won’t be able to finish the almost two hour class, feel frustrated that you couldn’t achieve the full expression of a pose, or clench and strain through tired muscles, a lack of balance or a racing heart, etc., etc. The order of the sequence is the same but, just as in life, there will always be a significant challenge and the types of challenges that arise always change from day to day.
Challenges feed the body as well as the soul. It keeps the mind sharp, strengthens muscles and builds character. Challenge is less about the stress it creates and more about the ways in which we learn to deal with difficulties and adapt as necessary to persevere. Whether your biggest challenges in your overall health lies within the adjustments of your eating habits, the stress of a job or a difficult relationship, the motivation to get up and be physically active or even finishing a task or exercise that feels like it will never end, I encourage you to try just a few techniques that help to keep me going and going and going for more.
Just Breathe. Any well-taught yoga class will remind you that your breath is essential to your practice and that if you are conscious of it, your breath will tell you how you are handling any situation. Learning to control it, to never stifle it and allow it to flow evenly in and out of you calms the mind, lowers the heart rate and offers you something to focus on when you become distracted for whatever reason. As your breathing becomes too jagged or shallow, this can be an indicator to you that it’s time to adjust in some way. If you’re working too hard, depending on the source and degree of difficulty, consider easing up as necessary to get you through. If it’s an emotional or mental stressor, this moment of refocusing on the breath will help ground you before reacting in a way that isn’t productive or helpful to you or others around you.
Find your focus. In Ashtanga, each posture has a focal point in which you are encouraged to rest your eyes upon. The verbal reminders in our guided class are always helpful to me because it’s easy to redirect my gaze, look around the room or out the window, think about the traffic on the way home, plan dinner or a meeting the next day, etc. Not only does this distract from the discipline of the practice itself but it can result in injury by not paying attention to proper form. Now, not everyone’s mind is as exhausting as mine can be but we all do it from time to time. Whether the challenge is regarding my nutritional habits and attempting a new approach because my clothes are starting to “talk to me” or the idea of using a heavier weight or going at a faster pace because I’ve been staying comfortable long enough, finding my focus will always guide me through. Try it yourself. Whether it be a point ahead of you that helps to keep your balance, a pre-determined mantra that helps to keep you motivated or a small-term goal that feels much more attainable than a big picture, end result, you’re much more likely to make it through anything.
Come back to the mat…or your desk, or the table or the conversation you’re attempting to have, etc. This is similar to finding your focus but it’s more about returning whatever thoughts you have to present time. In addition to finding something to focus on, being present in all that you do no matter what or with whom, ensures that you are conducting yourself in a way that is truly to the best of your ability. It is with the highest quality of effort that you will see optimal results if everything you do throughout a challenge is not holding on to the past in any way or worrying about the future. Think about it, any action requires a certain amount of your attention, so how much more for a challenge that might make you question or doubt yourself? When you are struggling in life, no matter what it is, try calling yourself back to wherever you’ve wandered off as soon as you realize you’re not living in the moment. Let go of what was and do not have any expectations of what will be so that everything you do in the present will not only be done with the utmost integrity, but will also be appreciated for what it has to offer. Otherwise, how will you ever see it?
Welcoming all challenges in life with open arms, breathing through each one, finding your focus that keeps you going and always doing so in present time will ultimately be rewarded by the best possible results. Whether it be in goals of overall health, personal empowerment, athletic ability or weight-loss, challenges are what ultimately help us grow above and beyond our utmost (perceived) potential.