When we think about what causes us distress it is typically our reaction to the cause which feeds into the anxiety, sorrow, or pain that takes us far beyond where we intended to go. In order to find balance and stillness within our lives we must first be willing to see clearly the cause and then ourselves with firm objectivity.
First we practice separating truth from illusion. We identify the words and phrases we use so we can speak more clearly and live more truthfully rather than exacerbate false beliefs about ourselves or others. This practice reminds us that we create our own reality…that if there’s something we feel needs to change we can begin to shift the direction of our life with our current thought patterns and what we choose to speak out into the universe.
Oftentimes what challenges us with this practice is when we are faced with the feelings that come up. We have learned over time or as children that some feelings are “good” and some are “bad.” We think that if we feel sadness, anger, or frustration that something is “wrong” and has to be “fixed”. We immediately judge the emotions that create discomfort within ourselves and those around us and so begins the self-induced torture of simply being human.
What if instead we began from a clear, neutral state—like a still pond, or a clear sky? What if we allowed ourselves the experience of keeping our mind and body still and allowed our heart to feel whatever it needed to feel to live out its truth? And when the storm comes in and creates ripples in the water or darkens the sky, what if we allowed it to pass through—without reacting to its thunder no matter how loud? If we could do this we would have the opportunity to truly grow without the distraction of added chaos. This is the power of equanimity.
When we give ourselves the chance to develop strength, flexibility of mind, and the softness of heart we have the ability to take action…to change direction…to create the reality in which we want to live. In our daily lives we can practice equanimity within a wide range of situations. Everything as small as waking up later than intended, to experiencing the traffic on the way to work, to having a disagreement or even a full-blown fight with a friend or loved one can be met with steadiness of mind.
Our emotions will rise first, signaling our distress. Maybe our heart rate will rise, maybe our cheeks will flush, maybe our body heat causes us to sweat. From there as you notice your physical reactions take over, pause whenever you can and choose to shift what you say and do next. In the beginning old habits will step in but you have the power to choose equanimity and the more often you do the more new habits will replace the old.
In the beginning of the Yoga Sutras it is Chapter 1.2 that says yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ which translates to “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” or “yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.” When you are practicing asana (the physical postures of yoga) you are repeatedly putting yourself in situations that require effort. In order to find ease you are not able to do so if you allow yourself to attach and react to all of the sensations that come up.
This happens very often in the beginning of one’s experience of practicing yoga asana. As humans we are so good at identifying what we believe is wrong with us—when we think we’re not good enough, when we think we can’t do something. We declare it and speak it out loud as if everyone around us needs to know. We apologize to others for being who we are.
But when you hear yourself react in this way on the mat I will remind you that you have a choice. You can instead let go of that story in your head. Let go of believing that you can’t, or that you are not enough…let go of thinking you need to lose weight or gain more muscle…let go of thinking that your body fat matters at all, or that you need to be stronger or be more flexible. I will help remind you to let go of your attachments to beliefs that no longer serve you.
This is where that practice begins. Hear yourself speak non-truths, and begin to replace those thought patterns with ones that help you grow. Allow yourself to pause and be still in body and mind. Stop fidgeting or moving around because of the discomfort—be where you can breathe deeply and, again, be still.
Stop your racing thoughts from getting away from you and just follow your breath in and out. Notice the sensations in the body without judgment. Allow yourself to experience each movement and take note of what your body is telling you. When there is restriction it is simply your body’s way of protecting you. Practice where you are and take note so you can work to grow from there. There is no rush to building strength and flexibility…but we won’t build it without doing the work.
The practice looks the same off the mat as well. You do not have to hold on to beliefs that cause you pain and suffering. You can choose to see yourself and others more clearly when you do not immediately judge what you see. Choose equanimity, steadiness, and be still like the sky. Allow yourself to be where you are. Do not suppress it. Do not resist. Do not judge. Do not react. Just breathe.