One week of home confinement

It’s been ten days since the Norwegian government decided to institute strict restrictions to reduce the rapid spreading of Coronavirus. For my family this means home schooling for my kids, teaching online for me and home office for my husband. In addition, we have decided to avoid social contact, and we only go out to go for walks in nature or skiing during the weekend. I do the groceries.

I have been reflecting a lot about this situation that is gradually affecting the whole world. To begin with, the fact that we have to deal with change. For example, we need to reorganise our everyday life. As a teacher, I went to online teaching from one day to another. Teachers had one planning day where we collaborated as good as we could to create the guidelines for this, and off we went to spend the weekend planning. I am learning how to facilitate for my students online. I spend more time preparing my lessons, and spend more time in front of my computer. It is a big change, a time consuming change. However, like any change, it is a great opportunity to learn, to be creative and challenge myself. To be honest, it is exciting. I am now pushed to try many online resources that I had been wanting to try, but hadn’t ‘had the time’ to try. I see that I often stay in one track just because it is known and safe. I am now being challenged to try and fail more, and I feel it is ‘allowed’ because we are all new in this.

As a mum. I need to use my multitasking skills to both run my lessons and be available for my kids and support them with their school work. I keep thinking about all those parents who have home office now. How are they coping? After all, I am a pedagogue. I think maybe this is easier for me than for many other parents. In days where I have lessons the whole morning, I do get overwhelmed though, but this has reminded me of two very important things: 1) stressing won’t help me nor my kids 2) ask for help. My husband is home too, he can also help the kids with school work when I can’t. Why do I keep feeling that everything is MY responsibility?

This leads me to my second reflection during this week. This time of ‘home confinement’ is the perfect time to go inwards. I see it as a game. The first level is observing our home and how our family functions. What kind of patterns have we established and which ones don’t serve us? Living so close together with the responsibility of both the kids’ schooling and our jobs can bring a lot of stress and distress, but it can also bring growth. I realised this week, that somehow, we have this unspoken clause in our ‘contract’ that I do as much as I can to keep my husband calm and comfortable. He didn’t ask for it, it is a pattern that has been established throughout the years. For him, it is very comfortable, and since I haven’t complained, he is happy unaware of how much stress this sometimes brings to my days. So, last week, trying to be as diplomatic and calm as possible, I talked with him and said that I thought it was unfair that in these ‘home confinement’ days, he had taken over the desk with the PC and closed the door the whole morning, coming out only to eat lunch or get more coffee. I was left alone to work and help the kids in the dinning room. To be honest, I felt very uncomfortable bringing this up because I didn’t want to start a fight, but to my big surprise, he just accepted it and since then, he is trying to step in when he can. Assertiveness is the keyword here.

I read an article in the Norwegian news website NRK at the end of last week that ‘experts’ expect an increase in divorces during the Coronavirus crisis. We are now forced to stay together and it is not even holiday! I can understand this, but what if we rather take this time to reflect on how we act and why we act like we do. A big problem in relationships is that when we disagree, when conflict arises, we keep pointing our finger at the other, but if we start by bringing our attention inwards, we might do some progress. My yoga teacher always says that expectations are the source of anger in relationships. So we can start by asking ourselves: ‘What are my expectations? Are they fair? Are they realistic? Can I give myself what I am expecting from my partner?’. This doesn’t mean that we get rid of all our expectations, but we make a shorter list, a list that is manageable/achievable for the other person.

The second level of this ‘game’ is related to this advice from my teacher, because it can only happen by bringing our attention inwards. Ask yourself: how is my mind reacting to these ‘home confinement’ days? Be open, be curious, be compassionate and patient. Observe. What can I learn about myself, about my inner world when I are forced to slow down? What are my priorities? What is really important?

A big part of the Norwegian people are used to travel quite a lot. Either short distance to their cabin or abroad. Norwegian people love to travel. I have been reading about how challenging for many people it is not to be able to even go to their cabins during the weekend. I can understand this, but I also wonder why can’t they be creative about it and see if they can create the ‘cabin feeling’ at home? I know it is most probably a minority that is reacting so strongly about it, but this is a good reflection for all of us. When we are used to do something some way, it is very difficult to suddenly do something different. Or is it? It might be simpler than we think if we just learn to let go. Let go of what was and open up to what can be. Every moment is so full of potential and we are in reality privileged in this country to have our basic needs met almost no matter what.

One thing that I am doing everyday, and that is helping is to remind myself of being thankful for what I have. I have a family. I have a home. I can feed my kids and myself without any problems. We have the gorgeous nature where we can spend as much time as we want. I have yoga to help me stay calm, and the guidance and support of my teacher.

I don’t know where this will lead to. I just know that I have to move one day at a time, keep my sadhana to stay calm and focused. Trust that whatever comes, it is meant to be like that for me to learn something, to grow.

I know there is a lot of uncertainty for many right now. People without jobs, people loosing their loved ones to the epidemic. I do not trivialise this at all. I do invite all of us to take this chance to slow down internally also, to put things into perspective, and discover the amazing potential we all have inside ourselves.

Take care! 💖

Who’s the teacher?

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. We’ve had had a meeting about our middle daughter at school that day to discuss how she’s doing, what the school is doing to support her learning and social wellbeing and what the plan ahead is. She is coming closer to middle school and we soon have to decide whether she stays at her current school or we change her to the local public school.

I won’t make this too long but the most important question is, of course, what is best for her? After the meeting yesterday, I still felt unable to decide. Is she being supported to develop to her full potential? Would this tough phase, especially socially, improve as she and her classmates mature? What if we change schools? Will it be better? Worse?

Even though I was trying to calm my mind, breathing deeply, I couldn’t sleep.

In the morning, I got out of bed, did my sadhana and chatted briefly with my teacher who reminded me to be patient and allow clarity to come.

I started my day and as usual with the morning family routine. Dropped the kids at school and walked to the Yoga class I teach Tuesday mornings.

I have one student for the moment in that class. I was happy to see her because I had prepared a class thinking of what we had done last week and what she had told me she needs for her back. Last week, she had also shown interest in meditation, and I suggested we could spend the last fifteen minutes of the class today with some simple exercises to calm the mind.

After the session, we chatted a bit about her experience. She told me she had observed she was slightly anxious about a job she had to do this week, and she couldn’t understand why since she knows the routine. We continued chatting and came to the conclusion that sometimes our mind is used to certain patterns that don’t really help us. Like this anxiety of hers. It is maybe out of habit. Work=anxiety. And then it hit me: my mind too is used to worrying! Yes, I do need to make an important choice for my daughter, but I don’t need to worry unnecessarily about it. I just need to follow my gut feeling and trust that for the moment, that is the best choice I can make.

There are so many learning experiences out there for us, we just need to stay present to see them.

I am so thankful to be able to teach, it is through teaching that I stay present and I learn most 💕

The only way out is through

I’ve learned cross country skiing as an adult, and it has taken me many years to feel more or les confident on the tracks. It is until recent years that I took the courage to try to ski down steep hills (or what I perceive as steep hills) instead of taking my skis off and walking down. I think I started skiing more often more or less at the same time as I started practicing and studying Yoga more seriously. I remember I once was skiing on my own at a place that I didn’t know very well. As I approached a downhill, I felt my body getting stressed, but I decided to give it a try. Half way through it, I started panicking until I remembered this phrase from my Yoga teacher “the only way out is through”. I was already on my way down, there was no way back, it felt like it was going to last forever, but I knew that wasn’t possible, so why not try to relax my body, pay attention to what is happening and trust a bit in myself? And it helped! I couldn’t help but thinking that it is similar to when we experience downhills in life. We panic and want to change direction, but if we remember that the only way out is through, if we spend less energy on wanting to be somewhere else or doing something different, we will feel less stressed and/or distressed, and maybe get through it stronger and wiser.

In life, the most challenging situations offer us opportunities to learn and grow but, most of the time, all we want to do is run away. You might have experienced though, that the more you avoid the challenges that life presents you, the less they disappear. Asana, pranayama and meditation are good tools to get through challenging situations because, when practiced regularly, they help us cultivate a calmer state of mind. They help us create a space to be with ourselves no matter what, and listen to what our body and mind need to tell us.

The Yoga practice is not always necessarily a pleasant one, sometimes, especially when sitting in silence, it will open windows that we would rather keep shut. We need to be brave and patient. We need to see our vulnerability, our weaknesses, our limitations. When we dare to look at things directly in the eye, we give them less power. The whole practice of Yoga is to get to know and accept yourself better. To open up to whatever is happening in your internal world. In Yoga we are encouraged to direct our attention inwards.

An important subject of study in the practice of Yoga are our emotions. Emotions are messengers from our mind. For this reason, we do better by listening to them. Let them come, observe them, take some deep breaths, and when they feel less intense, reflect. Please note that there is a difference between allowing emotions be and feeding into them. When you notice a specific emotion, you can focus on how it feels, where it feels, but avoid analysing it, or trying to change it or even worse trying to justify it. Just observe, note and try to be with it and with your breath.

We have a tendency to believe that emotions are a consequence of what happens ‘out there’ but in reality, they are the result of what in Yoga is called our ‘belief system’. Whether we like it or not, our minds are conditioned by previous experiences, personality and DNA. Every reaction we have to the external world is connected to this ‘belief system’.  More often than not, this belief system limits us. We perceive ourselves and the world out of our likes and dislikes not giving the situation a chance. I invite you to observe your emotional reactions during the coming weeks. Are you, at all times judging a situation out of your own perception? What happens when you detach from that perception? Can you feel any difference? Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with your perceptions but if some of them are bringing distress, they are not serving you.

What about the moments in life when we are being really challenged? When life is tough. Yoga invites us to cultivate equanimity of mind. The less energy we spend rejecting a situation, the more energy we can use to take care of ourselves and those around us and act in a skilful way. It is not always easy, especially when we are used to live in a reactive way, but little by little and with patience and practice, it is possible to keep a calmer state of mind, even in difficult situations. For this, we need to be able to see the whole picture and to remind us that this too shall pass. We have to have faith in the process, in ourselves and in the Universe.

Allow

Allow, flow with life and take time to observe what is happening. Avoid labeling every situation as good or bad. When we refrain from liking/disliking a situation, we let go and can act more skilfully. We neither run away nor cling to what is agreeable. 

Allow yourself to experience feelings and emotions. Allow yourself to experience what we call difficult emotions. Do not suppress, but do not feed into them. Be curious. Where does frustration, anger or sadness come from? Can you find the source inside you? Is it because of attachment? Is it because of expectations? Can you let go? If you are not ready to let go, do not push it. Just observe when they come, and as you would do with someone you care fondly of, be kind towards yourself, show compassion and understanding and tell yourself that slowly, little by little you will be able to let go. You can start by being aware.

Allow people to walk in their path, show the same curiosity, compassion and understanding, but do not allow their actions to disturb your inner peace. Remember that we all seek the same in different ways. That we all make decisions out of what we perceive and expect. 

Allow, flow and see how a lot of energy is saved, the energy you can use to live a clear and more creative life.

Be patient, it takes practice and time.

‘Behind all our efforts, our basic motive is to find happiness and thus to find peace. All our actions are for that good. We are all working toward that happiness. Even all these wars, fights and competition are ways people look for happiness. Even when people steal things, they think they are going to be happy by stealing. So the ultimate motive behind all our actions is to find that joy and peace.’ Sri Swami Satchidananda in Living Gita

Breathe!

Our breath is one of the most powerful tools we have to calm our mind and connect to our deeper self. You most probably know how soothing it is to stop for a moment during the day and just exhale deeply. We do it mostly unconsciously, to take a break. Some people take it even a bit further and make a sound at the exhale. My dad has the habit of sighing sometimes throughout the day. He likes to joke about this and says that it feels good to ‘complain a bit from time to time’, but I think it is soothing to sigh from time to time.

Breath is one of the functions in our body that we don’t pay attention to, it happens by itself. Unfortunately, because of the pace at which most of us are living, our breath tends to be short and shallow, especially on the exhales, and it becomes a vicious cycle: because we are stressed, we constrain our breath, and because we constrain our breath, we feel tired and stressed.

In the yoga tradition, the mind and the breath are intrinsically connected. When the mind is relaxed, the breath is balanced and easy, when the mind is agitated, the breath is imbalanced and effortful. So by breathing evenly and smoothly, we calm the mind, and by consciously working with calming the mind, we keep our breath nice and easy.

By focusing on our breath, we bring the mind to the present moment, and by being in the present moment, we can slow down our thoughts and tackle any situation more skilfully. Like with almost anything, it takes practice to learn to smooth our breath and thereby our mind. Here are two very simple exercises that you can practice at home or anywhere. Remember that the more you practice something, the more it becomes part of you and the easier it is to bring it forward when you need it.

Create a habit. As with anything new you introduce to your daily routine, try to keep it simple and start with two to three minutes before you go to bed, or before you get out of bed (or both). As it becomes a habit, you can then add more minutes to your morning/evening practice and even include another session as a break from your everyday life if you have the space.

Prepare for breathing. Keep it simple, sit on a chair if you are more comfortable, or at the edge of your bed (you don’t need to sit on the floor on lotus pose to practice breathing consciously). Just try to keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed and your gaze soft by not fixing your eyes on anything, at the same time as you don’t move your sight from one object to another. If you feel comfortable with closing your eyes, close your eyes. If sitting straight without support is challenging for your back, sit with your back against the back of the chair or the wall, but be conscious of not slouching. It takes some practice to find a good sitting position that keeps you awake and energised at the same time as relaxed. Be patient and curious with yourself, experiment a bit and find your perfect position. Keep both feet well grounded on the floor, hands relaxed on your thighs or knees.

You might want to lie down if you do this right before going to sleep, the challenge is that you might fall asleep right away which is good for your sleep, but not good for the practice of breathing. So be clear with yourself, what is the purpose of your session? If it is to help you fall asleep, then go for it, but if it is to practice being aware of and soothing your breath, then sit.

I like to use a timer because I otherwise keep checking the clock to see when I’m done and this distracts me too much. I use an app called Insight Timer because I don’t like the sounds of the regular timer on my mobile. You can find Insight Timer for free on any app store.

Breathing exercise 1: Inhale with the nose and exhale with the mouth. Inhale slowly, smoothly and deeply through your nose, and allow yourself to exhale through your mouth. Make sure that you breathe out completely before you start inhaling again. Pay attention to your body as you breath and avoid lifting your shoulders and tensing your chest as you inhale. Deep breaths are not supposed to feel stressful for your body, on the contrary, you should feel that at each exhale, your body melts a little bit more.

2.

Breathing exercise 2: Inhale counting to three or four, exhale counting to three or four. To even the breath. During this breathing exercise, you will inhale and exhale through your nose. Exhale completely, and then as you inhale count slowly in your head to three, four or five, depending on what feels good for you. Finish your inhale and slowly start exhaling counting equally to either three, four or five. Make sure you gradually start making your inhales and exhales even. It is quite common to start with counts of three or four, and as you practice more, you will notice that you can count a bit longer. As with the previous exercise, pay attention to your body while you’re breathing. Avoid stressing your shoulders and your chest. Again, as you breathe in imagine you become lighter and taller , and as you exhale feel every part of your body relaxing.

Once you feel comfortable with the rhythm of your breath on either of these two exercises, notice what happens to your mind. It will most probably start wondering around, that is ok. That is what the mind is supposed to do, but gently and without judgement, bring it back to what you are doing right now: breathing. If you have had a tough day and you are experiencing stress or any difficult emotion, try to be with it as you are with your breath. Your mind will constantly go back to creating stories about what happened, and why and blah blah blah but again, kindly and gently bring your mind back to your breath and the sensations in your body. Don’t worry, this stress/distress, will eventually go away. Be patient.

As with anything, these two exercises require practice in order to be almost part of your system. The more you practice, the more aware you can be, the more they bring you back to your core which is a calm and safe place. Be patient, be kind to yourself and take it easy.