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.

Short reflections

The sweetest victories have been the ones won towards my limited mind.
During the last six months, I have worked on observing my negative thoughts to avoid falling back into old negative patterns of behaviour. When upset, disappointed or frustrated, I have allowed the feeling to come, sat with it, and avoid reacting to it. When I take the time to do so, I realise it is just a matter of the reality not meeting my expectations. I then kindly lead my mind to something else, and continue with my day. It has been so liberating no to engage with nor react to these emotions! The step two of this practice is to work with my way of perceiving myself and the world around me, I basically ask myself two questions: 1) Can I change my attitude towards this? 2) Is this so damaging that I have to move away?(at least mentally and emotionally).

I’d better have a clear mind in my interactions with the world.
If I do not know what I’m doing or why I am doing it, I can’t then act with conviction. I know that my clarity is not absolute, and today’s clarity will change into something else in some time, but I need to anchor myself into something, and that something can only be a product of the practice of reflection at any given moment.

The less we push, the further we get.
Less talk, more listening. Ask useful questions. Show the way towards change even if I don’t agree with that change. Oppose less but draw the line when necessary.

Every single day my kids and my students present me opportunities to be humble, I am learning to grasp them.
Be curious. Be open. Accept my mistakes and apologise. Remember the impact of my words and actions, preferably before I speak or act. Keep building. Avoid breaking. Rebuild when broken. Accept disagreement. Accept negative feedback and attitudes as part of the process. Accept that, like anyone else, I am not to be liked by everyone and that’s ok.

I am one and I am a part of all. I am here and I am beyond. I don’t need to be in opposition.
No need for explanation.

I see your pain, I am with you, but my emotional reaction to it won’t help you.
No need to add on my emotion to situations that already are emotionally difficult. I can show empathy and help without wasting energy in emotion that can be used to be skilful and practical.