The world isn’t short on events that make us worry. Sometimes, when it all feels too overwhelming, l’ll admit I fantasize about shutting myself off from society and retreating to a cave to find my inner zen.
But since when is avoiding reality considered the path toward empowerment?
When I find myself visualizing a lifestyle where I never have to leave my home, I am reminded that it’s not sticking our heads in the sand that makes us feel secure, but adopting practices that can help us feel steady throughout life’s turbulence.
When we feel overwhelmed, we can turn to our yoga practice and be comforted by the stability it offers. These three basic yogic principles are about taking yoga off the mat and into our daily lives — where it really matters.
1. Physical practice
We know the benefits of the asanas in strengthening our muscular and skeletal systems and more, but the benefits of a physical yoga practice affect the subtle body as well.
When we engage in core work like Boat Pose (Navasana), we not only strengthen our abdominal muscles, but we also activate the Solar Plexus Chakra, the place of personal power and confidence. When we feel unsteady, uncertain or indecisive, we can engage in a little extra core work for a physical and mental boost.
We can’t heal the world by doing crunches, but we can enhance our personal power and strength so that we have the stamina to actively participate in all aspects of our lives.
Breath is the true gem of yoga, and for countless good reasons. This is the system of our body that is both voluntary and involuntary — giving it an almost mystical-like quality in the eyes of ancient practitioners. From a scientific standpoint, the power of the breath helps a person navigate the major branches of the autonomic nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic.
By controlling our breath, our prana, we are challenging and positively affecting our system’s reactions. We learn to self-regulate. By taking deep diaphragmatic breaths in a moment of anxiety, we activate the parasympathetic system that tells our mind, “All is well.” This activation takes us out of the fight-or-flight reaction of the stimulating sympathetic system.
By working with our breath, we learn to calm our minds and from here, we feel internal peace and equanimity in the face of external chaos.
Doctors and yogis alike recommend meditation as medication — it helps to strengthen our awareness and build a sense of calm. But how many of us actually set time aside every day to meditate? Thankfully there are countless ways to practice awareness, the fundamental aspect of meditation, in daily activities and events.
For instance, when lying in bed at night we can focus our attention on our pulse in each fingertip. This engages the Dharana (the sixth limb of yoga), which is our concentration. If the mind is concentrated on perceiving a pulse in the pinkie fingertip, then that mind is fully present. A big part of our ability to feel safe and peaceful, is the knowledge that there is always the safe haven of our present mind that we can rely upon to go to.
So instead of simply abstaining from the news, we can participate mindfully and presently in the events of our lives, and take comfort in knowing that yoga can help us feel grounded. When we can find a way to access that inner peace, it inevitably will expand. What a wonderful, unpredictable world.