I am very fortunate to have two small vegetable gardens in my front yard. About a month ago, we planted some new lettuce and peas, and were very excited to discover that many of the heartier plants had wintered over and were starting to provide us with chard, mustard greens, spinach and even some very small broccoli. Yum. I pick the leaves regularly, but had been away from home for a few days, and when I came back, I discovered that most of the plants had bolted and flowered. They had shot up about 3 feet, grown dozens of thin, delicate branches going every which way, and looked more decorative than edible. My once squat and full-figured plants were now tall and lanky, and looked like they could be blown over by a strong wind. Needless to say, they were no longer producing any edible leaves.
When I contemplated my leggy plants it struck me that this is how I often feel in the busyness of spring. Once I get out of my winter sluggishness, and as the weather warms and days lengthen, I can get into overdrive. And while I may be doing fun things and accomplishing a lot, I can also feel like I’ve got too many branches and not enough roots. Springtime opportunities call to us — everything from outdoor sporting events, spring break trips, and neighborhood gatherings, to simply being outside in the nicer weather. Combine that with everything we already have going on, and spring can start to feel a little manic. If we bolt up and out of winter, like the chard, it can leave us feeling a bit ungrounded. I am not an expert, but I believe that in Ayurvedic terms, we might call it excess vata (air), in Chinese medicine, we might say our chi is unbalanced, in the chakra system, we might have a first chakra deficiency (not enough earth or ground), and in our western world we might call it anxiety or simply being over-extended.
Now I don’t know about you, but I like to feel grounded, even, and especially, when I am busy and more active. And what I’ve found is that there are some techniques that work well for helping me feel more settled, and some that work for the moment, but don’t really serve me in the long term. One way that I try to ground myself when I’m feeling too dispersed is to eat. Eating until I am over-full gives me a temporary sense of grounding, but generally the next day I feel worse. Sometimes I try just going to bed, which also helps for the moment (since I’m asleep, I don’t feel as hectic) but when I wake up things are generally even busier. If we could just stop rushing and drop into meditation, it would be very helpful. But, as I’m sure you know, it’s not easy to go from overstimulated to sitting still. Usually our minds are still racing, and even our bodies feel restless and agitated.
This is where hatha yoga fits in very nicely. Moving mindfully in the body is a wonderful way to reground ourselves when we feel overstimulated. When we stay present during movement, such as in a yoga class, we are often able to calm and center ourselves more easily than trying to sit still without movement. Of course, it’s possible to take a vigorous yoga class and still keep thinking about our to-do list and worrying about the past. In that case, when we leave class, we probably won’t feel any more serene or calm than when we started. But if we allow ourselves to meet our bolting energy right where it is, move our bodies into yoga poses, and let our minds start to settle into the movements, we start to find our ground. The Buddha taught that the First Foundation of Mindfulness is mindfulness of the body. It’s the easiest place to start. We can be with our body and our energy as it is right now, not trying to force ourselves into stillness, but rather slowly growing roots and stabilizing ourselves even as we continue to participate in the activities that come along with spring.
There are ways, other than yoga, to grow roots when we are over scheduled. One of my personal favorites is to take long walks in nature while bringing awareness to my feet. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches the mantra “I have arrived, I am home” to use with each step. Practicing this can be very calming and grounding. Even if we take 10 steps walking from our car to our house using this mantra, we will definitely feel more serene. Resting directly on the earth is another very grounding activity. Dancing and massage are two more healthy ways to re-ground ourselves. And eating can definitely play a role in re-grounding if we stay conscious. Eating more grounding foods, which for me include whole wheat bread and other whole grains, seasonal root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots, and protein. When I eat these in moderation, I feel more stable.
To celebrate spring this year, we will gather for our second annual spring party at Circle Yoga — featuring locally made cookies and chocolates — on Saturday, June 5. Also during the weekend of June 4-6, we will be hosting one of my teachers, Anne Cushman, an expert in both yoga and mindfulness. She will be teaching Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday, and you can join us for one day or all three. She is very wise and also very funny, and doesn’t take herself too seriously.
I look forward to seeing you all very soon.
We have arrived, we are home.