This month’s Thoughts from Annie post was originally published in March 2008.
Take It to the Cushion
I have recently been tested by some family challenges: two major situations where I needed to be able to problem solve and get into action, but also be present with my own feelings and needs, and the feelings and needs of family members. It hasn’t been easy, and it has really tested my practice.
When I get anxious, I like to get answers. I tend to talk to lots of people and ask around what other people would do, and generally distract myself from dealing with how I am feeling. At one point during my recent difficulties, I asked a fellow yoga teacher what I should do. Her answer surprised me. She said, “That’s a question to take to the cushion.” What she meant was that the answer to the question was inside of me, and the best way to find the answer was to practice. She suggested the cushion for sitting meditation, but she might as easily have suggested the mat for a yoga asana practice. Either one would lead me back to myself and to my own inner teacher.
When she said that, I asked myself this question: During these particularly challenging times, will I turn toward my practice, toward my own inner guide, or will I continue my habit of turning away and looking outside of myself for answers? I knew I still needed to engage with my dearest friends and to feel supported by them, but I trusted the practice enough to turn inward. Every time I started obsessing about what to do, what to say, I became aware of my breathing and reminded myself that the answer was as close as my own breath.
In yoga, our breath and our life force, or prana, are very closely linked. So each time I brought my attention back to my breath, I did find answers. By coming back to my self, I felt calmer, more spacious, and I knew what I needed to do for that moment. Coming back to the breath didn’t give me any solutions, but it reminded me of who I am, and aligned me with my deepest intentions. And then I could act accordingly.
My hope for all of us is that we can remember our practice when we are struggling, not only when everything is smooth. I hope that we can use our mindful yoga practice as a way to get closer to our deepest values. It is during the difficult times that we have a chance to go really deep. And it’s important that our practice be strong enough to stand up to the fire of our challenges. To strengthen our ability to stay present, it helps to practice as regularly as we can — when we feel great, when we feel so-so, and even when we feel pretty awful. We can also support each other by reminding each other of the practice when one of us is having a difficult time. The more we make it a habit to be present with our breath, our bodies, and ourselves every day, then the more we will be able to do it when we are challenged.
I look forward to practicing with you soon.