Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Nurturing Inner Wellbeing

The Scream - Edvard Munch
I always knew that yoga was good for me.  On the mat I felt better, more at peace, more centered. Something was calling me, a yearning if you like, and on the mat I had glimpses of that for which I yearned.

But in between times I could still find myself screaming like a banshee, reacting to the vicissitudes of life. Oh, I might have been a lot worse without the time on the mat, but why oh why could I not maintain that equanimity in between times?

So the question arose: What did I do on the mat that was not happening in everyday life? Of those elements, what could I take into everyday life?

There are many elements. Here are a few lessons from the mat that can be simply applied in everyday life. Let me know if they work for you.

1. Somatic experience
On the mat during the practice of hatha yoga we are paying close attention to the felt sense of the body. In everyday life I discovered I was no longer paying attention. In meditation the mind also settles much faster if we begin to explore somatic experience. Try it now. Close your eyes and just start to feel the body, the sensations of the body. Start in one corner, perhaps in the mouth, perhaps in the feet, and begin to explore the sensation of your body. Then after spending some time in this exploration of sensation of the body, observe what has happened to thought.

More recently, and through my explorations of iRest® Yoga Nidra, I have also started to recognise that all emotions, thoughts beliefs, in fact almost everything that comprises this personality that was sometimes a screaming banshee, all of it is a somatic sensation. This has been a break through recognition. By bringing somatic awareness into everyday life I can feel as sensation all the things that make me react, before I react. Sometimes I choose to let that move through and be expressed, but only if it is not distructive. Early warning systems, great to have on your side.

2. Attention to the breath
Breathing in raise your arms, breathing out lower and fold your body into a deep forward bend.... on the mat my teachers were always drawing my attention to the flow of my breath and encouraging me to flow with the breath in movement. And lying in savasana, or sitting in meditation, again, follow the breath, notice the breath.

I assure you, when screaming like a banshee I was not paying attention to the breath.

When my kids were young I made my own discovery, that when the kids were going crazy and I was going crazy, all I had to do was to remember to sing. We would all calm down. Of course! Singing requires attention to the breath.

Slowly over years of practice, and again further nurtured through Yoga Nidra, my perpetual awareness of the breath has increased, and heh presto, it too is an early warning system. If anxiety arises it always drives the breath upwards, away from the belly and into the chest. Anxiety always subsides if you can bring the breath down into the belly. Brilliant! Another tool for equanimity.

3. Intention
I remember my teachers inviting us to formulate our intention for our practice (often called "sankalpa" in yoga), and to repeat it several times as a simple affirmation. Yearning to be at peace, my affirmation quickly settled to be two words "Still Centre".

Often on the mat I would be totally in the still centre.

Do you think I was remembering those words when having an emotional breakdown?


Sobbing in bed, unable to sleep, for some reason it arose, and I used it as a mantra, over and over, and I slept and awoke refreshed.

Gradually I began to realise that there is enormous power in our self talk, and if that talk is a constant put down then we will believe that and our way of dealing with life will reflect that.

I began to practise positive affirmations.  But have you eve done that thing where you repeat an positive affirmation, and there is a voice in your head contradicts it?

When that happens, notice how it feels (coming back to somatic awareness), and then try on the positive affirmation, and ask yourself, if this were true right now, what would that feel like.

Intention can be in the form of a resolve for whatever you are doing, this yoga practice, this task, this day. But there is another intention which is more like my still centre mantra, which is an expression of that yearning that keeps you coming back to the mat in any case. When you have identified that one it will be so harmonious that the mind will not undermine it.  It is true, and it is pure and it is an expression of that yearning, which is, for who you truly are.

4. Welcoming
Honestly, I did not get this until I began to really seriously delve into iRest Yoga Nidra. Welcoming uncomfortable sensations did not appeal to me. However it is a wonderful truth worth discovering for yourself. If you stop regarding the sensations and emotions that arise as either good or bad, but as signposts that could point you either towards greater integration or away from a state of grace, depending on what you do when they arise, and begin to welcome them as signposts to grace, their power starts to drop away.

5. Inner wellbeing
So we come to cultivating inner wellbeing. From a place of inner wellbeing, welcoming becomes easier. When on the mat, in movement practice, in meditation, in Yoga Nidra, we practise contacting, truly feeling, inner wellbeing, and the more we practise, the more we can also call upon it in daily life.

If you are interested to know more about these practises, and bringing your yoga high into daily life, keep exploring yoga with a good teacher. At Yoga Spirit Studios you will find classes to explore wellbeing in movement, in meditation and in iRest Yoga Nidra. Come home to your True Self, which is equanimity itself.