After a few years of sporadic yoga practice, I found myself reflecting more and more on some of its core values: Mindfully move with purpose; Find your edge; Remember to breathe. Committing to my yoga practice in 2008 marked the start of my exploration of these goals off the mat.
Time seems to slow down when I enter the yoga studio, and yet my practice somehow adds more hours to my day. Designating time to focus on myself has made me more conscious of using time wisely throughout the rest of my day. As in practice, I focus on the tasks at hand, be it making my lists of Things to Do or actually doing them.
Living in Washington, DC, does not easily lend itself to a stress-free lifestyle. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of stimuli surrounding us on a daily basis: family and colleagues, sirens and car horns, cell phones and ipods. Yoga keeps me in check by pushing me to my edge but no further. My To Do Lists may grow and evolve, but they never disappear. So, I focus on what I can and have accomplished and reward myself with a break as needed.
Taking a break is hard to do in this busy city. Many people I’ve encountered delay or skip them all together. When I feel overwhelmed or worn out, though, focusing on just a few deep breaths provides that calm renewal and energy I need to continue. Tuning out outside pressures to focus on an inhale and exhale alleviates the stress and reconnects me to the moment.
As this first month of 2009 comes to a close, we face several global and domestic challenges. Calling for a new era of responsibility, our new president assures us that we will meet them. Following these yogic principles — live actively; work hard; and take time for yourself — I’m hopeful that we will do just that.
How do you incorporate your yoga practice into your daily life?
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Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.
Fresh off a whirlwind week that included watching President Obama’s swearing in and speech on a stuttering internet feed, a walk by Lafayette Park prior to the inaugural parade, and the golden opportunity of an inaugural ball, I find myself reflecting on President Obama’s first week and how the role of the President dovetails into one of Tranquil Space Foundation’s triad – leadership.
America has a new leader in the White House. You don’t necessarily need to subscribe to President Obama’s politics or philosophy to recognize key elements of leadership in his inaugural address. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of leadership is being the person to bring bad news during trying times… but that is only half of it. A leader must also offer inspiration and even the tools to find the way out, and it’s always best to be honest about the challenges that way out poses.
Many of our TranquilTeens participants identify family members, presidents, organizers and mayors as examples of leaders… it will be interesting to see how they view leadership as we continue through these trying economic times in 2009 and beyond.
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I’m writing this post right before my first evening of yoga teacher training begins at Tranquil Space. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for weeks, but now, when it’s actually upon me — I’m ever-so-slightly terrified. Actually doing something, after all, is entirely different from talking about doing it.
Which has me thinking about the yogic concept of finding your “edge” – the point at which you are challenging yourself to move out of your comfort zone. We can find our edge in yoga poses, or asanas – deepening a stretch, holding a backbend for a few more breaths – and also in our daily lives: finally picking up the phone to make a dreaded call, volunteering to lead a project we’re tempted to let someone else take on, etc.
So, how do we know when it’s right to push ourselves? It’s not easy. It means being able to listen to your gut, and in our crowded, busy lives, that’s no simple proposition. Our “gut,” or core self, is competing for airtime with dozens of other voices at any given moment – a boss’, a friend’s, a parent’s – telling us what we should do. When you multiply these competing voices by the number of decisions we’re faced with every day, it’s easy to see how most of us lose touch with the voice we need to hear most clearly: our own.
Here are a few ways I’ve found to stay in touch with my core self – to be able to hear my “gut”:
- Practicing yoga – no surprise to see this on the list, right? Yoga gets me out of my head and into my body, grounding me in the present moment, helping all the influences of the world melt away as I listen to my own movements and breath. And while you may wish to build towards a deeper practice, remember that every great endeavor starts with a small step: try carving out 5 minutes a day for a home practice, and take it from there.
- Journaling – You don’t need to consider yourself a “writer” for journaling to be a useful tool. Just put pen to paper, and see what comes out. Maybe it’s a grocery list, or a rant about something at work, or, who knows, a poem. There’s no right or wrong, you’re just emptying yourself onto the page as a way of purging the noise in your head that can overwhelm that deeper voice you’re trying to tune into.
- Changing my environment – We tend to have more automatic responses, I think, in environments in which we spend a lot of time. Sometimes I get the biggest jolt to my consciousness simply by spending some time in a location – a cafe, a park, even a market – that isn’t part of my daily or weekly routine. Something in me wakes up and pays attention in a new way, and that something is often an authentic part of me that exists outside automatic response. The more I bring her out to play, the more willing she is to show me the secret passageway to that core part of myself I’m looking for.
What activities or practices help you cultivate a deeper relationship with yourself? Share your suggestions using the comments feature below. And wish me luck with teacher training – it starts in 15 minutes!
Amanda Hirsch is a Tranquil Space Foundation volunteer, and writes about creative living at Creative DC.
I’ve been reflecting lately on the myth that fulfillment is an end point, or destination.
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