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By Keeley Michael
We live in a diverse and beautifully chaotic world. Our individual stressors are hugely varied, but our desired yearning for internal peace is the same. We strive for balance. We want to be confident, present, energetic, and stable. So what gets in the way?
Life. Change. Uncertainty. Tragedy. The good. The bad. The ugly.
“This is not what I signed up for,” said Christy, a self-proclaimed perfectionist who spoke bluntly and truthfully. Her husband’s leukemia diagnosis was not a part of her plan — their plan. She says: “I’m constantly worried he isn’t getting enough sleep or isn’t eating right. I worry about every cough and sniffle.” As a result, she experienced stress, neck and shoulder tension, and itchy hives, which compromised her sleep. Life knocked her out of balance. And although she came to yoga therapy seeking strength and flexibility, she really needed equanimity.
According to yoga philosophy, our mind has three qualities: rajas (activity, turbulence, imbalance), tamas (heaviness, inertia, dullness), and sattva (light, balance, harmony). Each state of mind is associated with an element: rajas (fire), tamas (earth), and sattva (light). Christy’s mind and energy were stuck in a cyclical rajastic state. Her racing mind was causing her sympathetic nervous system to be in a constant state of “fight or flight.” This persistent stress on the system was causing hives. Physically, the weight of her world was carried on her neck and shoulders. Too much fire element was causing her system to burn up and out.
In yoga, we find equanimity through cultivating the opposite. It was essential to stimulate Christy’s parasympathetic nervous system so she could “rest and digest,” allowing her mind to slow down and her body to heal. First, we focused on twisting postures and forward bends that lengthened her exhale. The exhale breath eliminates toxins, heat, and relaxes the nervous system. Correspondingly, twists linked with the exhale breath gently moved her neck and shoulders, which began to release the stuck tension. As we worked further, we focused on a cooling breath technique (sitali) and added the mantra “let go.”
Before my eyes, Christy softened. Through her enthusiastic effort and unwavering belief in the practice, she became her light, sattvic self. Through breath and movement, she peeled off the protective body armor and could relax. She connected with the importance of slowing down. Her hives subsided and she could sleep peacefully. Her playful and “go with the flow” attitude was palpable. She did not change. Her true nature was revealed.
We cannot escape life. We live in a diverse and beautifully chaotic world. Our individual stressors are hugely varied, but our desired yearning for internal peace is the same. We all go out of balance, and it’s important to know how to come back. Notice your state of mind (rajas or tamas), and then link to experiences that cultivate the opposite. It’s not easy, but it is simple. You have the tools within you. Breathe, tune in, listen, and follow.
*The name has been changed for client privacy