By Lauren C. Brady, SummerSalt Yoga teacher
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” – Patanjali
I never really thought of myself as a particularly fiery person until I met my ex. But something in him and something between us brought out that fire in all its guts and glory. Without going into too much personal detail, I learnt a lot about him and even more about myself during our four-year relationship, including and especially, just how much anger and volatility we could bring up in each other. We knew how to push each other’s buttons and by god did we push, and push, and push.
Needless to say, my emotions were up and down like a yo-yo during that time and it was only after we broke up and I dived deeper into my yoga practice that I realized just how destructive that was. I was also then that I realized that during my then-weekly yoga class was the ONLY time that I wasn’t thinking about or analyzing what was going on in our relationship.
Taking the first step on the eight-limbed path
After that realization, I started to see yoga as more than just a physical practice, and instead began to step-up my yogini game and test out other varieties of yoga styles around London. I still hadn’t ‘found’ meditation at this point, or at least I didn’t realize that the moving meditation of the physical practice was a technique in itself – strong enough to get me out of my monkey mind and into the present moment. Or withdrawing from my senses entirely and just observing what came up without becoming consumed it. It’s only now that I realize what I was doing is what Patanjali refers to as ‘Pratyahara’ or ‘withdrawal of the senses’.
If you’re not sure what I mean by this, take your mind to the end of your yoga class, Savasana. Initially, you relax physically; your heart rate slows down, the breath becomes more steady and natural as opposed to the contrived Ujjayi breath – and then comes Pratyahara…
“In the second stage of Savasana, you’re withdrawing from the external world without losing contact with it. This withdrawal is the experience of pratyahara. When you’re in it, you feel like you’re at the bottom of a well. You register the sounds that occur around you but these sounds do not create a disturbance in your body or mind” – Judith Lasater for Yoga Journal.
So what do we do when we’re going through a bad time? Spend every moment on the mat, right?
Not quite! Because what happens on the mat, is just a mirror of what happens in life. The great thing about all that extra practice time though is that when conflict comes up in real life, you are better equipped to deal with it.
Unfortunately, just because you’re a yogi doesn’t mean that suddenly life is all sunsets and unicorns, (in fact that airy fairy childish analogy irritates me somewhat, but that’s another post for another day). And as Judith so eloquently puts it;
“I realize that life involves interactions with other people, and that often those interactions include an element of conflict. In fact, I don’t even need another person to be in conflict. I can be, and occasionally am, in conflict within myself. Sometimes I’m tempted to withdraw to avoid these conflicts, but I know that this withdrawal is not what pratyahara is about….
In other words, no matter how much I practice meditation and postures and breathing, there will still be many times when I act in response to people and situations. Responding to the world isn’t a problem in and of itself; the problem comes when I respond with knee-jerk reactions rather than with actions that I choose” – Judith Lasater for Yoga Journal.
So let’s test that theory.
Last weekend at a festival I stumbled into my ex along with his new girlfriend and a bunch of their / my friends. We chatted, we caught up and then I said my goodbyes and walked away.
We sat down in the grass and in that moment, no one else mattered. We talked of our love for each other and how no one else could compare (all this from the guy who could never talk about his emotions) and I was overwhelmed with how much I still loved this person despite everything we’d been though.
Two days later I received a text to say that despite everything he had said, he was staying with his girlfriend. I wasn’t surprised and in fact, I hadn’t wanted or even suggested that anyone break up, the whole situation had come out of the blue for everyone after all. But what surprised me more than anything was how I felt. I should have been angry, sad, furious even for saying all this to me and then just expecting me to forget it all in the harsh light of day when he realized the weight of what it all really meant. But instead, I felt fine.
Well, not fine exactly, but compared to the range of extreme emotions this guy used to create in me, I was expecting something more significant.
I sat. I waited. I analysed my reaction and thought to myself, ‘oh you’re just suppressing it, it will come out soon’. But no, nothing. As I carried on my week, I realised just how far I’d come and just how much my practice was helping me. Yoga isn’t just something you do on the mat for a few hours each week, it’s what you take off the mat and into the real world that is of true benefit.
So I got up on, threw on my yoga clothes and busted out some sun salutations under the guidance of my friend and fellow yoga teacher Frankie.
“Slow breathing is like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won’t make the storm go away, but it will hold you steady until it passes” – Russ Harris.