Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tuning out the bad thoughts and tuning into truth

Sometimes, like this morning, I feel like letting out a big screech during yoga. This may sound bizarre but when my mind is processing the previous evening's disruptions and trying to let go of anything bothering me, it is hard to be so quiet. But my fellow yogis' apparent peacefulness and the quietness of the room made me want to calm down. It made me want to let go of any lingering annoyances or anything that could possibly hold me back from living this day to its best potential. And I did.

I got over my sometimes-bratty self's mindset of burdening thoughts about anything, really-anything at all, that could possibly be wrong with my life. I am at least about 88% sure that most people's minds want to grasp and grab at all the "problems" and all of the things that could be, would be, should be, better in their lives. My mind is totally guilty of this even though I have a unwavering truth instilled in me that my life is beautiful and I am so grateful for everything I am blessed with. But, hello! I am a human and I lose sight of this beauty, sometimes several times a day.

That's why yoga is so important for me. Yoga humbles me and smacks me around a little bit (obviously, in a figurative sense). Like, today, when I was slowly letting go of my bratty thoughts (thank God) and when I was standing in Warrior 1. We held that pose for what seemed like 15 minutes (it was probably about 3 or 4 in real life) and if my legs could talk, they would have been saying, "DEAR LORD!!! CAROLINE WHAT THE HELL??? STOP THIS MADNESS NOW!"

In other words, my hamstrings and thighs were aching after about a minute of holding Warrior 1. But I stayed there. This, to me, is how yoga keeps me grounded. Once the pain is felt, I can learn to sit there with it and surrender to it- much like when negative thoughts find their sneaky way into my young mind. It is that simple- I can let them go now that I have accepted them. Now, it shouldn't be a pain that makes you want to cry, but just enough to make you think, "WOW. I do not know if I can hold this pose." Today was a day where I needed to hold it and breathe through the physical fatigue, in order to help me rid myself and work though the mind muck.

Other times, I am feeling more lighthearted and less serious with myself and my mind is in a more carefree place. These are the days when I can fall out of a hard balance pose and laugh at my clumsy, unperfect self. But I will save that for another post, because after all, this IS today.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Twisting out the mind's garbage

Yesterday, I woke up with a clouded mind and feelings of great uncertainty for my future. With college graduation haunting me in the distance, a boyfriend of almost a year, and no idea of where he or I will be in the next few months, worrying is one of my most recent hobbies.

I threw on my yoga clothes, rolled up my green mat and hopped on my bike.

Once I was sprawled out on my mat, I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. I always try to set an "intention," or a focus for my practice that I need to work on. Sometimes my intention is a person who I know needs the positive energy more than I do. But usually it is a word or a phrase that comes in to my mind within the first few asanas (postures) of my practice. This day, it was "Let go and trust." So i went with it. I started to flow through the yoga class as calmly and clearly as I could, despite my mind's commotion. It just didn't want to let me feel the joy I know I have inside of me. Lately, it has wanted me to constantly question and fear what is going to happen.

Then, my teacher started to lead us in to twisting postures, where you literally twist your torso in one direction and hold for several breaths. On each inhale, you are supposed to straighten your spine and on each exhale, you are supposed to twist further.

Yesterday, my mind was not in the mood to hold these twists. About halfway through them, I found myself thinking, "When can I get out of these damn twists? When is he going to tell us to 'return to face center'?" But he didn't. My teacher apparently knew I really needed these twists. So we kept holding, and a feeling of release came over me. I started to relish in the twists my mind had told me to hate just moments before. I felt like I was literally ringing out all of the worrisome and exhausting thoughts my mind had unpleasantly greeted me with that morning.

Once the twists were over and I finished my practice yesterday morning, I felt new. I had this feeling that everything is going to work out well and I can not worry about the future, because it simply does not exist yet. Yoga is helping me during a time of uncertainty. With each inhale I take, I try to breathe in trust and excitement for the future. And with each exhale I take, I try to breathe out and let go of the fear.  Namaste!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yoga is my Church.

I know that my last post talked about how I truly recognized the mental benefits of yoga during my freshman year of college. Well, since then, yoga has served as my church. Does that sound weird? Let me explain.

I was raised Episcopal and went to church every Sunday with my parents and brother. I sang in the choir, played an angel in the Christmas pageants, and ate graham crackers with apple juice while listening to Biblical tales about Noah's Ark, Jonah's Tale, etc. I actually loved church when I was little.

But my high school years can be described as anything but religious, let alone spiritual. I lost sight of any kind of connection with a higher power during those years. In no way am I saying that I was unhappy. I was just a teenage girl who just wanted to think about boys, drinking beer, sneaking out of my house, driving, and oh yeah- sometimes that school thing.

Once I got past those years of rebellion and oblivion, I started to realize there is a lot more to life than what I was going to wear next, who is cheating on who, and how wasted I could get on the weekends. I tried the church thing again during my freshman year of college, but it didn't really make sense to me. All these people go to church and say they are Christians, but a lot of the times, I saw feelings of superiority spewing from their beings.

To make myself clearer, here is an example of what I am talking about: My grandmother is a die-hard Presbyterian and is constantly shoving Bible verses down my throat and telling me gays are sinners. I am not gay, however, I think it is 100 % ignorant for anyone to say being gay is a sin. I also love my grandmother, but I do not love the fact that she feels like she can act better than other people because they are not Christians.

To this day, my grandmother does not understand my infatuation, devotion, and love for yoga. But that is okay. She doesn't have to. I just do not want to be a part of the religious divide that I believe many people have created to separate themselves from other fellow human beings.

So, yoga serves as my church.  And yes, yoga's core is rooted in Hinduism. But when I go to yoga, there are all different kinds of people with all different kinds of backgrounds, skin colors, and sexual orientations. But it doesn't matter because nothing is separating us from each other. We are all just doing yoga. We all have different reasons to why we're there but we don't question. We just are who we are, doing yoga.  

Friday, February 4, 2011

Clearing out the Mind Clutter on and off the Mat

It was some time during Savasana, the meditation part of a yoga class during my freshman year of college, when I realized yoga could possibly save my life.

Well,  I realized it could save me from completely caving in to the anxiety and stress constantly trying to take over my life. My year at Stetson was a tough transition from high school because the public school in Georgia did not prepare me well for the endless term papers, non-multiple choice exams and hundreds of pages of reading every day. Not to mention, I was under the impression I had to join a sorority and the majority of the girls in my dorm were bitches. I also decided to run collegiate cross-country that year, a decision I would have laughed about in high school.

No wonder I was stressed out! All of these new things were happening in my life and I was in a place where I did not really feel at home. I finally came to the conclusion that sororities and Stetson were not for me, but yoga was there helping me to get through that year without allowing myself to become depressed.

As a true believer in exercise reducing stress and calming my mind, I took advantage of all of the classes Stetson offered in their gym. I started going to a yoga class twice a week. This was not yoga on crack- it was challenging, yet more about relaxing and being in the present moment. That is where I came to the realization- yoga can't take away all of the so-called problems or struggles but it can help in detaching from them and stopping obsession over them.

As a person who is constantly asking, "What is going to happen?"... yoga helps me to release the need to control what will happen and to ride the waves of life without getting bogged down in my mind's worries. I know there are a lot of people out there who dwell on the past, worry and wonder about the future, but live halfway in the moment. After all, we are human and our minds like to latch on to the constant hustle and bustle of thoughts and a lot of the time, worries.

But with yoga, I have learned to accept the worries of potential future problems and not let them overcome me because, well, they are not even real! And as far as the past goes, it helps me to be more grateful and less regretful for what God has given me. And the most important part, the present, is much easier to stay in when I allow my yoga practice to spill in to the rest of my life. I have to be present in yoga class, or else, I will fall over or lose my pose. And outside of my practice, I apply that same principle, and when I do not, I lose my balance- my emotions and thoughts are scattered. Yoga can be a way of life not just a part of life spent on a rubber mat.