When I was younger, if i found a situation uncomfortable, difficult or challenging my brain would knee-jerk the answer “nope” and disengage. Whatever the problem was, physical, mental or emotional, my mother-hen brain would swoop in and shield my heart with her wings, not letting anything in, or worse, out. It was never something I was aware of doing, but as I’ve got older and as my awareness practice has grown I can feel when it’s about to happen and then click, off my brain switch goes and I am disengaged again.
If there’s something present in your off-mat life, sure as shit it’s going to make itself known during a yoga flow. Too often in-between chaturanga’s and downward dogs I’d catch my mind focusing so hard on being somewhere else, cruising through thought-clouds on auto-pilot. There’s nowhere in particular it visits, no destination it prefers like shopping lists or what’s for dinner, it’s almost like it goes nowhere. Nothing. Just blankness. The closest thing I can liken it to is sleepwalking –I would wake up mid-flow having missed half of my own practice.
At times I’d almost be thankful, thank god that flow is over and I got through it, but at other times I’d feel almost empty, as though I’d gained nothing from my flow. Sure, I’d worked up a good sweat, but where was that connectedness, that rooted grounding that I loved so much about yoga? After losing my focus on my breath and being present, I’d also lost the point of the flow.
When I stopped to consider why this was happening and I came to the following conclusion: it’s easier to focus on something else when the going gets tough and to let your body carry on with the action. You know like when you see a driver of a runaway train that’s careering towards a ravine; they just sit back and let the train go on and on and on.
Letting your body move without over thinking is a good thing, but not being present or focused in what it is that you’re doing is not a good thing. It’s not only bad for your awareness practice but it can also build an unhealthy disassociation with your body. I realised that this meant I was struggling to learn what my body actually needed because I was tuning out so often. My listening got so bad that I ended up pulling my back in January and not being able to walk for three days, doing poses and pushing myself more than I was able. Luckily, this was exactly the wake-up call I needed.
It took a lot of practice, practice and more practice to start really tuning into my body and what I could and couldn’t handle, and knowing that it’s ok to be loving and back off a little. Noticing a behaviour is half of the battle and not beating yourself up about it is another eighth. Without my practice I wouldn’t have learned that I needed to focus and dial into me, actually listen to what I’m saying and honour my body in the way it deserves.
It’s so difficult guiding your brain to react in a different way, especially when it’s such a deeply ingrained fight or flight mechanism. My poor old noggin just wanted to protect me and there I am, loosening its loving hand on mine and running into the brain equivalent of on-coming traffic. So instead of leaping off the curb, with practice I want to be able to turn and look both ways for danger, and calmly cross the road, one sweaty Vinyasa flow at a time.
I hope you will join me in an engaging practice, but please make sure you are being kind and gentle to your lovely brains too. Self-reflection is just that, looking at one’s self in the mirror without unkind words or bad talk – just with curiosity and a deep, deep love.
Jai Namaste, lovers.