May 19, 2020
Can you sit in the tension of this moment?
The question I am attempting to address here is how we can create resilience and build our body’s capacity to adapt to the myriad of changes this moment has presented and manage the big and often uncomfortable emotions without falling apart. Without finding ourselves stuck in outdated patterns of behavior, addiction, denial, or avoidance. To sit with what arises. To be in the discomfort and sit with the tension of opposites. To build a tolerance for the discomfort and lean into hard things. We can do hard things.
In mid-March many of us experienced disorder. You might even call it chaos. Life changed for everyone. Those changes were different for each of us. For some it has allowed you to thrive in new ways. For others there has been great loss. For many there has been emotional upheaval.
What is the opposite of chaos? Order.
According to Ayurveda, implementing a dinacharya, daily habits that realign your body to the rhythms of nature, organizes your physiology and optimizes all five koshas or layers of the self. When we have these habits we have a higher level of order. This order brings us into harmony. We are better able to experience joy, happiness, vitality...even in moments like these.
And so, the invitation is to investigate the habits that reinforce that rhythm and build your resilience so that you can adapt to these changes and sit with the tension and discomfort of this moment without falling apart.
Building resilience in the body is important. Starting with the Annamaya Kosha, the physical (or food) body. Your muscles, tissues, joints. Choosing to nourish the physical body with foods that bring you energy and moving your body in the way that serves your unique needs, needs that will change all the time, are important to build that resilience in the body.
Building resilience in the physiology is just as important. The Pranamaya Kosha is everything that moves through the body. Respiration, circulation, lymph, energy (chakras), digestion are all impacted by this sheath, or kosha.
Each impacts the other.
This leads to the manomaya kosha, the mental body. It is our thoughts and emotions. This layer of the body feeds on the information that we give it. It processes input from our five senses and responds reflexively. This sheath is where the nervous system is. Learning ways to regulate the nervous system is very effective to finding balance in the manomaya kosha. If we get stuck in this body, meaning we haven’t moved beyond it to the deeper layers we are reacting to our environment rather than actively shaping it.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”--Viktor Frankl
Now it’s important to locate ourselves before we move into this conversation. Someone who lives in a body that has close proximity to power and privilege has a much easier time shaping their environment, in fact the environment is often times already shaped to benefit us. I say us, because I live in a very privileged body. I am a White, middle-class, educated, cis-gender, straight, US citizen, native English speaker, able bodied person. Nearly every part of my identity holds privilege; I don’t have to fight to change the collective environment to support my needs because people like me make most of the policy decisions. And, because I hold these identities of privilege I am far less likely to recognize when oppression is happening. I just don’t see it.
Regardless of our social location or our circumstances there are tools and we still get to choose how we respond to the challenges we are facing. We gain many of these tools through the practice of yoga, all eight limbs.
Our thoughts and emotions affect the energy flow in and around us. This then affects our energetic (pranamaya kosha) and physical (annamaya kosha) wellbeing. So, by becoming aware of our thoughts, judgements, and emotions as they arise, without avoiding them we can use sense-withdrawal (pratyahara) and one-pointed concentration (dhāraṇā) as tools to give ourselves space for all of our thoughts and emotions without bypassing or numbing them. And both prāṇāyāma and āsana practice can deeply enhance the overall state of our wellbeing.
Asana builds resilience in the Manomaya Kosha because as we move our body into places of resistance and discomfort our nervous system can get activated. We can choose to pause, breathe, and ease in to these shapes or we may find that we have the tendancy to avoid the sensation, to run away from the tension or discomfort, or to push past it and cause harm. Our mats are our laboratory. How we respond (or react) to discomfort, tension, and sensation on the mat is usually a good indicator of how we respond to tension and discomfort off the mat, in our everyday lives. So we can actually build the skill or the capacity to hold tension in our emotional body on the mat through self-regulation practices.
This is a moment of tension and discomfort. There is a lot of information out there. Much of it is causing discomfort. It's very hard to know what to believe. It is okay to feel hopeful and fearful all at the same time. It is okay to contradict yourself. This practice helps us build our capacity to be in the tension of paradox. To hold the both...and. This is deeply evolved to be able to be in that tension and not run away from it.
Imbalance in the Manomaya Kosha often manifests itself as stress, mental illness, lack of clarity in the mind, inability to learn/comprehend or retain information, and memory loss.
So, here’s the inquiry. What are you feeding your mind right now? What information are you taking into your senses? Are you reacting to your environment or responding to it? Just get curious. Without judgment. With self-compassion. It's simply information you are gathering which will allow you the space to choose another way if your current habits or ways of being are not bringing you the joy and ease that is available to each one of us.
Here are some tools and practices to build resilience in the Manomaya Kosha:
- Asana and pranayama
- Keep learning. Listen to new and different perspectives. Question your beliefs.
- Pratyahara (the 5th limb; withdrawal of the senses)
- Memory exercises and mind puzzles
- Turn down the noise!! Turn off your screens. Turn off the news. Give your mind a break from taking in constant stimulation.
- Gratitude practice
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So, whatever hard things you need to be doing in this moment...remember. You can do hard things. Connect to your own anchor practices. The habits and rituals that support your body's ability to be grounded and resourced.