Written By Daina Lynn
I can remember each milestone as if they happened last week. It took me just shy of 10 years of practicing yoga before I could hold a handstand. It took me just about seven years to nail the splits. It took me three years before I could touch my toes with consistency. But it only took a month of practicing before I could see yoga bleeding into my daily life, off of the mat.
My yoga journey started 10 years ago, after years and years of beating up my body playing basketball and running track. I began as the most inflexible person you’d ever meet. And I could have given up at any time… but there was something electrifying about uncovering my spiritual side through yoga. Something untapped and uncharted… and it’s been my steady source of personal empowerment ever since.
Don’t get me wrong, the physical benefits of yoga are lovely. To be able to challenge my body to do things that push me to my edge… to be able to effortlessly lift into a handstand… to be able to slide my hands under my feet while standing… these are all powerful things.
But learning how to ride out my emotions like waves in the ocean… or getting out of bed in the morning without aches and pains… or even how to breathe and think before I react to something… now those are the unmatchable things yoga has given me that no handstand or calories burned could ever replace.
Often, the physical things are what blow us away when we first start our yoga journey. We are perplexed at the things our physical body can do that we never imagined. One day in class, we can all of a sudden touch our toes. Or we are finally able to hold tree pose without falling over. These are accomplishments that seem monumental, and they are exciting. But the principles of yoga have a way of creeping off the mat and into our daily lives, too. And that’s where the most profound changes occur… off of the mat.
For example, Ruth was a 75-year-old regular of mine who insisted on coming to my heated vinyasa classes. My goal in those classes was seldom a gentle, slow flow, but rather an intense burn for both the body and mind.
But, despite her age and physical condition, Ruth continued to come. She would set up her mat near the back, and always modified to make the class work for her. I’d never spoken to her, on a personal level, until she pulled me aside after class one day.
I’ll never forget how the excitement in her voice matched the light in her eyes as she told me, “I’ve never been able to tie my grandchildren’s shoes. And yesterday, I just bent over and did it without thinking! It wouldn’t be possible without yoga.”
This is a lovely example of the physical benefits yoga can provide us, off of the mat as well as on it. And yet… there’s so much more to uncover. New students often ask me how yoga will translate into their daily lives. It’s hard when you first start and struggle through each pose and movement… while it seems everyone around you is an expert. Once you realize that yoga is so much more than just the physical… that’s when you stop looking outside at others, and you start peeking in at yourself.
That’s because the way yoga bleeds into our reality is much more of a subtle, internal shift than a cool pose for “the Gram.” And today, I want to share a few tools yoga will provide you that exceeds the physical. Perhaps they’re things that you can incorporate as 2020 rolls through… empowering instead of victimizing, riding emotions like a wave, and just breathing.
These three things have nothing to do with a cool pose or how we look in yoga pants. They appear when we stop looking for answers outside of ourselves, and instead, shift our focus inward. Yoga, after all, provides a path that leads back to the self. It’s about remembering things we’ve forgotten, and tapping into a peaceful and calm state whether we’re on our mat or at the grocery store.
With the new year approaching, why don’t we resurrect the power within us instead of searching for answers on the exterior. We have all we need within us already… we just need to find our way back in.
Empowering Instead of Victimizing
One of the first things yoga ever taught me was how to take responsibility for my feelings, thoughts, and actions. And in doing so, I shifted from the victim’s seat back to the empowered seat.
At the end of the day, we only have so much energy to give to the world. There are only so many hours… so many chances to interact with others… and so much we can do before our time is up. One of the greatest gifts yoga and meditation taught me was that there are very few things that are important enough to disturb the peace I’ve created within myself. And that comes from self-reflection, bringing my gaze back inside of myself instead of pointing the finger at others, and empowering myself with strength and grace.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when it’s encouraged to be a victim. Life has become a never-ending blame game of tit for tat and he said, she said. We stop allowing ourselves to be the victim when we take responsibility for our feelings and actions and stop blaming others. The only power ANYONE has over us lies in how we choose to treat them. If we blame them for the way we act, well… that’s like saying they control our every move.
We cannot control how others treat us or what they choose to say or do to us. But, we can control who we surround ourselves with and how we choose to react.
Look, taking back the responsibility of our thoughts, feelings, and actions is a tough thing. It’s hard to admit you’re wrong. It’s difficult to say you’re responsible for losing your cool. And it isn’t easy to take your part of the blame for an explosive argument. But I can tell you this… empowering yourself by focusing on YOU instead of THEM is a much more rewarding life to live than always playing the victim.
You see, empowerment is not putting someone else down, no matter if they wronged us or not, to elevate our own self. That’s bullying. If your empowerment involves anyone else in any negative matter, it’s not personal growth or empowerment at all. Empowerment comes from within the self and is entirely dictated by the individual, for the individual. In short, it’s taking our emotional power back… hence empower (get it ;)?). And that starts with personal accountability.
You are the reason you are unhappy. You are the reason you are angry. You are the reason you are “stuck.” You are the reason you didn’t hit those weight loss goals.
But guess what? You have the answer to your unhappiness. You have the answer to your anger. You have the answer for your situation. And you have the answer to why you just can’t keep the weight off.
I don’t say this to be condescending or to belittle anyone’s situation. I say it to remind you of the power you have over your emotions and your life! That’s a beautiful thing, no matter your present feelings. Because it’s YOU who has the power to change your situation.
Image: Harley and J
There are so many beautiful souls in this world, and my hope is you’re surrounded by plenty of them. They can help you heal, change your perspective on things, and be your rock. But, they cannot do the work for you.
Empower yourself by owning who are are, the things you say and do, and the sensations you feel. And that all starts with allowing ourselves to pause and reflect when we feel triggered, instead of reacting first.
Riding Emotions Like a Wave
My mom once told me our emotions are like waves. Sometimes, they’re incredibly powerful and knock us down. They can even pull us under… and we feel like we might drown. Other times, when we are more at peace, they just gently tickle our feet. We may not even know they’re there.
One thing yoga provides is the chance to push ourselves to our edge on our mats. We can get to the point where our legs are shaking, or we’re struggling to keep our breath steady. What do you choose to do in those moments? Do you stay in the fight, allowing the sense of uncomfort build your physical and mental strength? Or do you let go… finding a more relaxed sensation?
There’s no right or wrong answer. Some days, I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. I want to feel relaxed. Other days, I take the physical challenge as an opportunity to push my limits… and remind myself how strong I really am.
Either way, these challenges yoga provide us prepare us for the real world. We can think of them like an emotion that creeps up on us. We will feel these moments of discomfort every single day. And how we choose to react to them is where we dictate our own attitude and our own path.
Let’s think of a wave once more. There are two motions of a wave… one, it crashes onto the shore and pushes anything it its path out of the way. Two, it pulls back… leaving the space it once destroyed smooth and calm.
When an emotion creeps up, it can knock us off our feet. Instead of allowing that initial shock to dictate our reaction, we simply wait. We allow ourselves to be patient, and let the initial wave do its worst. Those are the moments when we simply come back to our breath… and in turn, ourselves… which I’ll get to in the next section.
Remember… when empowering ourselves, we look at ourselves first, before we point the finger at anyone else. Letting our emotional wave ride out is step one towards empowering ourselves. Instead of reacting without thinking, we give ourselves a moment to reflect.
There have been times where someone I love instigates an argument with me, or says something I find offensive, and causes an emotional reaction. I can feel the heat building in my stomach and chest, and I want to say something off-the-cuff that I may regret later. Instead, I usually sit in silence for a moment. And if I have to, I remove myself from the room entirely or ask for a moment to myself. There’s nothing wrong with removing yourself from a situation BEFORE you even react.
Oftentimes I find that when someone says something that hurts my feelings, or triggers something in me, it’s actually my thing. Meaning, it’s a deep-seated insecurity or pain point that was created at some point in my past, be it my childhood or a past relationship. What they said to me wasn’t really a cause for concern or argument, but rather just poked me in a weak spot.
Our interpersonal relationships are like mirrors. We have the chance to see ourselves through another, and can learn a lot about ourselves from moments of high emotion. If my loved one says something to me that pokes me in my weak spot, it’s a chance for me to learn more about myself. To see why I am impacted in this way. To learn about myself, on the spot, and begin the healing process if need be. And to communicate to them why it bothers me, and how they can help me instead of hurt me. That’s much more productive and healthy than flying off the hinge with no sense of awareness.
This is akin to holding a plank in yoga class and dealing with some internal struggles. Do I stay? Do I fall to my knees? Once you pay attention to where your mind tends to go in moments of high-emotion and learn what your trigger spots are and what causes them to flare up, you can begin to take back the power over your emotions.
But remember… we can seldom control our initial reaction to something. That’s going to happen whether we like it or not. But, we can choose to let it pass like a wave… and use it as a learning experience for self-growth and wisdom.
When you get hit with an emotional wave, take time and allow it to pass before you react. Do a little digging and see why it impacted you in that way. You’ll be surprised at how much more aware of and in control of your emotions you become.
Once I do some internal digging and reflecting, I am able to respond in a respectful manner that comes from a place of awareness rather than ignorance. Go ahead… let someone else make a fool of themselves, emotionally. But do not let them dictate how you carry yourself.
Remember, we allow ourselves to be the victim when we say someone else has the power to cause us to react in a certain way. When we feel triggered by someone, we allow the emotional wave to pass. And all we have to do while the wave comes and goes… is breathe.
In yoga, the breath is everything. We can think of our yoga practice like the practice of meditation. When learning to meditate, we are often guided to focus on every sensation of the breath. Eventually, after a few minutes of focusing heavily on the breath, we are asked to let go of our focus on the breath. To allow ourselves to simply “be.”
Like meditation, when we first begin our practice, we are enamored with the sound and feel of our breath. We use it to help guide our movements, and to push through tough postures and flows. Eventually, after some time practicing, we let the breath go and allow it to be natural. We are able to find bliss on our mats and we transcend the sound of breath, practicing breath control (prana yama). That’s why yoga is often referred to as a moving meditation.
I can honestly say learning to mindfully breathe has changed my life. It’s bled into my daily life more than anything else yoga-related. When I am stressed, I come back to my breath and soften. When I feel frustrated, I come back to my breath and relax. When I’m meditating, I come back to my breath and let go.
Our breath is the greatest natural tool for stress relief in our arsenal. When we are smacked down with an emotional wave… when we want to react and make the other person feel as petrified or angry as we do… we stop. And we just breathe.
As the sensation of anger or frustration simmers in our belly or our chest, we close our eyes and let it happen. We let ourselves FEEL what we need to feel. We pull our attention inward, studying our reaction from an objective, bird’s eye view. Noting the sensations… the desires… the buttons pushed. And all the while, we just breathe.
It’s also important to make sure we don’t shove our emotions down or avoid feeling them. It’s important to feel the emotion… that’s why we ride it like a wave. We are entitled to the emotions we feel when triggered… and they are valid.
What we aren’t entitled to is the right to hurt someone while we’re in a reactive state. That’s when it now becomes our burden to bear and our responsibility. I know it can be scary to feel something painful. Or to have to rehash old wounds. But I promise you this… If you don’t choose to face your demons, they’ll choose to face you. And often, our deepest pains have a way of smacking us down when we least expect it.
Let’s start using moments when we feel triggered to do some self-healing and self-loving. Start labeling how you felt in that moment with one word. Start writing down these moments, finding patterns and triggers so you can learn what you need to work on. Let’s become the best, kindest, most loving version of ourselves before we point the finger at anyone else.
Your emotions are valid. And you’re responsible for how you react when your emotions come. Stop letting others control how you feel, and take back the power over your emotions. Shift your focus back inward… you have all the answers you need, right inside of you. Your empowerment will always ignite from within.