Struggling to relax sounds like something of a contradiction, and yet when I’m not feeling “in sync”, slowing down and just breathing can take enough effort to make giving up – and returning to anxious thoughts and grumpy sighs- strangely tempting. Why is it that “takin it easy” isn’t always the easiest path? Are our egos so powerful that doing that which hurts us in the long run is our go-to in the present, because it satisfies us in the moment and allows us to be lazy? Someone who makes his living in a high stress environment, or who goes through her day being negative and manipulating others into doing the same, may think that the easy way out is to accept fear and anxiety as the norm- just accept it and you’ll move through this evil world with mastery, stressed heart and alienated relationships be damned!
But you won’t. You may get through the day, make a lot of money, and even have a real heartfelt conversation every once in awhile, but your heart, brain, and whatever else it is that makes up your consciousness will suffer. The blood-boiling stress levels, regretful longings for trust lost, and an internal prickling that you could have enjoyed life more will nag at you and possibly give you diseases…or at least that is what I have learned from all the movies where people have mid-to-late-life crises and realize they’ve been doin’ it all wrong.
Avoiding all that sounds like a nice incentive, but it doesn’t make tuning into our internal dynamic any easier. I once attended a weekend yoga intensive in which a good 30 minutes of the first class were spent in tadasana (or Mountain pose…basically standing with the best alignment you can muster), looking down at our feet and trying to lengthen our big toe through breath and focus. After about 10 minutes of trying to breathe elongation into a tiny fraction of my body, I was sweating profusely, and halfway through the class I was pale and trembling from the effort of these miniscule adjustments. But just when I thought I was going to embarrass my 20-something generation by being the only person in a room of my elders to go vomit in the corner, the fatigue passed and I suddenly felt at ease. Each breath felt like warm light trickling into every cell of my body, and my mind quieted. Most importantly, I did not vomit, which is good because I was really excited about getting Thai food during the lunch break.
The struggle led to an ease which far overwhelmed the tempting simplicity of stopping, and at the same time, getting past it was also a matter of giving in, but in a different way. Rather than submitting myself to failure and anxiety about my capabilities, and allowing that stress to linger and control me, I surrendered to the pose, accepting my current state as what I was capable of – *for now* – and viewing it not as failure, but as a moment in the process of progress.
Finding this space is not “just” in the breathe, but also in lighting an awareness within you. The simple uptake and release of oxygen, obviously, is necessary and helpful in easing our minds- I sometimes find myself holding my breath for what seems like minutes at a time while writing an e-mail or waiting in line at the store. When I do return to my breath, a jagged panting or shallow sip of air doesn’t do much to ground me, although it may keep me from collapsing and dropping my <insert eco-chic gourmet food product here> on the person in front of me. With each breath, I instead try to envision energy flowing down my nasal passage and through my neck, chest, abdomen and limbs. Sometimes I picture it as light beams, other times it is not so much energetic as a rippling of activity, like grains of cosmic sand pulsing through my cells. When I’m really desperate I hearken back to the days of Nickelodeon’s Alex Mack and I, too, can be a super-fluid metallic transformation of awesomeness. Minus the radioactivity and potential for tween romance.
What have you found to be your best methods for returning to your breath and letting go of anxiety?