How a regular practice can help us all

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

“May you live in interesting times” is widely believed to have been an ancient Chinese curse, but it’s one that I never fully understood: if I, as the one cursed, is living through interesting times, then surely so is the one who cursed me?

It’s a phrase I’ve heard bandied about more often than usual over the past few months so I decided to make a quick Google search. Turns out, there is no record of the curse ever having come from ancient China, although, of course, the possibility can’t be ruled out. Just to be clear, I don’t mention this to make any dubious link between China and the current situation we as a species now find ourselves in. I’ve always quite liked the expression myself. Perhaps that’s because I feel rather attached to the times we are all living through.

It’s this attachment to the times we live in that got me thinking. Plenty of people, I suppose, would choose to go back in time if they could — to a time not very long ago, when everything seemed ok. After all, it was only last year that we had all the ordinary things to deal with, without all of this 2020 madness on top of it, right? Back then the Brits were preoccupied with Brexit and some people were concerned about climate chaos. Let’s not forget all of those refugees fleeing bombs and political turmoil in their own countries. They had a thing or two to worry about. While I’m not suggesting that everything is rosy now, I think it’s clear to see that going back to the way things were is not the answer to the world’s problems.

In the wake of all that we know about climate change, it sometimes surprises me just how fearful people have become this year. I suppose climate change is something so alien that we can’t possibly comprehend it, while our own demise, on the other hand, is something frighteningly tangible. Charles Eisenstein wrote an excellent piece back in May that suggested the reason the world was able to unite around Covid-19 was because the strategies were achievable. Stay at home? Piece of cake! Wash your hands? Simple!

Time has moved on since Eisenstein wrote his piece, and the simple issue of staying home has become much harder for many. Thankfully restrictions have been loosened over the summer months but what’s coming? No one really knows but we are all preparing for a long, hard winter.

Yoga can help. I’m not talking about the kind of yoga that involves twisting and knotting your body into strange shapes. I’m not talking about the kind of yoga you see on Instagram that requires the perfect body topped off with a golden tan, or the kind of yoga that necessitates a hot studio and the shouted demands of a sweaty teacher. I’m talking about the kind of yoga we can all do every day.

I was lucky enough to study yoga with Swati and Rajiv Chanchani back in 2013. I can still hear Swati telling me to surrender to the asanas, to myself, to life and to death. I can still hear Rajiv saying, “this is yoga,” of the person mindfully lighting a candle in the morning and “this is not yoga,” of the person struggling to get into a tricky position and hold it for a few moments, all the time wishing to be somewhere else. “What’s the point in putting your legs in the air if your mind is a mess?” he asked.

This is what I mean when I say yoga can help. Finding a few moments every day in which to be mindful of your breath, of the sensations in your body, of the ripples in your mind will probably feel calming. The cultivation of a five-minute practice every day or thereabouts is far more effective than the habit of going to a yoga class once a week, in my experience. I’m not saying going to classes isn’t beneficial. Of course it is if you find a teacher you resonate with. But give yourself the gift of five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes … whatever you can sustainably manage on a regular basis and it will almost certainly help you to go deeper.

Here are my top tips for helping you do this:

· Try setting your alarm half an hour earlier (or just 5-10 minutes earlier) and give yourself some space in the morning.

· If mornings are no good, find another time of the day that works for you. After lunch, before bed … experiment and then try to stick to the same schedule.

· Try fitting yoga into your everyday life. Mindfully wash the dishes, sit cross legged on your office chair for a while, chant a mantra in the shower or practice some breathing exercises before you get out of bed in the morning.

The more concrete you can make these new habits, the more effective they will be. I’m willing to bet that if you keep it up, you’ll soon start to notice changes creeping in. Perhaps you’ll become more aware of your breathing patterns during the day. You may start to notice the triggers that make you hold your breath, bringing you into the fight or flight response. Perhaps you’ll begin to be more aware of your emotions and learn how to deal with them in a more positive way. Maybe you’ll simply start to notice where you are holding physical tension in your body and will learn some ways to shift it yourself.

Whatever changes you experience, try to embrace them. Facing things as they are takes courage and it may not always feel positive. You might just want to run away and stick your head in the sand. I don’t blame you. The world’s a tough place to navigate but the ancient yogic texts tell us we suffer when we don’t look at the whole picture. Yoga helps us to enlarge our frame, to consider the world more as a whole rather than our tiny slice of it. And for me, that’s when the proverb that may or may not hail from ancient China comes into its own realm. We do indeed live in interesting times, but with along with the chaos and the trauma comes much opportunity for learning.

Please log in and leave a comment. What does your daily practice look like? An hour of ashtanga yoga or 20 minutes of writing your journal? Sipping tea as the sun rises or focusing on your breath before bed? Whatever it is, I'd love to hear from you!

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