Center and Balance

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This morning I awoke with a jolt and felt a flood of negative energy pour into me. I felt the weight of choices I have made, things I am uncertain about, and responsibilities to attend to. I inwardly cringed at the feeling of foreboding and anxiety. These feelings are not so intense that they are debilitating, but they are painful and unpleasant. The very next thought I had was: “I need to do yoga. Right now.”

Yesterday I attended my very first yoga class. It’s something I have always wanted to do to achieve the results that everyone talks about. The collective idea is that yoga brings you peace and calm, stillness and quiet, and makes you feel incredibly grounded. Each one of those things is exactly correct.

I walked into the room and immediately felt out of place. It was very quiet, the lights were dimmed, and there were several people already sitting cross-legged on their yoga mats with their eyes closed, breathing. Where was the noise and chatter? Where was the activity? Not in the yoga room. The instructor was sitting quietly, watching as new people came in and took their places on the floor. I rolled out my mat like the others had done, collected a few of the props they also had, and sat looking around.

The instructor walked over and, in a whisper, introduced herself and shook my hand. She asked me if I had done yoga before, to which I replied a timid “no”. She gave me a big smile and welcomed me.

When the class began, she instructed us to breathe and to feel our breath. To let it fill our bellies and diaphragms and move into our chest and up to our collar bones. She spoke quietly over the soft music, encouraging us to find our center. That place where you are focused only on the present, the way your body feels, your breathing, and to let go of anything else on your mind. She instructed us to just let it go. The list of things we had to do, the things that had happened thus far in the day, and the worries we had on our mind. At first I had to really concentrate to relax and just let it all go, and once I did I felt wonderful and relieved. Finally – an escape from all of the things on my mind. Just to be.

We went through a variety of poses. I learned them quickly but also found that yoga is a slow and deliberate practice, and she spoke to us the entire time, letting us know it was okay to go at our own pace and just generally being gentle and kind. The room was filled with the sounds of breathing and soft melodies.

As the class progressed I noticed how present I was becoming. It felt as if I was in a trance, that my complete attention was on my body and the way I was using it to stretch and balance my body. I became more comfortable as she gave us positive feedback on the way we were moving, and I chose to take those words as if she were directly addressing me. Not because she couldn’t compliment anyone else, of course, but because in that moment it felt nice to be told I was doing it properly.

My favorite poses were the ones that involve balance. Typically I do not feel like a well balanced person. I feel generally uncoordinated and clumsy. I drop things and run into things and almost fall down a lot. What I found is that when my mind is free of clutter, I am actually a very balanced person. We did the tree pose, which if you do not know look like this:

tree pose

 

This is the classic yoga pose that everyone thinks of. I was sure that I was going to fall right over. As a matter of fact, I have tried that pose before just to do it, and I did fall over. But in that moment, I was a rock. I didn’t waver a bit. I just stood and focused on my breathing and existed in that moment. I felt a surge of pride at my ability to have such control over my own body. Even more interesting, even though I am left-side dominant because I am left handed, I had more control and a sense of balance when balancing on my right side. I do not know why this is, but it fascinated me. I’ll have to ask my yoga teacher next class.

lord of the dance

 

Here is another pose we did to focus on balance. Again, something I have tried just to be silly me, but usually involved falling. This time, again, I was still. I learned that I am actually not that uncoordinated, nor am I that clumsy. I am actually a person with grace and balance, but in my every day life I do not feel that. I think it’s because the layers of crap inside my brain prevent me from finding balance.

Balance as been a big conversation for the past six months. Really it has been a conversation I have been having with myself my entire life. If you imagine most things as a spectrum with two extremes on either side, the ideal goal would be to find balance in the middle. I typically fall to one extreme or the other. When it comes to spending money, I either spend it all or spend nothing. When it comes to building relationships, I either throw myself in them or shut people out altogether. In terms of work ethic, I either throw myself into the job or completely slack off and am apathetic.

Existing in such an unbalanced state might explain why I feel so clumsy inside and out. It could also explain why I do not sleep well, or generally feel sickly or unhappy. Again, none of these things are debilitating, but it kind of feels like that junk drawer that you know you should organize  but never get around to doing it. So not only is it a pending task, but it’s clogging your mind. My Chakra has been a junk drawer for quite some time and yesterday I at least opened the drawer to look inside.

A lot of the class was centered around opening the body. We would fold into these poses and then just hold still. The instructor would encourage us to feel our bodies opening with each breath, and I did. It happens slowly, over time, this release of tension and feeling of quiet in every cell.

At the end of the class I felt restored, rejuvenated, and incredibly calm. Anything negative that entered my mind was viewed objectively but did not creep in and steal away my sense of peace. As a matter of fact, when I went to the locker room I saw that my sister had left me a voice mail complaining about one of her professors. She had a bad day at school and was just calling to vent. As I was sitting and listening to the voice mail, all I could think was that she should do some yoga. I felt the negativity and the stress and tension in her voice, and I just wanted it to go away for her.

So, naturally, this morning when I woke up and felt that sense of dread, that sense of “don’t even want to roll out of bed, can’t I just fall back asleep and forget about it all?” I decided that what I really needed was to find my center. So, I threw on my yoga pants and found a music channel on cable that had similar music, and sat down.

At first, I was too focused on finding my center that I didn’t really find it at all. It’s not something that you can try to do, rather it is something that you relax and open yourself up to and then it’s there. It’s always there, but I think I have too many other things piled on top of it and it gets smothered. It should be the foremost thing in my mind all the time.

So, after doing that for a while, I felt much better. I’m sitting at my dining room table, still listening to the music, with a smile on my face because I feel great. Those aforementioned feelings are gone. Instead I feel rested, for once, and still inside. I am aware of my to do list, and aware of those choices, and aware of all of it – but the negativity is gone.

My eventual goal is to always be at my center. For now I will continue practicing yoga to find it, and I hope to incorporate those practices into every day life. There is no reason why I can’t find my center while I’m driving, just by breathing and being mindful of those breaths.

I would love to be the kind of person that does not feel stress. Stress is a poison to the mind and body. Things can be accomplished without pressure, just by willpower and choice. I want to be a more decisive person rather than a reactive one. I want to be in tune with my body and mind and find harmony.

Another goal is to find detachment from anger and pain. I know that pain and anger are important feelings, but I think it would be nice to reach a level of enlightenment where anger and pain are not driving forces in my emotional well being. What I mean is, I should know that I feel them, but they should not have power over me. The same goes for sadness as well as joy. I want to feel in complete control of my emotions and make decisions based on reason and calmness, not react to feelings.

I would love to cut caffeine out of my diet. False. I love caffeine. Also false. What I love is coffee. I drink it black, I love the flavor of coffee, and I love drinking something warm. But I know the negative affects of caffeine on the body and I also know that because I love the flavor and warmth, I drink way too much. A pot a day, I would guess. I drink more coffee than I drink water. Still mulling over a possible substitute for this. What tastes good and is warm without the negative side effects? A woman I work this cut out coffee and she feels great. A friend of mine did the same thing, and he feels great as well. These people inspire me to let it go.

I would love to feel fit. By fit, I mean I would love to exercise without feeling out of breath, without breaking a sweat. I would love to feel physically capable of exerting myself with ease. I would love to run a 5k. I would love to have a six pack and feel strong and toned. These are all goals I am working towards, by going to the gym on a regular basis. Sometimes I do the fitness classes, and sometimes I just lift and do cardio by myself. Slowly but surely I will reach those goals.

I would love to make conscious choices about what I eat. Having a naturally slender body and never gaining weight has resulted in poor eating habits. I can eat whatever I want and never gain a pound, which some might consider to be the best scenario possible. Maybe it is, but it’s not enough to be naturally slender. I want to be healthy. I want to cut out processed foods and have a more balanced diet. I want to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, and less carbohydrates.

Finally, I want to quit smoking. This one is the worst out of all of them. My relationship with nicotine is a powerful one. Sure, I have a nicotine addiction, and I smoke to satisfy those cravings. But the chemical addiction is only one small facet of the entire habit. I love the feel of a cigarette in my hand. I love the feeling of pulling a drag and inhaling the smoke and exhaling it. Having something in my mouth. But I know it is so bad for me. I can say that it’s too hard because I smoke in my house and I live with other smokers, I can say it’s too much trouble because most of my friends smoke, and I can say that I’ll quit when I want to and for no other reason.

But for the first time since I started smoking, I do want to quit. Not because I really want to, of course. But because I want to. I know that doesn’t make any sense at all, but the other smokers will understand. You get to a place in your head when you decide to be a different person, and that’s the first step. Just knowing who you want to be sets the stage for becoming that way. For months after I moved here I “wanted” to go to the gym, and then one day I just went to the gym to get a membership and now I’m someone who goes to the gym.

A few minutes ago I said I “wanted” to cut out coffee, and I have had two cups this morning already. I wanted another cup, just now, but instead of pouring another cup of coffee, I brewed some tea.

It’s so many things rolled into one, and rather than feel it as a daunting task or a never ending list of ways to better myself, I’ll just do one small thing at a time. Make new habits. I’ve been doing this since I moved home in August, trying to be a different person. I feel like I’ve made so much progress since I’ve been here. The past few weeks I have been slowly sliding into a negative place in my mind. Thinking about restarting my sessions with my therapist, and generally just feeling awful. I don’t really understand why, because if I objectively look at the things I have done in the past eight months, nearly a year, it’s very impressive.

So, I suppose balance and center come from existing in the moment while being mindful of things past and things future. But really just the things, not the emotions attached to them. That’s the method that I think might work for me, anyway, considering my weaknesses and tendencies.

I think it’s going to be a wholly satisfying new chapter.

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