You practice yoga. You breathe. You meditate. You eat your body weight in kale. Your nightstand is covered in crystals. Life should be a bed of roses, right?
It turns out enlightenment isn’t a one-way trip down Happy Avenue. Despite our best efforts, life can still knock us around. Even if we did yoga and meditated for six hours a day, our practices don’t inoculate us against tough times.
Maybe you didn’t get the job you had your heart set on. Or you’re in the midst of a transition that’s rocky, to put it mildly. You ache for your child who has just experienced the harshness of others for the first time. Or you’re in the aftermath of a betrayal, breakup or other loss.
We know that challenging times are our best teachers, but that doesn’t make it any easier to actually deal in the day-to-day world.
In “The Untethered Soul,” author Michael Singer says we can think of tough times and resulting emotions like a thorn stuck in your arm. You can keep the thorn in, and even build a protective covering around it so nothing can ever irritate it. You spend all of your energy avoiding any situation that could touch the thorn and cause pain. You shut yourself off from others so the thorn stays in, leaving a constant dull throbbing.
Another option is to take a breath and pull the thorn out. Examine this source of physical and emotional strain, and then throw it out. Let it go. You’ll experience the related short-term pain, but then your body initiates the healing process.
You can move on.
Here are a few simple self-care practices to help you heal when you pull out your “thorns.” They’re no-fuss (because pruning can take a lot of energy). Like a deep sigh, let these practices bring you some ease and comfort until the storms ultimately pass and the skies clear again.
If you need a vigorous vinyasa practice to burn the steam of this situation off, then by all means do it. But if that’s a drain, instead do two simple restorative poses to clear and replenish your energy. They’ll comfort you like a hug with just the perfect amount of squeeze.
- Supported Child’s Pose provides a strong base for your emotions to pour into. Prop yourself up on a solid bolster or other cushion, and really let your body weight melt into it. Feel the ground rising up as you soften down. Resist coming out of the pose the second the emotions start to well up. Take a deep breath.
- Then come into Supported Fish Pose to lift your heart and create room for lightness to pour in. Place one block on the low or medium setting horizontally across your mid-back, and another block on the medium or high setting under your head. (Or roll up a blanket or towel and lay it along the length of your spine.) Spread your arms wide. The more space for receiving, the better. Consciously acknowledge gratitude for everything, even the tough times.
In my experience, meditation can sometimes amplify the emotions more than I can handle when I’m dealing with something difficult. In these situations, keep your eyes softly open, and watch a candle flame flicker for a few minutes. Just like a seated, eyes-closed, “traditional” meditation posture, the mind quiets and the breath slows as you watch the flame. Even five minutes will give your nervous system a little break from the stress response going on in your body.
If life is out of whack, find just one small act of self-care to do each day. Pick a beautifully scented lotion or essential oil to use before bed. Or do one restorative pose when you get home from work. Make your favorite tea at night. Do any action large or small that offers your mind, body and spirit a bit of self-love. Just. One. Thing. You can do it.
Photo courtesy of Gina Portolese.