I tried yoga for the first time a few years ago when I was living in Chicago. My friend invited me to go to a class with her, a hot yoga class. It was winter in the Windy City and nothing sounded better than stepping out of the bitter cold and into an overly heated room, so I agreed.
We walked in to that first class, prepared with yoga mats and water bottles, yoga pants and tank tops, and started looking for a place to spread our mats among the quiet students. The room was candle lit and warm with soft music inviting us to relax, welcoming us to the practice.
After a few minutes of settling and waiting, the teacher entered and we began. We began stretching and moving and holding our bodies in time and space as if our bodies were hands on a clock. We breathed in and breathed out, deepening each stretch. We sweated. We lost balance. We gained composure and sweated some more. It was hot and beautiful.
And then, after an hour, we ended in shavasana – corpse pose. Every student was lying on the ground face up, feet and hands outstretched, relaxed, palms open. And in that moment, I fell in love. I fell in love with the peace that comes from stretching and struggling, and then releasing. I fell in love with lying on the ground and actually feeling grounded.
Part of the beauty of practicing yoga is you are taught to ground yourself. You are taught to plant your feet firmly, like an old tree with roots gripping the earth. You are taught to feel your body, to listen to it and respond to its needs. You learn to breath with your body, and in so doing, you breath life into your soul.
I’m a little crazy sometimes. I’m normally a bundle of nervous energy, a busy body. I like to do more than I like to be, but I’m finding, through trial and error, I need less doing and more being. And this is what I found in hot yoga: a space where crazy seemed as distant as the stars and where tension and anxiety melted away, and I was left to just be me – solid, grounded, unshaken and warm.
It’s rare to find moments when we can truly feel grounded. We live in a world where there is always something vying for our attention. We are so busy we always have one foot off the ground. So, it’s no wonder we also live in a world where stress induced ailments are as common as the common cold. We are losing balance and finding it hard to regain composure. We are stretching and struggling without a release. We’ve lost touch with how to care for ourselves because there is always a to-do list, a cause, someone who needs us.
But please remember, you also need you.
No one else can take care of you like you. Others can contribute, but only you know what you really need.
My body, mind and soul have been crying out for care for a while, and I’ve been ignoring them all. I’ve been half-heartedly taking care of everything and everyone. Half-heartedly because I can never offer others more than I’ve offered myself. I cannot give what I have not received. If I haven’t loved myself properly, I will never love others properly.
It’s hard, though, at first, learning to care for yourself. But what I’m finding, personally, is caring for myself starts with the most basic elements. I need deep belly breaths, healthy meals and sleep. I need nature and sun and sky, and water, lots of water. I need movement and stillness. I don’t need a five step program or a self-help book. I just need to listen to my body’s cry for tender loving care.
When practicing yoga, you start with an intention and you hold that intention throughout your practice, while simultaneously letting go of everything else. You learn to hold what is true and important and release what is not, without judgement or condemnation. If peace is serving you, you hold peace. If strength is serving you, you hold strength. If jealousy is haunting you, you kindly acknowledge it and then let it go. You inhale and you exhale.
The most grounded people I know have learned to do this well, the inhaling and the exhaling.
Holding and releasing in life, however, is more than setting your intentions. Many of us are holding on to ideas, relationships, objects, jobs, and activities that are no longer serving us. We are allowing these things to toss us around, to dictate our every move, like we are the beach ball at a party.
We are not grounded because we have not chosen a grounded life. And it is a choice – a hard choice sometimes, but our choice to make.
I’ve had to let things go, hard things: ideas I’ve held for years, jobs where others were counting on me, objects I once cherished. But, on the other side of letting go is freedom. On the other side of letting go is an opportunity to hold on to what really matters.
And I need to hold on to what matters. I need to hold on because life is short and fragile and fast. And I’m afraid if I don’t hold something important from time to time, I will get to the end of my life and feel like I had only watched life go by but never touched it. I had seen but never felt.
So I’m working on loving and caring for myself, little by little, day by day. I’m lying on the earth, face to the sun, hands and heart open to let go and to receive.