Yesterday was Summer Solstice. At my yoga studio, Shanteel, we did 108 Sun Salutations to welcome summer. This was my second time – the first was for Spring Equinox. It’s a very challenging practice, taking about 2 hours to complete. It’s also deeply healing and eye opening.
Yoga is not about getting in better shape, although it helps. It’s not even about getting in proper postures, or looking like the Instagram pictures. Yoga teaches using the body to discipline the mind. I think when any of us are doing something repetitive and challenging, our brains love to comment on its difficulty and our inability to do it. If we listen to the chatter, the difficulty grows exponentially. Every ache, muscle, etc becomes screaming resistance.
It becomes a mind over matter situation, and yoga demonstrates this perfectly. As I was thinking how hard this was, I was struggling until I caught myself. I went to child’s pose, rested, and changed my internal monologue to a simple “I can do this”. I whispered it to myself as I was in downward facing dog. Eventually, thoughts ceased and all that remained was the sensation of my body, with my eyes closed, moving through the postures. I became focused solely on alignment and positioning, and allowed myself to just move without commentary. I stopped when needed for water or rest, but I was acutely aware of how many more sun salutations I did, how few rests I took, and how much my practice improved since spring.
I didn’t have to modify by dropping my knee in lunges, I could stay up. I was keeping my elbows hugged in for transition. More importantly, my internal monologue became kind and encouraging as opposed to critical and belittling.
Nowadays, it seems difficult to hear ourselves think. I didn’t notice it until I started meditating. I never noticed how critical and mean I was. On the outside, I was so nice to everyone, but on the inside, I was downright mean. This sets you up for terrible projections. If you are constantly criticizing and hating yourself internally, you’ll project those feelings unconsciously on the people you love. Their words and interactions will be perceived with negative intents where none were present. It’s inevitable.
It’s only by bringing awareness to the mental chatter that you can change it. Yoga helps because as much as you may feel good after a practice, it’s rare you want to contort your body in bizarre ways, sweat in places you didn’t know you could, all while trying to breathe and quiet your mind. My mind loves to tell me how hard it all is, yet not once have I lost a limb or died in practice. I generally get sore and relaxed.
This experience carries into day to day, as you become more aware of your monkey brain and realize that your thoughts are messing with your reality. Sure, my house is messy, but in my thoughts, it’s an insurmountable Mount Everest of dishes and laundry, my kids are bound and determined to drive me insane with messes, and I’ll never ever know what it’s like to be done cleaning. In reality, some music and a few hours of focus gets me where I need to be.
I never would have thought I’d be capable of 108 sun salutations. I remember struggling to even commit to 3 as I practiced on YouTube. I was scared of even joining a yoga studio. I thought I was too fat, too this, too that to join a studio. I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the classes. Yet, there I was, in reality, flowing through 108 sun salutations with my community.
If I had listened to my brain, I wouldn’t have a family at Shanteel. I wouldn’t have found my home, where I go to find myself daily. I wouldn’t have found my strength or beauty. I would have just sat around letting my brain kick my ass, as opposed to kicking my ass on the mat to see how much further I can go beyond my thoughts.
Last night was even more special for me. I promised myself I was going. I negotiated if I had to miss regular classes, I’d go. Because this is the week after my period, which means it’s depression week. Awareness of my cycle has helped me plan around my hormones. I know these weeks are tough for me. My energy is low, my mood is typically low, and life is harder than usual. My house is a mess, because I didn’t have the energy to keep up. My kids are home, and I had to let them do screens more than I’d like so I could rest more than usual.
Normally, depression weeks are harder to practice yoga for all these reasons. I’ve promised myself to try to get to 2-3 classes/week versus my normal 5-7. I’ve promised myself to rest without judgement, and listen to my body without criticism. I had to nap most of the day yesterday, but I got to the 108. All day, I was thinking of reasons I couldn’t or shouldn’t. All day, my brain wouldn’t shut up, and all day, I had to ignore it, because I promised myself I was going.
Depression used to be a call for mania, where I would force myself to hide everything away and pretend everything was great. I’d pile on activities and do anything to distract myself and hide it. Depression was 75% of the time for me. As I pushed, intrusive thoughts would begin screaming at me, I’d become suicidal, and driving would be a challenging experience of internally telling myself why driving into a phone pole or oncoming traffic was a terrible idea. Once I stopped that insanity, and allowed myself to feel depression, I became aware of how debilitating it was. I felt sad for all my body has been through as I fought. Once I accepted depression as a state I go through, episodes become shorter and less debilitating.
After about a year of regular yoga practice, almost 2 years of regular meditation, etc etc. I just did 108 sun salutations while I was having a bout of depression. This practice is about releasing what no longer serves you. What no longer serves me is telling myself I can’t be everything I want to be. What no longer serves me is being a slave to my thoughts and endless brain chatter. I am way, way stronger than I think I am. We all are. The only true limits that exist are the stories we tell ourselves.