When storms of stress flood your life, the tendency is to build physical, emotional or mental barriers to keep the stress floods at bay. Like sand bags holding back waters, these barriers may seem to do the trick but only for the short run. Inevitably new challenges arise causing the need for even stronger barriers. Over time, sharp emotions may surface, self-limiting beliefs may abide and relationships suffer. The body may correspondingly react with stiffness or pain, or develop chronic health issues.
During these times, it may be difficult to believe that there is any part of you that is healthy, at ease, where you feel safe. Yet there truly is this ease at your very core and you can learn to ease beneath this barrier of disharmony and access a deeper sense of ease at any moment.
Stress as a norm
In and of itself, stress is not the problem. Our bodies were naturally and amazingly designed to adapt to stressful situations, especially life-threatening ones, such as being chased by a large meat-eating animal. In the midst of such a situation the whole body adjusts by slowing down certain systems such as the intestines, while creating a heightened alertness and an increase of beneficial chemicals to strengthen your muscles and fuel your flight or fight.
The norm in ancient times was long stretches of time between dangerous circumstances when families could rest and enjoy their daily activities. Unlike our ancestors, our modern lifestyles are reversed, void of long periods of true rest, recuperation – and just being. In today’s world, we spontaneously react to a multitude of pressures and challenges. The mind perceives these as life-threatening, even as mini-traumas. Such a simple act as a snide remark by a co-worker, boss or loved one can trigger emotional reactions.
Your day may start with a stressful commute to work. Deadlines need to be met, difficult people to deal with, worries about finances, career, relationships or health surf your mind. Unconsciously, you may begin to build up an emotional and psychological armor or shield to help you manage these challenges. Yet, over time, rather than a protection, this armor becomes a barrier to being able to ease beneath your stress where true peace and equanimity reside.
I am quite familiar with this story in my own life. I’ve filled my life with stressful deadlines, commitments – and fear of failure. On top of this, I consciously chose to do things that I feared the most, such as traveling to foreign countries alone, performing in a dance company, starting my own business and public speaking. In spite of my fears, something inside me compelled me to take on these challenges. To compensate, I mastered the art of expressing ease and harmony on the surface while often feeling dis-ease and dis-harmony within. While I learned how to access periods of ease with the practice of hatha yoga, it wasn’t integrated throughout my being. For many years it was as though there were two people living within me – the confident and the fearful.
Our culture encourages us to withhold feelings, be strong and positive, and take risks. It’s the American way. How else could our ancestors have immigrated to this country, pioneered west and landed on the moon? Yet many of us have difficulty living up to society’s expectations, often developing a disconnection from our bodies, emotions and beliefs and estranged from the natural world. We may suffer as a victim of our circumstances, immobilized and unable to live a fulfilling life. The adage of “fake it till you make it” can only take you so far when you harbor divisions inside you.
Nature provides a model for how we may ease beneath our stress. The Earth is comprised of an interconnected and integrated system that makes up the whole. The Earth has a symbiotic relationship with the sun which feeds the planet’s energy, which nourishes vegetation, which, in turn, provides fuel to filter through the rest of the food chain. Everything in nature continually adjusts or adapts to seek balance and harmony in performing its unique role within this system.
As you begin to reintegrate these fragmented parts of yourself, the brain remarkably corresponds by creating new neuro-pathways. These pathways align with the new patterns you are creating with your emotions, thoughts and beliefs. You may begin to experience a new awareness and aliveness in your body spilling over into your life in general as these harmonious pathways are forming.
Reuniting our parts
We each have a unique role to play in this world. How we show up in life affects not only our own life, but that of those around us. When we allow stress to get the best of us this may result in feelings of disconnection and fragmentation. Hence, we are not truly fulfilling our important life role.
The way to ease beneath our stress is not to stuff emotions and self-limiting beliefs behind some barrier of distrust. Rather welcome them forth, learn to be with them – as well as learn from them. They each have important messages to share. Like a family that has become estranged and seeks to find ways to be reunited, these parts of ourselves long to feel safe to be with us. By creating a welcoming environment these parts more easily become re-integrated into the wholeness of our being.
Welcoming what is
Let’s explore some simple, yet powerful meditative practices from iRest® Yoga Nidra to help you begin your journey toward wholeness.
- Take moments throughout your day to step back from activity and go into the body with a deep listening and attention to uncover where you may be holding tension. Have a felt sense of sensations that may be present. Not with the idea of trying to fix or change anything, but rather just to focus your attention. Tensions may begin to release on their own. The body acts like a barometer that provides these signals to help you become aware that something is out of sync.
- Pay attention to your emotional reactions to various situations in your day life. Make note of these and find some quiet time to reflect on the actual emotions that arise, not the story on the surface. Imagine the emotion as an object in front of you and have a conversation with it. Ask it questions, like what does it want or need, or what action might you take out into the world.
Do the same with your thoughts and self-limiting beliefs, as well as sensations in your body. You might record these reflections in a journal for further exploration.
3. Just Be. Find moments in your day, and longer periods in your life, when you can just be. Feel what it is like to be still. These moments may be between activities when you can settle back without distraction and feel the fullness of the space within and around you.
- Breathe. You might pause from your activity by focusing on the breath. Notice how the body breaths itself. Extending the abdomen with each inhalation – and lingering at the end of each exhalation. This allows you to open into an expansive, timeless Presence.
- Formal Meditation. You may choose to engage in a formal meditation practice, such as iRest or another mindfulness practice. Allow yourself to slip into a timeless spaciousness of ease where there is nothing you need to know, do, acquire or think about. Allow yourself to sink down and feel the weightless openness of just being, like slipping into a warm bath.
Infusing ease beneath your stress
If, however, during these meditative moments, thoughts or emotions are knocking at your door, welcome them in. Rather than shushing them away, set them free to be here. If persistent, inquire into them, engaging them into the integration process. Truly be with whatever is present.
While a formal meditation practice may require you to be in a quiet space for a period of time, iRest encourages the integration of mini practices into your everyday experience. The easeful benefits of meditation then act like a perfume that continues to permeate your life. Life itself becomes a meditation.
Harmonize with desires
As you make it a practice to ease beneath your stress, explore what you value and care about most in life. Bringing clarity to this deep, heartfelt understanding transforms it into a powerful desire. This desire helps to channel you along with a deep sense of ease no matter the turbulence or gales of life disturbances.
With continued practice of interweaving your unique deep desire with ease, the pathways in your brain, and your life, become more and more harmonious. You discover life flowing through you, pouring out into every relationship and life endeavor. As you do, reinforce this with a feeling of gratitude for taking this time for yourself. This easeful way of being will be gift to others as well.
Join my free iRest meditation groups held weekly on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons where you’ll find space to rest and explore this further.