There’s a myth that yoga is all about being ‘Zen’, allowing everything to wash over you as you remain unperturbed by the surrounding chaos. But that’s not it at all. It’s much harder than that. Yoga is about learning to be with those painful feelings, and then to respond rather than react to them.
The result of the EU Referendum in the UK last week delivered a level of uncertainty that is unprecedented for my generation. The ‘Brexit’ campaign period was nasty, with arguments on both sides fuelled by emotion and scare tactics rather than dialogue. And the result has left vast numbers of us feeling angry, anxious, and unstable, as we watch our political leaders seemingly reacting in the same way, with no clear plan for what’s next.
I felt all of this in my body as the news unfolded on June 24th – the tightening in my chest as I read the outcome, the desire to curl up in a ball, the tears prickling in my eyes throughout the day, the numbness, the sense of panic. My social media feeds are filled with posts that express these feelings in different ways: the defiant calls to sign petitions, protest, write to our MPs; the silly memes; the emerging news articles; the anger and frustration; the desire to run; the fear and concern for our communities and our future; the reminders that it’s ok to stop and sit with the pain (from my yogi friends!); and the pleas to find the positive opportunities amongst the chaos. We’re all trying to make sense of things.
It’s hard to stay calm as we navigate these difficult feelings. They take us away from the present, into the past (anger and regret) and future (anxiety and fear). So I am offering a grounding yoga practice to the classes I’m teaching this week – lots of strong standing postures and sending breath to and from the earth. Because being aware of our connection with the ground brings us into the present, calming our racing minds.
Try it now – focus on the sensation of your feet on the ground beneath you and imagine you are breathing energy in from the earth and sending your exhale back down to the earth. Each time your mind gets impatient bring it back to where your body meets the ground. Notice if the feelings start to dissipate, even if only temporarily.
When we are angry about the past or anxious about the future we can only react. When we are present we can start to respond. But I’m not claiming it’s easy. It’s bloody difficult right now.