Wow – this is Intense!
I learned many things from my meditation teacher Larry (like how to meditate!); however one lesson he shared with me has been so valuable that I would like to share it with you.
A while back I emailed Larry in a tizzy. I felt like there was a huge wave of change about to crash down over me. This wave of change felt so big that I was scared it was going to sweep me away… I was going to get lost in the magnitude of the transformation. Before meeting Larry I had been overwhelmed by just such a huge wave of change, and frankly, some of the people closest to me are still recovering from it (and it’s been a few years).
As we continued to discuss this, I realized that it wasn’t so much the size of the change that made me uncomfortable (I have survived many big shifts and changes in my life), it was the intensity of it. I could feel the shadow of the wave behind me… I could even smell the energy of change as it swirled around me. It felt huge and intense. Never before had I felt the surge this powerfully prior to a shift. In the past I knew things were amiss when I was knee deep in it.
More discussion and Larry asks me what my practice schedule looks like right now – what practices was I doing daily. Being me, I made a list:
1. shamata meditation, 15 mins/day;
2. yoga posture practice, 30 to 75 mins/day;
3. mantra japa (sacred sound repetition) 40 day practice, 20 – 30mins/day;
4. teaching yoga, 6+ classes/week (plus prep);
5. yoga teacher training, 30 hrs/month;
6. memorizing the sutras; and
7. reading yoga books regularly.
Thinking back on this, I’m confident that when he read my list of practices he likely giggled (or even out right laughed!). And ever so kindly Larry says to me, “Mona, do you know that YOU manage the intensity of your practice?”
It’s so simple, and yet absolutely true. We manage the intensity of our practice. The more “yoga” you do (or which ever spiritual practice you undertake), the more you are bringing the energies of transformation into your life and being. Plus, we learn through practice that the effects are cumulative – this is why dedication to the practice is imperative. The longer we’ve been practicing, the more we become aware of the shifts and we learn how to navigate them more and more skillfully.
One of the facets of my experience that added to the pressure cooker feel was that an opportunity had presented itself and I was not sure what to do about it… Do I take the opportunity, or not? Am I ready for such a big change? Larry explained to me that the doors that open through practice aren’t a “one time deal”. A door that opens once, whether we step through it or not, is likely to open for us again – albeit in a different form. If we don’t feel ready to walk through today, well, keep practicing and walk through it another time.
How intense is too intense? Depends on the person and the practices.
I have learned that there is such a thing as too intense for me. I have been through periods in my life of such intensity (both in life and in practice) that my system basically shuts down… the emotions and stress are so overwhelming and the energy so strong that I’ve gone numb. For me, this is not fruitful. It is important to feel, even a bite size piece at a time, what is arising in our experience. If we are bringing on things that are so intense that we cannot bear to feel them, that we cannot breathe through them, then we must ask ourselves what we can do to reduce the level of intensity so that we can breathe and feel and be with what arises.
Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks that have been helpful in managing intensity:
1. Stop and breathe: when all else hits the fan, I know I can rely on the simplicity of my breath. With my mind I follow the (sometimes shaky) inhalation all the way as deep down as it can go, then I follow the exhalation back up and out. I like to do this lying on my back, with my hands on my belly and my eyes closed. Even if only for 2 minutes… It helps level out my energy and brings me back into my body.
2. Walk slowly outside: Nature is such a gift and blessing. I love to walk outside really slowly and feel my feet on the earth. It clears my mind to breathe real fresh air into my lungs. I also make a point to literally stop and smell the flowers.
3. Simplify: When I feel like things are getting intense, I simplify my life. What am I ready to let go of? What are the things that I no longer need? Where can I reduce clutter on any level?
4. Proper Self-Care: When life picks up speed, I make sure to get enough restorative sleep (set bed and wake times are really helpful), to eat well and to maintain my foundation practices (intention, meditation, pranayama, asana). These are the things that keep us going when the going gets rough… and oiling my feet. I cannot say enough about foot oleation!
5. Talking or Journaling: Perhaps it’s talking to a friend, counselor, or therapist – whom ever you need. If there isn’t someone for you to talk to, then journaling can be helpful. This facilitates keeping energy in motion, yet at a pace that allows me to get some of the feelings, emotions and ideas out so I can see what’s happening on the inside. I also appreciate that this keeps the energy from getting stuck (which can also feel intense).
The longer we practice Yoga, the more shift and changes that will happen in our lives. Yoga is a catalyst for positive change in ourselves and the world. Sometimes, this change feels very strong and intense… It is what it is; yet we play a role in all that unfolds in our world. With somethings, we can make changes to manage the intensity (like creating space for rest and self-care) and sometimes we simply need to go with the flow until we pop out the other side. One of the gifts of a yoga practice is the opportunity to be in continual self-inquiry – constantly checking in with ourselves about how we are doing, what we are doing, and developing the ability to make changes as we need to for our own wellness. YOU manage the intensity of your practices through your choices.
Enjoy the practice!
Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love), m xo