When we first moved to New York City, we lived on the 43rd floor of an apartment building. We were up so high that it sometimes felt like our home was a nest perched snug and safe, high above the city. That safe feeling was shaken during our first big thunderstorm. As I looked out the windows at the storm clouds and bright bursts of lightning, I panicked. Our building was visibly swaying in the strong winds of the storm. The fact that the wind could move the building enough that I could see and feel it suddenly made our nest feel foolishly – even dangerously – placed.
My husband walked in the room to find me white-knuckled at the window sill. His reaction to the swaying building was the exact opposite of mine. Rather than feeling afraid that the building would collapse under the force of the wind, the fact that it was moving made him feel safe. It mean that the building was designed with flexibility to withstand the forces of storms. “If it couldn’t sway,” he said, “it would be too brittle and its foundations would actually break.”
I sighed with relief. Two years later, we moved to lower (and larger) accommodations and then, another two years later, we left the city entirely. Ensconced in homes closer to the ground, I forgot all about this architectural lesson until I stumbled across the above image of a woman in a deep backbend with the caption, “I bend so I don’t break.”
When you think about it, life can sometimes feel just as stormy as nature does. Withstanding the forces of change and upheaval of a move or a job change or an illness or a child leaving home can shake us at our very foundations. Just like our old super-tall apartment building, we have to weather the powerful gusts of life. And just like that apartment building, if we’re brittle and inflexible, we will break.
This is not necessarily intuitive. At least it wasn’t to me. I’m a creature of habit. Routine makes me feel stable and under control. And when life is bright and calm like a blue-sky, sunny day, these habits and routines support me. They provide a predictable rhythm to my days that I can improvise around when need be.
But when one of life’s “storms” kicks up, I instinctively hold onto my routines with a death grip when what really needs to happen is for me to let go (at least a little bit) and allow life to takes its own course. This doesn’t mean I have to throw up my hands and quit doing the things that support me. That would be like building a tall apartment building with no foundation at all. Rather, I may have to sleep in a little later than I typically do after a week of late nights helping my daughter with a paper. Or, when the seasons change and so do my children’s schedules, I may have to shift my yoga practice to a different time of day. Or, on particularly “gusty” day, I may even need to take a deep breath and skip my practice entirely.
In other words, I need to sway a bit. Because, if I don’t, I have found (the hard way, unfortunately) that the same routines that support me also have the capacity to break me. To jam my full yoga practice into a day when my kids need 100% of my attention, or when to do so is messing up a fun family activity, or when it means I have to function on four hours of sleep or … is … well, it’s bananas. Rather than stabilizing and energizing me, rigidly insisting on practicing leaves me frazzled, stressed, exhausted and feeling out of control. In a state like that, I’m in absolutely no shape to navigate the waters of the rest of my day.
When I get stubborn like this, I almost always end up breaking down in tears or allowing my temper to explode. On the other hand, when I let go just a little to accommodate the demands of the day, I am much better able to meet the challenges that I face. In other words, bending to the demands of an especially tough day makes me stronger.
Interestingly, it’s because my supportive routine is so deeply rooted that I have learned that I can let go of it without fear. I know at my very core that my practice isn’t going anywhere. I have no doubt that I’ll be back at it the next day or the next week or whenever life settles down a little bit. While I might be stiffer than usual or I might need a week or two to earn back my strength and endurance, this will not make practicing any less beneficial than it always is. It is my confidence that my practice is the foundation of my efforts to live my life better – to be more like the person I hope to be one day – that gives me the courage to let go of it and sway when life gets stormy.
Take a look at your foundations. Become very familiar with them. This will help create a deep sense of confidence in their ability to keep you strong, centered and upright in your life. You may also want to take a look at your instinctive response when one of life’s storms blows your way. If, like me, you tend to have a death grip, practice letting go just a little. Like anything in yoga, getting comfortable swaying during challenging times takes practice. The good news, as you’ve learned on your mat, is that, with practice, you will absolutely get better at it.