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March is the month when high school seniors hear back from colleges regarding their applications. Going to the mailbox each day has yielded some great highs as well as a few lows for my daughter. It has also been a time of empathetic emotion. She reacts almost as much when one of her dear friends receives a thin or a thick envelope of his or her own. For a young adult who is just learning what it means to manage her emotions, it has been a tough month to stay centered.
I’ve been fascinated by my own turbulent emotions. One day I’ll be high as a kite, thrilled by an acceptance that means an institution sees the remarkable girl I see each morning. I expected those days. What has caught me off guard is that a rejection letter from a school she wasn’t even really considering could have just as much power over my state of mind. For no good reason, I watch myself crash land from my high into a morass of questioning, doubting and worrying.
Let’s just say, despite the yoga, it’s been a tough month for me to stay centered as well.
What role does yoga play?
Yoga teaches us to watch ourselves closely. In Sanskrit, this practice is called svadhyaya, which is translated as self-study. When we are practicing self-study, we are closely observing our actions, our thoughts and our feelings.
Let’s start with the easiest – learning to observe actions. Most of us begin this process on our yoga mat. On mine, I pay such close attention to what I am doing that I notice a ton of little things. I notice that I hold my breath as I stepped forward into a lunge. I notice that I fiddle with my ponytail (Every. Single. Time.) before time I move into a hand-balance that worries me. I notice that I scootch my hips out of alignment in a seated forward fold so I am able to go deeper. Each time I notice something is an opportunity to change, to learn and to grow.
As I move and breathe on my yoga mat, I can take my self-study a little deeper by observing my thoughts. This requires me to soften and expand my focus so it includes both my actions and my mind. I notice that I start worrying about a scary posture about 15 postures in advance. I notice that I’m really tough on myself when I mess up, using language that I would never use with a student or one of my children. I notice that my thoughts race for the first few seconds of savasana (resting pose), then quiet gradually if I’m patient enough to lay there for a little longer. Again, each time I notice something is an opportunity to change, to learn and to grow.
As I practice, I have found that self-study can go even deeper. My focus can expand again to include my emotions as well as my actions and thoughts. I notice that a success in a challenging posture leaves me feeling lighter and thinking more positively about postures to come. I notice that it takes me longer to settle into a rhythm on my mat and for my thoughts to quiet when my morning started with a worry or a grumpy mood. I notice that when I’m sad my body often feels sluggish and my thoughts tend toward the negative.
Mainly, I notice that feelings are tricky. If we’re not very aware, they can become the lens through which we observe our actions and thoughts. This isn’t a terrible thing. But, as our practices evolve, we find that we don’t want a colored lens. We yearn to see clearly. And to do this, we must get a little space from our feelings. This space allows us to mindfully choose our responses rather than simply reacting. This holds true whether we are moving through postures on our yoga mats or navigating the ups and downs of March with a high school senior.
It is svadhyaya which revealed to me my emotional turbulence over the past few weeks. And I am grateful for it. Thanks to self-study I have noticed that I’m allowing each subsequent “yes” or “no” to dilute the joy or disappointment of previous letters. I have noticed that though these emotional reactions feel powerful, they are actually quite surface. If I dig a little deeper, I find a well of deep contentment (mixed with maternal pride) that my daughter has choices to make. Finally, I have noticed the unsettling, irritating effects of having answers trickle in. I have noticed that I am allowing the uneasiness of waiting to distract me from my settling and centering faith that everything will work out exactly as it is meant to for each of these kids.
Which is exactly what I am going to try to convey to my daughter tonight (after a deep breath or two) when her phone starts to blow up again with texts from dear friends sharing their news.