After six weeks of training and working with students with limited mobility due to a variety of injuries or illnesses, last night marked the end of my amazing therapeutics apprenticeship with Gabriel Halpern.
During last week’s class, in discussing bramacharya and the importance of not addicting oneself or numbing out to your experience, Gabriel said, “All of yoga is to sensitize yourself to feel more deeply.”
Though that may seem obvious and on some level it’s a large part of the reason I’ve been drawn to yoga for all of these years, I had never articulated it to myself in those terms. Gabriel’s words hit the nail on the head for me and nicely sum up the sometimes-rocky-but-always-rewarding journey I’ve been on in recent years.
Yoga is a process of coming back to our true selves, and the power of my practice has been profound in guiding me along that path back home in recent years.
Whether in a challenging pose that stretches your body or a difficult personal situation that squeezes your soul, there are so many times in life when it would be much easier to numb out. However, rather than give in to any number of the distractions available to divert our attention away from the present moment, it’s much more powerful to remain where you are with awareness and feel what you’re feeling.
It seems so simple and basic, but when you begin to watch for it, it’s amazing how often we feel compelled to distract our minds with drinks, drugs, food, TV, smart phones and countless other preoccupations. Rather than stay to notice and sit with our discomfort, pain or boredom, we run away and distract ourselves.
It’s not always easy to feel what we’re feeling. If we’ve been masking feelings and distracting ourselves with external filler for too long, it can be extremely difficult to even identify your mental or emotional state from moment to moment. And for those of us lucky enough to still be in touch with and aware of our feelings, experiencing them can still be really uncomfortable at times. Things often come up that we don’t want to feel, and it’s not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination.
The practice lies in resisting the urge to brush our feelings under the rug, put on a happy face or otherwise addict ourselves to avoidance.
Rather than constantly trying to fill all the gaps, my practice has taught me to relish space, even (and especially) when it’s unpleasant. By giving myself that room to feel, breathe and be present unconditionally, the mental fog of diversions and distractions has started to lift.
The process of returning to myself and the experience of making choices informed by that connection hasn’t always been easy, comfortable or fun, but it has been real. And at the end of the day, an authentic life lived with with presence and experienced with awareness is the best any of us can hope for anyway.