Today, I would like to introduce a new Portland friend of mine. Our paths first crossed when I took a yoga class of hers just blocks from my house. I had been to a couple others of hers, but on this particular day, it ended up being one of those really amazing feel good deep in the heart kind of yoga classes. It takes a special person to be able to connect with others on that kind of level. I feel so honored to have gotten to know Alissa over the past few months and truly admire the way she connects her practice to her everyday life. I sincerely hope you enjoy her contribution to the blog today as much I do!
Alissa is a Portland Based Yoga teacher who left behind a Science career in Boston, MA to see what the Big West Coast had to offer.
With a background in Ashtanga based postures and a soft spot for spiritual exploration, Alissa offers yoga classes that address alignment but leave room to get to know the individual body better; playfulness and quiet moments of introspection included! Her appreciation for the myriad ways / styles / voices of the practice keeps her fresh and humbled; She hopes to leave students feeling the same. Alissa completed her 200HR teacher training in 2014 at Inner Strength Studios (Watertown, MA) with Roman Szpond and Lauren Starr. She is also Reiki I Certified and holds a Flow and Grow Kids Yoga Certification with Lara Hocheiser. You can find her regularly scheduled in PDX at Flex&Flow and Namaste on Williams. When she is not teaching or practicing: she is reading, writing, planning workshops, sipping tea, exploring Oregon, or walking dogs for local Hot Diggity Pet Sitting!
Every time I ask my students to raise their hands if they experience Anxiety regularly, a majority of hands go up, both of mine included. I often reflect on the ease of childhood, the lack of technology at my fingertips, countless hours spent running around the neighborhood with friends or swimming in my best friend's pool. It was hard to get me inside. As life has the tendency to do though, it shifted. Can you recall a moment that you noticed the shift, from eternal play time to greater responsibility? The ability to be reached at any time, and the pressure to be available sunk it's hooks into me. Being so plugged in to the external dampened my internal connection, and over time I realized I was the only one to blame because I was feeding my anxieties.
I found freedom through practice.
Yoga taught me to address my anxieties head on in order to eradicate them from the root up, and return to my truest form within the present moment. Though the idea seems simple, the road is difficult due to the nature of the mind. The mind works by attaching labels to things, for example: 'I'm passionate', 'I'm anxious', or 'I'm angry'. The Eight Limbed Path of Yoga teaches that in order to lessen our struggles we must dissolve the 'I-ness'; so 'I'm an anxious person' becomes 'I am experiencing anxiety'. By dissolving the 'I' one removes the attachment to the thing as a part of them, giving it room be released from their ego's grip.
Armed with the knowledge that Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind (Yogash citta vrtti nirodha: Yoga Sutra's of Patanjali: 1.2) I was prepared to tackle the anxiety I was experiencing. I was ready to relieve myself of the fear of the unknown by trusting in the process and committing through practice. Though I felt prepared, the stress did not disappear overnight. Worry and fear are only a street corner away; so I continually check back in to remember that my life is ultimately what I make it - not what I attach to it. Understanding that with focus comes creativity, I put into place mini practices to recenter when the chaos of the mind started to run wild. I am excited to share two profound learnings that worked for me. I hope you find them useful during your practice of returning to You!
When I start to feel anxious I simplify. Research has shown that multitasking is not functional and the brain is not good at it, even if for years one may be convinced otherwise. I had chronic 'start 20 things at once' syndrome. The more familiar I became with my nervous system the less appealing multi-tasking grew.
Next time you feel overwhelmed do your best to simplify. Put the phone down and turn off the TV, music, or anything else making noise. Close your eyes for a quick moment, take a couple rounds of breath, and repeat 'one at a time' until you feel your focus sharpen. Then determine which task needs primary attention, or write a list if that helps you remember what your needs are. Finish the first task then determine if you must continue on to number two, or if you need to reframe by closing the eyes down and checking back in. If you aren't within a time limit try not to focus on the length of time the current task takes; focus instead on the quality of your work because you are right there in it.
The second practice is more involved, and I come back to it when I start to experience the onset of anxiety and tense emotions. A general rule that works for me is to no longer feed my anxiety by attaching to the experience of it; I prefer to address why I am experiencing it in the moment and allow it space to pass through.
Remember how the mind likes to attach? If you focus on being anxious or try really hard not to be anxious, you will only convince yourself that something is wrong.
Fear will arise and anxiety will grow. Shift the focus instead to being calm, cool, collected, and present. Remember that stress is often caused by external influences, but anxiety is the internal response to the stress. The following meditation helps dissolve fear (external influence) and ground (internal response) me when anxiety lingers.
Find a comfortable seated position, or lie flat on your back.
Lightly engage your core, lengthen your spine, then relax your shoulders, neck, jaw, and facial muscles.
Bring your hands to rest palm-down on your thighs or gently cup your belly.
Fix your eyes on one spot that isn't moving, and let your lids get heavy.
Start to notice your breath, not forced, just natural through the nostrils.
What do you hear? What do you feel? Start to engage with your senses so the present moment floods in.
When you're ready to begin, inhale and close your eyes; exhale and open your eyes, keeping the eyes fixed on the spot you initially chose.
Repeat for at least 10 rounds in order to balance the internal and external dialogue.
As you finish check in with your emotional state, and offer gratitude for taking the time to practice and eradicate your worries.