Yesterday, after my “lengthening and strengthening” class–20 minutes core, 40 minutes stretching–a new student came up to me. She explained that she suffered from anxiety and my class was the first time she had actually been able to relax and destress. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Destressing is what I designed the class for. It’s low-key core exercises, coupled with deep stretching, are meant to aid the student in pushing away the cares that plague us in our busy lives.
Afterward, also, a fellow instructor (whose started taking the class for her own reasons) and I discussed the differences between Eastern and Western lifestyles. (She’s Japanese. Having gotten to live there for 3 years, I understood her completely.) She noted how Asians are reared in meditation. They allow oneself to become mindful and–surprise!–still.
The go-go-go lifestyle of the West has caused a dissociation between mental awareness and the physiological reactions that occur in the body. By physiological, I mean both physical sensations and emotions. But, I admit, I never fully understood this until I had been practicing yoga and Pilates for well over two years. Meditation seemed useless to me. I had a billion other things I’d rather be thinking about during the “deep relaxation” period at the end of yoga classes. My mind is very active; as a writer, I’m constantly creating so it is hard for me to push away my thoughts and give my own head space. Even this morning, I struggled to do so.
However, what I have discovered through my personal journey is that the space is necessary. It’s needed. It’s what created the productive but relaxed atmosphere in Japanese society, I believe, even when individuals feel the full weight of their stressors. There is a sense of cohesion in that culture, aided in part by the morning exercise regimens broadcast on the radio; many people take part in these every day.
They also allow themselves to slow down, to stop, to take the moment and enjoy life. I love the pastry shop Anderson’s, and think back on all the delighted faces I saw in there. Perhaps not the healthiest of places to buy a snack, but it made people happy.
(Please note that I will not discuss the suicide rate in Japan. I believe that stems from an overemphasis on personal responsibility, a reflection of cultural beliefs. It grieves me to think that the idea of failure can bring about such a tragedy as each life is worth something special. As one friend posted this morning on the effects of failure, life = risks.)
To me, health boils down to a few simple things: live in moderation, laugh more often than not, make peace with your mistakes (you grow from them), and
love others with everything you are. Everything we do, everything we become, starts with a choice. If we become mindful of our choices, we become aware of what we are doing. Life is not about moving through the motions. It is about risk-taking, intelligent thought, and–yes!–stillness, that moment when you sit or lie down to breathe and clear the mental clutter. (If you happen to fall asleep, so be it.)
For those of us who have grown up on the go-go-go routine, connecting mind and body takes practice. It takes commitment, and time. I have people who tell me that they cannot come to my class because they cannot handleletting their heads calm down. I don’t take it personally. I tell them that it may not be the right class for them, or the right time for them to begin the journey toward reintegration. Sometimes life’s events put us in a place where we are unable to handle finding our quiet place. It is better to accept that fact than to fight it.
Yet, when the time comes, it is still a choice to begin the journey. You won’t succeed every day. Like me. But the goal of a disciplined practice is relief, reintegration, and the awareness of who you really are. When mind and body connect, you perceive a whole new person. A whole new you.