Anyone who has ever practiced yoga knows what that means. Child’s pose. Kneeling with toes untucked. Upper body hinged over the hips with arms outstretched and forehead resting against the mat. Breathing. In and out. In. And. Out. We are told it’s a recovery position, a safe place.
Whenever we are feeling overwhelmed with another position, or even if the position is not just clicking, we can find rest in something we already know. However, it is far from being a static position. We can still learn a lot. We feel our spine lengthen with every inhale, relaxing our shoulders and space opens up with each breath. On exhale, we can try and fill that space, feeling the stretch in our hips and reaching farther with our hands, changing the focus from our palms to our fingertips. A seemingly subservient position, bowing down to the world, humbles us but also reminds us of our strength. We know what our body can do and what it can’t, and we make the choice to be in this position. That is the main lesson yoga has taught me. It reminds me that we all have limitations, and sometimes we can work through them then and there, but other times we need to take a step back and work through the process. With practice, we can ultimately gain the strength or mobility needed to perform those positions that give us a hard time. Most of all, it reminds me of the power that each of us has within us to surmount obstacles and navigate treacherous storms that may appear during our lives.
All of us are stronger than we give ourselves credit. Maybe it’s just me, but I think we tend to minimize our accomplishments and inflate the accomplishments of others. We are always comparing ourselves to the best, and that can make us feel weak. Each of us has something to offer, but the problem is that we forget. However, there are ways to remind us of that strength. As I already mentioned, yoga is one of those things. I am a person that can get easily distracted, and I have trouble quieting the inner noise. I have tried meditation on and off over the years and have difficulty adapting to the stillness.
While working with a collaborator for my master’s thesis in Japan, I attended a meditation session at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. The first thing the instructor did was to make sure to quell any expectations that we had for ourselves. He told us that meditation was not a perfect state that we could force ourselves into, but it was the process of sitting with ourselves and experiencing that moment, whether it was silence or noise.
Fast forward to now, and even equipped with that understanding, I still can’t last beyond 10 minutes. I lose track of my breath and start staring out the window, wondering what the weather is going to look like and what I’m going to make for dinner. Yoga, on the other hand, with its basis in movement, allows me to focus on the meditative aspects while quieting the mind. Sometimes it’s a matter of necessity. When I’m caught balancing on one leg in warrior three, any distraction will knock me off my feet, whereas focusing on my breath allows me to remain on the task at hand. So, after a 30-minute session, when I finish up in Shavasana, I find that I’m physically and mentally exhausted, and this opens up a unique moment where I can just be present.
As the years go by, I notice that, contrary to expectations, I have less and less control. There are some things we can change, and others are systemic problems that need change on a larger scale. By learning to deal with these issues in a healthy way, we can give ourselves back some control and regain our mental and physical health. Now, consider if child’s pose grounds us during our practice; let whatever makes you feel strong be what grounds us during our day. In the mornings, sometimes after my warm shower, I quickly switch the knob to cold and whisper to myself, “you are strong.” Other than the health benefits of cold showers, this reminds me of my inner strength and allows me to take on the day. If my body can withstand the cold water, a sensation so strong that it causes us to gasp and makes us want to jump out of our skin, then the rest of the day should be a piece of cake, right? Don’t forget, you are strong. Now let’s meet in child’s pose and welcome the day.
Steven Meas is a medical student.
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