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Finding ease during challenging times

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

In our most recent Women’s Circle we touched on how we can find ease in letting go. It’s an interesting topic as many can relate to finding it really hard to be at ease when times are tough.

Many yoga teachers would say “let go, release”. Is it easy to do it? Not at all. As humas we’ve evolved to make safety a priority. No longer are we in danger from the wild like our ancestors were, but we have evolved to continue to protect ourselves from perceived dangers in the modern world - the stresses and anxiety in daily life – toxic workplaces, a difficult family member or friend, the financial pressure that is felt by everyone at the moment, unhealthy relationships, health concerns, worries about our children, loneliness and many others. We wish for the rumination or catastrophising to stop, we’d love to find a way to “resolve” things, to let it all go, and find ease in our day-to-day life. However, there are times when we feel stuck, unmotivated, overwhelmed, burnt out, disconnected. Some of us stay in the wheel of suffering and develop unhealthy conscious or unconscious coping mechanisms to make ourselves feel safe, because safety is what we all long for as humans.

Dukkha and Sukha: Suffering & Ease

We all have challenges to meet as part of this human life. How can we meet ourselves with warmth, connect to joy (sukha), be present, find ease when it’s so hard to let go? First, we must accept that dukkha and sukha (in Sanskrit, one of the languages of yoga) exists. Dukkha relates to suffering, the physical and emotional discomfort and pain all humans experience in our lifetime. On the other hand, sukha, translates to joy, ease, comfort, “good space”. It’s important to acknowledge that dukkha exists in our lives, but so does joy and peace. It is available for all of us, it is our birth right.

Afflictions of the mind or Kleshas

How can yoga practice help us connect to sukha? Let's dive into a bit of yoga philosophy and look into the 5 kleshas which are the afflictions of the mind – avidya/ignorance, asmita/egoism/”I”, raga/attachment, dvesa/aversion, abhinivesa/clinging to life or fear of change.

The root of suffering according to yoga and Buddhist philosophy is avidya or ignorance. As I always tell my daughter before she judges herself or someone, remember that we don’t know what we don’t know. We are unique - we were raised differently, we grew up in varied cultures, our genetics shapes us. These elements and many others contribute to our knowledge, perceptions, experiences and behaviour. If we live in this veil of ignorance, unaware of our attachments (including attachment to our story (the “I”), our desire for things

to be the same as we believe we are in control all the time, or we veer away from exploring what makes us uncomfortable (aversion), it would be difficult to find ease in letting a new way of being flow into our life. It will be tricky to let go. We must first and foremost acknowledge our suffering.

How do we find ease in letting go or letting be?

Step into wakefulness: Awareness and acceptance

We first acknowledge of the presence of these mental states that maybe in the driver’s seat in our lives. Self-enquiry or self-study (svadhyaya) and kind acceptance can help us deconstruct our negative self-beliefs.

Through yoga we can dip our toes in cultivating mindful awareness which can help us get in touch with our attachments – are we able to listen to our bodies or do we bypass the inner voice, can we notice our attachments to postures – how it “should” look and feel. You might start noticing the stories, and the internal dialogue that transpires within – “I can’t touch my toes, I have to be flexible to come to yoga, I don’t like this, I feel great, I want more of that, I’m not great at this, what’s for lunch, I remember what my co-worker mentioned that pissed me off." The mind can get busy, really busy, that we lose touch with what is true.

This place of awareness can be uncomfortable at times, but it can also serve as a gift that can assist us in honing the skill to recognise what arises and remember that we are not these stories and thoughts. We can also foster our ability to be less reactive to what comes, creating space for more meaningful action.

Can we care for ourselves as we do others?

“You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. Our job in recovery is to learn to surf the waves of our emotions, so we can stay afloat and enjoy life. If we manage our thoughts and feel our feelings, we are able to ride the waves with ease.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Learning to surf the waves takes time, practice, and commitment (tapas/internal fire). As we discover aspects of ourselves that we may have forgotten, we need to summon self-compassion and fierce self-compassion along the way.

It’s been more 20 years since I first started my loving kindness meditation practice at a time when I was lost and stressed. As some of you know it’s a big part of Breathing Space, it is the heart of our mission and vision – to help others cultivate compassion through yoga. It’s amazing to see the research around the power of self-compassion and fierce self-compassion in the present time and how it has helps many in everyday life and in clinical setting as well (Mindfulness Self Compassion program).

Self-compassion is not self-centredness or self-pity. Self-pity tends to emphasise egocentric feelings of separation from others and exaggerate the extent of personal suffering. Self-compassion, on the other hand, allows one to see the related experiences of self and others without these feelings of isolation and disconnection. According to Kristen Neff, one of the leading researchers in this space, self-compassion has 3 elements (think loving mama bear) – self-kindness vs. self-judgment, common humanity vs. isolation and mindfulness vs. over-identification, which gently tends to our internal world (mental states).

Fierce self-compassion on the other hand (think about protective mama bear) relates to action and outer change to help alleviate suffering by – protecting (boundaries), providing (saying yes to our needs), and monitoring (to learn, to grow). By attending to our inner healing and outer change, we cultivate a sense of ease and move towards informed action as we let things be and let things go.

Yoga can help us meet our suffering with kindness.

Yoga can help us cultivate mindful attention, self-compassion and togetherness. We can start to notice how the different mental states/kleshas affect us. We can also explore self-compassion and fierce self-compassion as we practice growing that kinder inner voice and caring action.

When we aren’t rested and grounded, it’s hard to be compassionate to ourselves and welcome change. Through a nurturing yoga practice, we can slow down and simply be. When day to day anxiety hits, I tend to lean into over-doing to manage that feeling. It’s a learned coping mechanism I observed and developed since childhood. Over time, through yoga practice, reflection, and therapy I’ve learned new ways of being with my anxiety, and not feeling good enough. Part of what helped me along the way was the cultivation of self-compassion that is both loving, and fierce. My practice helped get in touch with my inner compass, and courage. It allowed me to embody a sense safety in a different way.

Get curious and harness patience.

Observe a child and notice their curiosity. If they see a rock in a park, they’d want to pick it up, touch and play with it, and even ask you questions about it which we might sometimes see as trivial as adults. Their curiosity allows them to be present and exploratory. We were once that child. Curious of the world around us. See if you can find intentional time to re-connect to that curiosity, be it in your yoga practice or in day-to-day life. This approach can help us gently step away from judgement, clinging and ignorance. It can pave way to new perspectives.

All new things take time to flourish. We need to carve out the time to build these skills just like when we focus on building other habits and skills in other aspects of life. It’s not impossible (we have neuroplasticity on our side), and it’s highly likely that you are probably taking the steps to become more awake and compassionate in your lives but may find that just like everyone else, we fall in and out of it. That’s ok. It’s ok to be human.

Here’s a simple practice that can help you move from suffering to a sense of ease.

Find a space where you can get comfortable sitting or resting fully on the floor or bed. Sense your body, your breath, the space around you. Connect to a sense of aliveness through your senses. Noticing, and observing, really getting curious, instead of caught up in wanting things to be in a certain way. What do you notice? What can you see? What can you taste? What can you feel? When something significant arises, just reminding yourself “I see you, I notice you”. Then come back to your curious space. Repeat as needed.

You may then take your hand to your heart and feel your breath, the movement of your chest, feeling a sense of warmth, aliveness, presence. If you’d like to send compassion to yourself, you may repeat the phrases:

“May I accept myself just as I am, or May I accept this moment just as it is”.

“May I be gentle with myself”.

“May I live with ease”.

Reflection piece:

What do I need right now? What needs tending in the present moment?

Can I reach out to someone to hear me out or help me?

If you’re having a hard time setting boundaries, ask yourself: What are my values? Am I living in alignment with my values most of the time? What’s stopping me from living my values? What and who takes energy away from me? How can I better manage it? What support do I need?

If you’re having a difficult time saying yes to yourself: Allocate daily check ins with yourself – yes, lock it in your calendar. Make it non-negotiable. It can be a simple as a 30-minute walk, protecting your yoga time, a quite time to listen to music, journal, bath or shower, exercise.

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Debbie Cole
Debbie Cole
Apr 06, 2023

Thank you for this article. I loved it. I like the mumma bear analogy.

Breathing Space
Breathing Space
Apr 21, 2023
Replying to

Me too! ❤️ it's what I think about when things get overwhelming, what would mama bear do ?

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