The yoga asana practice can be used for many things. Yoga is designed to transform you, to stretch your boundaries, to relax you, to connect you to your body and your breath, and to help you feel. It can build strength and flexibility and help you find balance. It challenges you sometimes and supports you at other times.
When life gets chaotic or you’re in the midst of a stressful or life-altering event, it’s really easy to let your asana practice slide. Overwhelm tends to force us to let go of certain things so we have the resources for other things—namely, tending to our frayed and fragile selves. When the mind is overactive, or if it crosses the threshold into “shutdown”, getting on the yoga mat is perhaps the last thing you may feel like doing.
If you’re fairly new to yoga, this may be an appropriate response—learning a new skill is not where you are mentally today. But if you have a tried and true practice, your asana may be one of the only familiar and steady things you have to lean on.
Every time life gets chaotic and big transitions are happening, large stresses, grief, overwhelm—times I don’t feel supported or steady—my practice is a place that I can find familiarity. These times also create larger inertia to overcome in order to get me to my mat.
I may not know how to navigate the break-up or the lost loved-one or the new job or home. But I know how to do downward dog. This is something I’ve done thousands of times. I know how to feel the earth and open my shoulders and my hamstrings. I know how to breathe.
When we are struggling, it feels like our stable ground has been ripped from beneath us. Yoga can often call us to break our habitual patterns. But it also provides us with habits. Routines give us a sense of stability—they calm our nervous system by keeping us in the familiar. They create boundaries. Sometimes routine is the exact medicine we need.
So even though it might make you cry or you may be less flexible or less stable, show up on your mat. Do a few sun salutations, or cat-cows, or standing warrior postures. (There’s nothing quite like standing in a warrior stance when you feel weak and vulnerable). Let your familiarity with the pose help you find your feet and your legs. Let your slow and even breath allow your tender heart to be held. There’s no need to push through the desire to collapse, but if only for a moment, stay and know that you have a little bit of ground in your posture.
Then let yourself collapse, melt into child’s pose and feel the release.