The Worry And Catastrophic Spiral from an Injured Yoga Instructor; what I learned from 6 year olds!
In my yoga classes for kids, I always discuss the worry tree, especially before we enter into svasana or our “special place,” which my children’s teacher training manual always described as the “secret garden.” This past Monday, I the students were given the freedom to use any props, scarves, beanie babies, anything they wanted, extra mats, bolsters, blankets, to create their “place” for svasana. This “safe place” was unique to the students in the class. Each had an incredibly different rendition of how they wanted to spend their relaxation time, leaving the worry tree outside. Not only that, but they were thoroughly excited to create their space for svasana. The six year olds were not only relaxed (even after quite a large amount of sugar), but they were able for a few moments to concentrate on a meditation that I usually reserve for older children or adults. Concentrating on inhaling and exhaling, the thumb moves to the pointer finger, than to the middle finger, than to the ring finger, and lastly to the pinky. The flow is then reversed pinky, ring, middle, lastly thumb to pointer. The concentration and focus of these kids was astonishing.
About three days after I became injured, a wise yoga instructor sent me a card saying that now would be a good time to focus on the other limbs of yoga (asanas – or movement poses only being one limb of yoga and pranyama (breathing) another). I’ve been absorbed in reading different perspectives, some religious, most not, and have been redelving into the history and all of the foundations of yoga including the eight limbs. What surpriseed me the most in this class of a young students, was their use of limbs aside from asana (which we had already practiced) as they made their own “safe places” and withdrew from the external world – (fifth limb – sense withdrawal – pratyahara). They then listened to my instructions for meditation and focusing on their fourth limb (pranyama) in addition to focusing on the meditation (thumb to various fingers in tune with breathing). With their focus and concentration even for a few moments they practiced the sixth and seventh limbs of yoga (Dharana – focus; Dhyana – concentration). When they rose from their “places” (underneath mats, blankets, or surrounded by colorful scarves and beanie babies), they were gitty, blissful. Whatever worries they seemed to have coming into class were gone.
So how does this all relate to the worry tree I talk about with the kids and to me learning and delving into the eight limbs of yoga? These kids taught me something. Within their “space” they felt free, at ease, disconnected from outside worries, and were able to focus on techniques that led to their relaxation and their ultimate gittiness and blissful demeanors after class (do I dare call it the eight limb, samadhi – ecstasy? Perhaps when they left with starbursts!) As I sit in bed now, icing my knee after my modified exercises, I am perseverating on my doctor’s appointment this afternoon; 2:45 North Adams. I’m visualizing getting my knee x-rayed again and catastrophizing the worse; “it is not healing properly, you will need surgery” or “it seems that the tendons have been hurt as well.” Healthy; right? Given my long history of trauma and always being that one in the millionth probability that something happens to me (I don’t need to go into the long list but to name a few; lingual nerve severed after wisdom teeth taken out, pregnant with 5 babies from IUI, bedrest for 7 months, don’t get me started on detais of the pregnancies, slipped on leaf and broke patella on a trail I’ve hike at least 300X and this isn’t even half of it), it is very hard for me to not visualize and “see” the worst. I use my dharana in a negative way by focusing on the negative possibilities or imagining and using my dhyana to concentrate on the worst. Anybody can imagine and catastrophize the worst; getting out of that spiral is what really takes the focus and concentration and the building a safe space around yourself where your negative, catastrophic thoughts are not allowed in.
The young students in this class showed me that a space can be made and simple meditations can be done without worries and distractions. The truth of the matter is that yoga and all of its limbs concentrate on the body and mind in the present, worries are in the future or bad visualizations and catastrophic thinking are influenced by the past. There is no room for these worries and negative futuristic thinking in the present moment. In many ways yoga is about surrendering yourself to your mind and your body and allowing your mind to accept your body and it’s limitations and allowing the body the relief from the mind worrying and thinking into the future or dwelling on the past. Yoga balances the moment so that we may become at peace in the moment. We have no control over the past and in some instances such as sickness, some injuries, accidents, and natural disasters, we have no control over the future, but what we do have is the moment. These children taught me a pivotal lesson… why waste the moment?
PS - And yes your "safe place" and moment of zen does not always have to be alone - it can be surrounded by the ones that you love.