This topic seems appropriate to me as we immerse ourselves in all things autumnal. The harvest time, the time when the breakneck pace of summer finally ends and we can once again take a moment to breathe and reflect.
It’s also appropriate because I’ve gotten caught up in ephemeral things here lately and found it difficult to connect with deep gratitude.
The past few months have been hectic, and psychologically challenging. (Rediscovering Self Care: A Cautionary Tale) And while I know, intellectually, that the key to contentment is gratitude, connecting that knowledge to my experience has been difficult recently. I know that I have SO MUCH to be grateful for (I enjoy good health, my kids are healthy and active, I have loving family, I enjoy my work, am doing fine financially, live in a beautiful place, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum) but still, I couldn’t figure out a way to tap into my gratitude for these things.
I tried to force myself to feel grateful, all the while seething with anger, frustration and despair. (I’m very dramatic, aren’t I?) That’s not a pretty truth, but it is indeed true.
I tried meditation (I have an app on my phone that I adore called Insight Timer, and it has some wonderful meditation music, which is helpful when your mind is spinning, it helps drown out the noise – I also tried a guided meditation series about stress and anxiety). It helped, but only temporarily. I would find a sense of calm during the meditation session, but it never lasted. The second I left my meditative state, all the anxiety would come rushing back in, and my brain would start chattering again about all the things I should be worried about.
I couldn’t turn it off.
One thing I know about myself is that physical exertion is very important. And it’s the one thing that has been missing lately. I finally made it to my favorite hot yoga studio a few days ago, and even though I barely survived the class, I had become so out of shape in just a few months’ time, it was like a lightbulb went off. This was what I had been needing.
I’d been focusing on my emotional state, but the real key was my physical state.
I went to another class yesterday, and the effect was phenomenal. I no longer wanted to puke or pass out. The class was challenging but enjoyable. After 60 minutes in a 105 degree sauna, completing the 26 postures of the hot hatha series, I felt completely exhausted physically and cleansed emotionally.
One of my favorite aspects of hot yoga is its cleansing and detoxifying effect, but I’ve only really thought of it in terms of my physical being. I didn’t realize – or didn’t appreciate – that it’s also psychologically cleansing.
As I lay down on my mat for final shavasana (corpse pose) at the end of class, I felt this immense wave of gratitude flood over me.
It was as though, in the process of pushing my body to its limits, all the negative thoughts were subsequently pushed out of my brain.
Perhaps it’s because 100% of my focus was dedicated to not falling out of the poses, to not losing my balance, to not slipping in my own sweat, that I didn’t have any energy left to feed the worry and doubt in my brain.
And when I stopped feeding it, it died. And that death made space, for all the positivity to come flooding back in.
I don’t know if I’m describing it particularly well, but I can say this: it was nothing short of magic. We humans are so complex, but sometimes the answers are so very simple. I feel like I’ve had a complete mental shift, in just a matter of days. My perspective has changed, and after months of agonizing worry and neurotic control-seeking, I’m finally able to let it all go. My body did for my mind what my mind could not do for itself.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.