If you look at your newsfeed, scroll on social media, or open your inbox, you’ll see plenty of reminders of all that is challenging us in the world right now.
As teachers and helpers, we may find ourselves pulled in many directions; to care for ourselves, to care for others, having to deal with the “shoulds” and the guilt that can accompany either, or the self-judgment that comes when we feel we are not doing enough.
We might have an inner-dialogue telling us that selfcare practices are selfish in times like these. With so much of what is happening around us truly being out of our control, it makes sense that it may be difficult to stay grounded and clear. For many safety and security are being truly challenged. It is a reality that choice is becoming more limited in many ways.
You might even feel fear and anxiety rising or depression setting in. You also may be finding yourself inundated with information you are struggling to process and unsure of what to do to cope with the unknowns. Any of these factors alone would take a toll on well-being.
Perhaps worsening matters is the fact that our feeds are full of advice on ways to take care of ourselves during this time; everything from new diets to exercise plans, to memes encouraging extra wine and some simply friends helping friends figure out how to distract. Distraction can be a welcome experience, and it can also lead us to imbalance. You may be experiencing this.
Some of the strategies used to cope during this time may be having an opposite effect of your intention; too much Netflix and chill and you may find yourself feeling more tired than revitalized, or perhaps the exercise isn’t bringing the anxiety down and instead it’s leaving you feeling as tightly wound as when you started.
Many of us are looking outward for the answers; ways to heal, to soothe, to just feel better. This outward focus might not be working as well we would hope. While our senses often work wonders for us, helping us connect to the world in a deeper way though the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and felt experiences of life, so much of our sensory experience is externalized. With our focus and our locus of control, the degree to which we feel power over life outcomes, too externalized we lose a sense of what we CAN do. This can leave us feeling unable to effect change over our current state. When we lose touch with what power we inherently have, we can begin to feel out of control or helpless. In these conditions, the usual self-care might not be cutting it. In the face of unimaginable change, overwhelm is a reasonable response and coping is a rightful challenge. That is why you need to realize about importance of self-care
Enter pratyahara: the yoga practice that connects us to our internal locus of control. Pratyahara is a practice often described as “sense withdrawal”; it is what gets us reconnected to what is within, what is true self, and the power that is central to this awareness. It reconnects us to our inner resources, to what we have when it feels like we haven’t got a lot.
Pratyahara offers us the path to inner knowing; the knowledge of what we can control even when everything feels out of control. Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga. It comes before dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation), it is a step along the way, and a step that could be of highly beneficial practice to many of us today.
As translated by Nicholai Bachman, pratyahara is “turning off” and in this practice of focusing away from the external, we are no longer distracted by external input. In his version of the yoga sutras, pratyahara is described as turning our attention toward the “true nature of the heart-mind”. It is what helps us truly understand and identify what we need to feel like ourselves again.
While an outward focus can be our greatest strength as teachers, noticing the subtleties of the physical body, the emotional shifts of our students, an inward focus allows us to be even more awake, aware and clear. This practice in self-focus can allow us to be more present to our loved ones, students and the world. Our awareness and a connection within is vital to our mental, physical and emotional stability. With this, we become more equipped to cope, to choose wisely for ourselves, and then to more adeptly support others.
In times such as these, when we may not be able to go and do in order to effect change, our greatest strength can come from strengthening our ability to just be.
So today, pause rather than scroll. Close your eyes, take a breath, and ask yourself what you need that is within you right now. Reconnect to that inner locus of control. Remember that no matter what, we get to choose what we focus on. We choose how we react, respond, and what thoughts we allow in. We choose how we take care of ourselves.
Let pratyahara help you find moments of calm amidst the storm. Care for yourself first so that you can be more present for others. When you do, you’ll be able to choose what is best in these tough situations with more clarity. You’ll develop a stronger connection to your inner resources, to build more confidence in your ability to navigate life. The big message: Tune out to tune in. This is self-care and it is one of the most important things you can do, no guilt required.