There is never a bad time to ponder this quote from Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” During the winter, as the nights are longer, it is even more pertinent to contemplate how we are with ourselves and others. And where we are reactive instead of responsive. At any given moment we each have the opportunity to practice tools that create more of a margin between stimulus and response. One way to become more aware of and create these spaces is through yoga breathing exercises. When we do, we empower ourselves to make new choices and feel our intrinsic freedom.
Part of the human condition is that we have patterned reactions based on past circumstances. Instead of pausing and making a choice of how to respond to a situation most of us have habitual knee jerk reactions. It is important to recognize that we don’t have to play out our past patterning, but it does take attention, time and consistent repetition to bring attention to the present moment. The practices of yoga are perfect for creating a real space to do this.
If you are like most of us, your mind is jam-packed with a thought, then an idea, perhaps a fear of a possible future event. Then an inspiration, then a memory, into an idea. Then the to-do list flows in, and then the mind jumps to something else entirely! Our minds jump into the past, then the future. There is often little space between each disparate idea or thought. This is because we are in the part of our mind that is past programming, and every moment we spend there we are simply training ourselves to act in the same way.
In yoga, we speak of energy, and wherever we place our attention, energy flows. We do this in an embodied way, as well as the more subtle work with the mind, thoughts and who we are through our actions. The great thing is that every time you bring yourself into the authentic present moment you are training your mind to be in the space of possibility where you can choose, which is total freedom!
This whole exercise is less than 10 minutes and it will probably make it easier to notice that there is a margin between one thought and the next. It might also take you out of the habitual part of your brain and into the part that has more creative energy. One reminder: just notice when you lose attention to your emotion or positive feeling. Everytime you notice is a growth opportunity where you can choose to come back!
There is both a seated option and a mat option. What you choose is of course up to you, but here is a practice of focusing and generating more of a gap between the fluctuations of your mind.
Finally, I invite you to take this yoga off the mat by practicing really listening when someone is speaking. Bring in all your senses. Practice feeling what they are saying as well as seeing them too. When it is time for you to respond, trust that something authentic will come out. There is no need to rush. Pausing like this, even when you are excited to share brings a whole new level of growth in yourself.
May this kind of presence with yourself and others bring you and others the greatest gifts of all this season: Empowerment, growth, and the feelings of connection, possibility, and freedom within the present moment and beyond!
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