“True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness.”
― B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life
The walk to the 800 bed dorm is now familiar and I begin to recognize guards, bus drivers and inmates who aren’t even in the dorms where I teach. Last week I was stopped by someone in the Beauty Shop (yes, there are some elements that do remind me of Orange is the New Black) but it was closed on this Tuesday morning. I chatted with Carmen and Ms. Gregory while waiting for Anneke and Maia.
We decided that the theme would be anxiety. This was great and I suspected that it would be a welcome discussion topic. As I rolled the yoga cart to the B side of the dorm, I was thrilled to see over 20 faces. Everyone was ready to go and prepared to write, asking for paper. My plan of writing before class is the way to go for now. I thought of my own morning and how I used to be more diligent about writing down some thoughts after meditating. (Note to self: practice what you are teaching, Oneika. And stop referring to yourself in the third person).
‘Anxiety is the topic for today,’ I stated. A collective round oh yeses was heard around the room. I knew this would be a perfect topic. We talked about the negative aspects of anxiety and I asked everyone how they knew when they were anxious. One student said the thought of living a clean and sober life made her anxious because she didn’t want to mess up again. This got a lot of nods from the group. A profound observation. I had already planned a class but thought I might switch things up after hearing that remark and seeing the nods of agreement.
Our writing focused on the practical- what things could we do when we felt anxious? The answers were thorough. Lots of conversation today. I also like how students who may not speak up stay involved and follow the discussion.
At the top of our mats we held our bodies and breath, squeezing our faces and muscles tight. I had them hold the breath for quite a few seconds and then we let everything go. Smiles all around. Next, with arms everyone turned their palms so they faced each other. I asked them that imagine they were holding anxiety in their hands with a backbend we built some momentum and with an exhale we launched it forward to let it go. Folding forward into a deep bend we felt the back of the body open up.
As promised I delivered a longer meditation. Ms. Gregory mentioned after class that even women who were sitting and watching participated in the meditation. I’m already working on the meditation for next week.
This is yoga. And it’s liberating.
My favorite part of teaching and taking class is savasana.
This is because I tend to run on the anxious side of life. This affects how I sleep. It got so rough at one point I went to the doctor and was handed a script, but taking sleeping pills was not how I wanted to live. It was also a sign that I needed a major life change. Two a half years and new career later, my sleep is a lot more solid. But my monkey mind still likes to explore the jungle of my brain. I credit yoga to my more peaceful slumber.
Turns out it not just in my head. A 2012 study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School said that a regular yoga practice can help people who suffer from chronic insomnia. A similar study was conducted with 410 cancer patients. The results were similar. It seems that by doing yoga people can fall asleep easier, faster, wake up less often and have a more productive night’s sleep.
On the nights that I’m feeling a little antsy before bed, I’ve found that there two poses that help me chillax.
Reclining Goddess Pose
This is my favorite by far. Goddess releases tension along the inner thighs and hips. Sometimes if I’m looking for a deeper backbend I’ll roll a small blanket or towel and place it vertically so it aligns with my spine. The release is delicious. Delicious!! For a more special experience I’ll even add a few drops of essential oil to my temples so I can really let go. It doesn’t take long before The Sandman knocks.
To get into the pose recline on your back and bend your knees so your feet are parallel. extend the arms along the sides of your body and try to brush the backs of the heels with your middle finger. Let your knees fall to the side and keep the souls of the feet touching. Keep the arms extended and turn the palms facing up. Using a sleep mask is a great treat here. Want to ensure that you aren’t counting sheep very long? Try an essential oil blend. My favorite blend is by Aura Cacia.
Legs up the Wall
This is another great pose to do before bed. This is perfect for those nights when the you thought you’d never make it to bed time. You know the days, when you’ve been pulled in a thousand different directions and none of those directions had anything to do with the list of things you were supposed to get done. And when you finally get home to what you think is your sanctuary, you realize that you forgot to take something out for dinner- but the dog did leave something out for you- right in the middle of the carpet. On those nights the stress of it all might make sleep elusive, so try legs up the wall.
Getting into the pose is as easy as it sounds. Recline on your back and take your legs up the wall. You may have to schooch your butt forward a bit so your legs can press against the wall. And then…Just.Let.Go. Feel your back release into the mattress. Inhale in the idea of sleep. Exhale out any tension. Let your body melt. Allow for some gentle movement so you can get comfortable. Trust me, your troubles will seem like a faint memory.
We all deserve a great night’s sleep. Don’t let it slip out of your fingers.