One year later: how mindfulness and yoga saved my life.

candles 282

Namaste everyone,

I hope everyone has had a good and restful week.  The summer seems like it has just flown by!  With the fall schedule just around the corner, things are certainly beginning to pick up at work.  I could have (and probably should have) stayed late at work this week to get ahead of the very busy court docket that will fill up this September. Yet, instead of fretting over the impending deadlines that loom ahead (which I have already diarized as a conscientious public lawyer), I decided to go to evening yoga class instead. Why? Because now, at this juncture in my journey in mindfulness, I have placed a primary emphasis on the health of my body and mind over anything else.

I have learned not to worry as much (or even at all in some cases) over such inconsequential things as a work deadline that is still weeks away.  “They will get done when they get done. You always come through, Alex.  You always have. Now, just breathe.” These are the words I’ve conditioned my mind to recite whenever I become anxious, stressed out, or worried about the thoughts that race through my head from time to time.

Notice here, the focus is on one’s thoughts.  As I lay in shavasana (corpse) pose at the end of my yin class this evening, my yoga instructor iterated that often it is this seemingly simple pose at the end of class that can be the most difficult to master as a yoga practitioner. The reason for that, he explained, is because it is a type of passive pose that invites the thoughts in one’s mind to wander in every which direction.  The key is to “let the body and mind do its work”. By that, I took my instructor to mean that one must be disciplined in the mind as much as the body, to return the focus to where it must always be – on the deep rise and fall of one’s breath, and always on the present moment – but recognizing one’s thoughts for what they are, and then release them without judgment.

Completely surrendering the body to my mat, and in one cathartic exhalation through the out-breath, all of the stresses of my week evaporated; I felt as though all the toxins in my body were released, one by one, through the perspiration that dripped off of my body in the intense heat.

(Be)coming into mindfulness and yoga has, in so many ways, saved my life.

Tonight, after almost one year of undertaking a new practice of yoga, and with the guidance of my gifted yoga instructors, I genuinely felt as though I had “found myself” as an aspiring yogi;  as though I had finally “dropped in” on myself in the way that Jon Kabat-Zinn encourages us all to in our individual journey of mindfulness.  Indeed, in this place, I could genuinely appreciate how mindfulness is (and perhaps must always be) a conscious choice that requires a complete and unconditional surrender to one’s mind and body wherever and whenever one finds herself.   This is the beautiful lesson in mindfulness I have learned and lived – particularly through my yoga practice – this past year. It continues to inspire me every day and has humbled me.

My yoga instructors are not just teachers – they are beacons of light, hope, and wisdom.  I am blessed to have come to know each of them and learn through their very unique and individual approaches to yoga instruction and the yogic life.

(Be)coming into mindfulness and yoga has, in so many ways, saved my life. In the last year, I have ceased taking any medication for my arrhythmia and have had no attacks of gout or the like.  I wake up at 5am every day now (sometimes to be in the yoga studio for 6am class); I have lost close to 30 pounds (to the point of dusting off suits I haven’t worn in 5 years) and find myself feeling healthier and more energized than ever in my entire adult life.  For that, I am forever grateful.

Each and everyone of us should recognize and seize these mindful yet critical moments in which we must make a firm choice – sometimes an intuitive choice – that we know possesses inherent risk, but in the end it is a risk worth taking.

I cannot help but contrast this approach with the approach of where I “found” myself last year.

This time last year, I was literally wrapping up my boxes to take with me from one chapter of my life (in private practice) to begin another (in public practice).  I recall having so many mixed feelings as I left a place of work where I had literally “grown up” as a budding litigator surrounded by a talented group of lawyers in a very well respected firm in Edmonton.  But, at that point in my career, and speaking only for myself, my body and my mind needed healing and restoration.   I knew that the opportunity to pursue a public law career at the Alberta Court of Appeal (where I currently work) was one that might not ever present itself to me again if I did not seize it at that moment.

At that moment.  Each and everyone of us should recognize and seize these mindful yet critical moments in which we must make a firm choice – sometimes an intuitive choice – that we know possesses inherent risk, but in the end it is a risk worth taking. Indeed, mindfulness may often require a choice that leads one to walk the road less-traveled (e.g. to be courageous/brave), or to choose to be with oneself (e.g. to be introspective) over others because of a deep an abiding need to understand the connection between one’s physical body and her physical surroundings; or to choose to never be complacent with one’s lot in life, but to aspire to a life of wonder and beauty in all its forms (e.g. to be innovative/creative).

Almost one year has passed, and I feel as though I’ve been blessed with a new lease on life. A life that will undoubtedly require me to be courageous, innovative, and at times, entirely introspective.  A new (or perhaps renewed?) life governed by the principles of mindfulness – as a yoga practitioner and as a mindful lawyer serving in Alberta’s highest court.

A friend of mine told me yesterday over lunch that she was “inspired” by my transformation, inside and out.  I explained to her that I believe my turn to mindfulness and yoga in many ways saved my life.  It saved me because it has taught me the importance of loving (through accepting) oneself in this moment, before we can possible love those around us.  She said to me that for so long, she felt she couldn’t love herself.  Later that evening, I received a Facebook message from her telling me she had just attended her first yoga class in a long, long time.  She is now signed up for a meditation class this September.  I cannot tell you how much her message made me smile. It brought tears to my eyes.

I get goose bumps as I think about what lies ahead in the next year of my journey in mindfulness. One thing is for sure: I will continue to spread the good news of mindfulness to as many of my friends, family and neighbours who will hear me.  For I do believe we all can serve as a mindful beacon of light and hope to those around us.

After all, mindfulness saved my life.

The highest in me honours the highest in each and every one of you, always.

Namaste,

Alex

3 responses to “One year later: how mindfulness and yoga saved my life.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful note, I am now going to dig into Pema Chodron with great interest! I also wanted to let you know I was deeply moved by your most recent post. I hope you continue to use your pen to express and articulate the ebbs and flows of your continuing journey. Yours are not just words on a page, they are kernels of wisdom about how to live one’s path with dignity and self-awareness. For that, I thank you so very much. Namaste, Alex

      Liked by 1 person

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