Many years ago, a friend of mine asked me if I had ever considered doing yoga or looking at meditation while discussing my constantly buzzing mind that led to insomnia and panic attacks. Shortly after, I found that my high productivity followed by days of racing home to be alone as much as possible could be explained by tendencies towards bipolar behavior.
Back then, I was in the UAE – had just arrived to work at the university there. And I liked exercise for the sake of it; however, I had a problem – I hated to sweat! When a yoga class became available in my gym, I decided to give a try not exactly knowing what I got myself into. As I started to attend the class regularly, I noticed an amazing shift in me. My body was leaner and more flexible; I dropped a dress size after three months and felt more energy overall. More than that, also a sense of calm in my mind during the quiet moments of the yoga class.
If you had asked me if it was the ‘sitting’ or meditation part of the class, I would have profusely denied its truth. After all, like most people I know, I thought – “Oh, that meditation stuff is not for me…I don’t have the time or ability to just sit doing nothing.”
However, as I witnessed the change in me, even my reading list turned to different direction. Inspirational books by Jon Krakauer reminded me that humans are complex beings. Then, I shifted towards “self-help” books such as The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle or Awakening the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. Both books showed me more about the human capacity for healing and overcoming the challenges we face. During this period of self-discovery, I learned about the benefits of mindfulness meditation.
As if the universe knew that I was at the right point in my life, the chance to participate in a 30-day online Mindfulness Summit, presented itself. Like to assure what I have learned, major media recently reported brain studies on how doing mindfulness and meditation redirects the brain waves. In doing so, we also learn how to control our responses to others.
I now see the effects of setting aside just one to five minutes a day initially to craving the luxury of 40 minutes a day to dedicate towards the releasing of the chaos in my mind. While I used to be quick to spit back fighting words or get angry with others, after learning to explore and control my mind I found it unnecessary to respond in the same way. Again, right on cue, the universe pushed me further forward towards balancing my mind and body.
On a day when I had taken a personal day from work to wallow in self-pity about the realization that I was no longer fulfilled by my career choice, I received a serendipitous email from Kaya Yoga for a 300-hr yoga teacher training certificate program over a 13-month period on weekends in Dubai. Going out of character, I instantly responded without thinking about how I would make it work – instead just knowing it was something I was meant to do. Thirteen months later I decided to continue my training with another 200-hrs to achieve a 500-hr certificate whilst gaining experience in leading classes and workshops.
Through this experience, I found a real and meaningful vivification for my life – to help others balance their mind and body as a way of changing their focus from the woes of life to bettering themselves. For I believe that when we better the individual, then we better the world.
What I have found is that when the mind and body begin to shift, so does the soul.
While we have demonized claiming to be outwardly religious, we have diminished its negative connotation by saying we are “more spiritual than religious” these days. We can all come up with our ways of describing what this means, but regardless of the words we use, it seems that there are never going to be sufficient words to humanize the movements of the spirit.
Recently, it seems there is a subtle energy shift happening around the world. We can see this through an increase in yoga studios or yoga teacher training programs, talk about mindfulness and meditation in the mainstream media, and an openness to discuss one’s spirituality (as long as we do not touch upon religion – God forbid!). But, why do you or I care on an individual level?
Furthermore, we have begun to celebrate a ‘woe-is-me’ attitude by trying to outdo each other with our personal challenges in life. However, the truth is that everyone struggles in their lives and despite our egocentric thoughts – we are not unique in our particular struggles. Everyone has had personal challenges – whether from childhood, teen years or somewhere in their adult life. Everyone is “busy” in their own way.
Therefore, while I might want to try to win a moaning contest about how: I was abandoned as a toddler, shipped away to a foreign land, abused in numerous ways as a lost soul in the US adoption system, made poor teenage choices, had an early adult divorce, how I am so busy these days, and blah blah blah – the reality is that there are surely so many other souls out there who have had it worse or are in worse situations than I.
What if instead of putting our focus on complaining about how busy we are or how distracted we can get, we could control how we respond and the actions we take in contributing to the balance (or unbalance) of our minds and bodies?
As a starting point, here are a few options I recommend:
If you tend to be in the mind more than the body, then you may want to start with reading. On top of those I have already suggested, these were some impactful texts for me.
- The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz
- The Power of Your Subconscious Mind: Unlock the Secrets Within by Joseph Murphy, PhD, D.D.
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda
The first two texts offer more focus on changing your perspective on life and how you program your mind to respond to it. The last text offers guidelines for a way of life from a yogi’s viewpoint.
On the other hand, if you are in your body more than your mind, then I highly recommend finding a yoga studio that offers beginner classes in either Hatha or Iyengar style. Although you may be drawn to the idea of Bikram or hot yoga, I personally do not recommend this for anyone – especially beginners. Bikram or hot yoga is more about the act of exercising but rarely takes a balanced approach of training both mind and body. Therefore, injuries in both can easily occur if one is not properly prepared.
Or, if you are ready to just jump right in, begin exploring mindfulness according to Jon Kabat-Zinn or Sam Harris or others in various fields who are using this activity to calm their minds. There are good apps like Headspace or Calm that have guided practices available.
Finally, if you’re still not sure, stay tuned for this series and perhaps as we go along you’ll find your own way to vivify your life!