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Using yoga to avoid the big fall

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A near collision on my bike enlightened me about yoga's role in tackling life's challenges

Blog by Francesca [Loveinvoke blogger-in-chief]

I was riding my bike on the Cultural Trail in Downtown Indianapolis a few weeks ago en route to the Monon for a ride up to the Broad Ripple Farmer’s Market. It was my first ride of more than a couple miles on my newly purchased bike, and I was excited for the adventure.

But as I was rounding the corner on the trail off Mass Ave near the Flying Cupcake, I ran into my first obstacle. Another rider was navigating a sharp corner at the same time as I was, and we nearly collided. Somehow I was able to remain calm, but the poor other guy nearly fell off his bike after wobbling around and weaving with a look of terror on his face. Finally, he regained his balance -- slightly embarrassed -- and we both apologized and went along our rides.

As I rode off, I began to think about why I was able to maintain my composure with relative ease while my partner in collision nearly wiped out. My mind went immediately to the first chapter of yoga instructor Cyndi Lee’s book, Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, which we’re reading in my yoga teacher training program.

In the first few pages, Cyndi describes her experience falling out of a boat into the icy cold water of a river in Costa Rica. She recalls being trapped under the boat but maintaining a sense of calm that she had honed through her yoga and meditation practices, even while thoughts of death were running through her mind. With steadiness, she was able to emerge from underneath the boat to be pulled out of the water by a yoga student with whom she was boating.

These physical obstacles are apt metaphors for the challenges that confront us in life. Just like the man with whom I almost collided on the Cultural Trail, it’s easy to find ourselves cruising along calmly when the path is clear and things seem to be going our way. But when life throws twists and turns into the course, we start to get off kilter.

For me, yoga has provided a powerful way to find balance in the midst of chaos and bring myself back to a sense of peace. Through the physical practice of yoga, I’ve learned the mental focus and discipline required to do some of the more challenging poses. There are certain poses that present me with particular challenges, but if my mind starts to panic coming into them, I know it’s a lost cause. Instead, I push myself to find a way to remain calm and steady, and in so doing I can find a greater sense of steadiness in the pose.

Just imagine if we could all take what we learn off the mat into the world and use it as we confront the twists and turns of daily life. Think how much more effective we’d be if we could find a way to be calm, despite the chaos.

Not falling off my bike in the midst of a near crash was a small step on the journey toward a better disposition in the face of life’s obstacles. I guess we all have to start somewhere.

Jarosz is a former journalist who loves to write, practice yoga, run and lead communications efforts for The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter @francescajarosz.



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Peace in chaos: An overachiever’s journey through three days of utter serenity


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Blog by Francesca [Loves Yoga, Invoke Yoga & Pilates student, Communications]

I, like many people, have a tendency to speed from task to task through life – always trying to maximize efficiency so I can check everything off my to-do list. When that to-do list in complete, I think, I finally can relax.

On the Friday morning before I departed for Invoke’s yoga retreat in New Harmony, my Type A orientation felt like it was hyped up on steroids. I had experienced a week of hectic frenzy at work and an overbooked social calendar. I was leaving Indianapolis for the retreat with a few unchecked items on the to-do list, a groggy head from insufficient sleep and a painful stress knot in my shoulder that was producing a dull headache. I shouldn’t be going on this retreat, I thought. I could really use the weekend to be productive.

But shortly after I got outside the city limits, my attitude began to soften. That was helped in part by the good company of my car companion, Lisa, and the charm of the small Indiana towns we drove through on our southward journey. When we arrived in New Harmony, we found an idyllic Main Street and a friendly recovering hippie whom we asked for directions to the Barn Abbey, our home base for the weekend. Rather than point us there, he got in his beater truck with a “Buy Local” bumper sticker and drove us to our destination.

My warmth toward the experience grew that afternoon as mom, who practices yoga in Springfield, Illinois, arrived and we started the first yoga session. During that session, instructor Ahna Hoke delivered a message that felt as if it was directed right at me: Life is always stressful. There are always multiple tasks you’ll have to accomplish and a myriad of obstacles to overcome. The secret, she said, is being able to find peace in the midst of all of that – and to use that peace to propel yourself forward.

She may as well have said, “Francesca, put your to-do list on a shelf and make some time to be in the moment.” So I did.

I fully embraced that mindset for the weekend. I stayed away from my cell phone (the few Instagram photo updates aside). I had authentic and engaging conversations with brand-new acquaintances. And I took time to notice the beauty of the art, nature and people surrounding me. All of this was propelled by my yoga practice, which trained me to be in tune with the movement of my body and the activity of my mind. I also find this to be true in my regular practice, but on this retreat – surrounded by this group of kind people in a place 200 miles away from distractions – I was able to hone it more intensely.

I left New Harmony on Sunday with a tinge of sadness about parting from the special time, place and community we had formed in our few days together there. But I also felt a new sense of empowerment about the things I’d learned to embrace on the retreat – the sense of calmness and serenity I’d found was possible. My challenge, then, was to take that back to the real world and find it, as Ahna instructed, in the middle of chaos.

It is, in fact, a big challenge, but one that I progress towards conquering daily, with each unexpected life event and every work-related conundrum. My sense of urgency has not changed; I still work to be efficient and fill my days with productivity. But I do so with a new sense of appreciation and an intention to find joy – not just after the work is complete, but in the midst of it.

Jarosz is a former journalist who now leads communications efforts for The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit.


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