22 Aug Finding Calmness Within The Chaos
A couple of months ago, a student approached me after class with some constructive feedback. She said that while the prenatal yoga class was helpful in reducing her lower back pain, she found it hard to relax and enjoy the yoga because of the distraction of so many other students and the noise of the street traffic. Admittedly, that day we had a bustling full class, and I had decided to keep the windows open to enjoy the natural breeze from outside instead of the manipulated albeit cool draft from the air conditioner. I apologized for these issues and suggested she try a night class where it may be less crowded, and there is less noise from delivery trucks on 72nd Street. As a teacher and owner, I always want the students to have a good experience in class.
Fast forward to a different hectic experience. Two weeks ago, I came out of my doula retirement to support a former client through her second labor. Sandi, her husband and I arrived at NYU hospital around 1AM in the morning. The Labor and Delivery floor was quiet and subdued. Upon checking in at the nurses station, it was very obvious that Sandi was in the transitional stage of labor and was promptly brought to a room. Within minutes the quiet environment we walked into was gone as Sandi was gowned up, monitor strapped on, hep lock inserted into her arm and being checked to discover that she was fully dilated. Her own doctor was not there yet, so we met an OB resident, the attending physician and two nurses. One nurse quickly rolled the table of delivery instruments into the room, a bright overhead spotlight was shining down on Sandi and because she want to push on her side, the doctor also held some sort of flashlight to get a better view of Sandi’s bottom. Sandi was not shy about expressing how the chaos in the room was distracting her, especially since she had the urge to push while a spotlight was shined in her eyes interrupting her concentration. I brought my hand over her eyes to shield her from the light and then talked her through focusing inward. At that moment, we were completely unable to change any part of the environment, so Sandi’s work was to take all her focus inwards. She kept her eyes closed, focused on my voice and her breath and became present to job at hand – pushing her baby out. Sandi was amazing. Within a tornado of activity around her, she found an inner calmness to concentrate on the difficult task of childbirthing. About 15 minutes later, Sandi gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl, and the noisy background gave way to the adoring love of a mother for her newborn.
Watching Sandi find focus within the chaos reminded me that we rarely have control of the external environment, but we do have a say in how we choose to react. (Personally, I am still working to master this skill!) In yoga, this practice is referred to as pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses. I interpret this, not as a literal cover your ears, close your eyes and retreat but more of a softening of the senses by focusing inward. Through that effort, the external world is not disruptive or jarring to one’s inner stability.
I do not at all fault the earlier student that expressed her discontent. That was her experience, and at the time I had not thought to use the obstacles in class as a teaching tool. It turned out to be a learning experience for me as a teacher. Right after Sandi’s birth, I was inspired by what I saw and taught a class where I invited the students to embrace the practice of pratyahara and to notice the distractions around them and then to consciously work on focusing on themselves, their body, their breath, their baby and the movements of the asanas. Many students after class said they felt refreshed and excited. Should they encounter a less then ideal place to labor in, they now have a tool to go inward which can lead to calmness.
Next time you are on a crowded subway or bombarded by loud sirens or even in a crowded yoga class, can you start to turn your focus more into yourself and your personal, inward experience in order to create space from the outside world? What a rewarding skill to practice.