THE QUEST FOR INNER-FREEDOM: LESSONS FROM THE TREADMILL
Have you ever felt elated after an intense physical workout? Today, I had tears in my eyes after a Warrior workout at my gym. I signed up because I felt my physical strength wasn’t matching up to my flexibility in yoga and felt out of balance in the poses. To feel in balance and hold a sense of flow in work and life, it helps to expand the range and depth of experiences we can hold without becoming reactive. In other words, we need to tolerate the discomfort of uncertainty and the pain of stretching ourselves to tap into the exciting possibilities that are available to us. Otherwise, we can get stuck in a rut and become unfulfilled in our comfort zone – that sense of something missing. THE FEAR OF FREEDOM When we expand our range whether emotionally, psychologically or physically (they all work together of course, which is why exercise is such a miracle cure for anxiety and depression), reaching the other side of a limitation produces a sense of elation. The endorphins, the catharsis, the physical sensations come together and we feel euphorically free – think of the runner’s high. But the process requires that we tolerate a little pain…When we sense pain, fear arises – fear of freedom - and our survival mechanisms to attack or seek safety kick in. We start to hear our mind’s excuses for why it can’t be done or how someone or something out there is holding us back. We might even resent the people who are trying to help us. In fact, the gym instructor said he felt a little worried that we all hated him! You’ll recognise the mind-chatter from doing anything new or doing something that might expose you to pain (e.g. the pain of rejection if you’re asking for a better salary or someone for more time). It’s because you’re going beyond the limits of your world and anticipating the worst. Our (mammalian-reptilian) brains are primarily loss-aversion devices. GO JUST BEYOND THE EDGE OF YOUR MIND In personal development, you’d call it going just beyond your edge. It’s scary. Like for our predecessors when they thought they might fall off the edge of the Earth if they sailed too far. You don’t have to go too far or copy someone else’s prowess, you just have to go beyond your own particular limit – a key principle in yoga practice. And so I brought yoga psychology to the Warrior workout. I made an effort to be very present to the growing discomfort in my legs and chest, as I stayed for a little longer at a higher speed on the treadmill. I listened without judgement to the stories my mind started to spin anxiously about why I should stop. I’m better these days at recognising anxious thoughts from intuitive wisdom. While my mind was chattering, my intuition was telling me that I was waaaay off my true physical limits! So I persisted. I recognised that I had more in me. I could sweat it out and tolerate the discomfort just a little longer. And I did. When the music stopped and the instructor congratulated us, tears welled up. A little barrier had been broken. My body and mind had a little more freedom. RESILIENCE IS SOFTNESS IN THE FACE OF FEAR Crying is a healthy thing. If you’re not crying now and again, it’s likely you’re not challenging yourself enough to live fully or you’re not in touch with some of your emotions…Here’s a past Wise Wednesdays on the benefits of crying about your job.
There isn’t much research on emotions and physical exercise – a reflection of our culture’s distaste for emotions and elevation of the rational. Fortunately, yoga and personal development psychology is a treasure trove for these experiences. What we do know is that consistent action, however small, repeated over time in alignment with what you want, will lead to change. Your edge is where your habits meet the great unknown. Resilience is suffering the little pains of going beyond your edge consistently. Whether it’s a job, a relationship, health or a passion project, the instructions are the same: go just beyond your edge with compassionate discipline and you will not only see a material difference, you will also feel a sense of aliveness that gives you boundless energy and joy. Have a good week, Amina