In 1980, in a yoga class, on my jade green mat, in a softly lit studio with gentle music playing, I found a way to quiet, even with a loud mind whirling like a ceiling fan, and living in a country which thundered and raged like now. The teacher said, “Gradually something will ground you if you keep coming back to feeling your feet on the floor, on the Earth.”
With yoga, I steadied when everything around me swirled. To anchor in storms, we need oases in the midst of the turmoil of politics, pandemics and living. We need to pause and retore.
Daily, I rolled out my mat in that serene studio and in my noisy home. After months of moving from Child’s Pose to Triangle and Tree, I learned stillness in class and then later both on and off the mat. Yoga taught me to notice breath during the day and to tune into how my body felt in any moment. This became training in settling, in down-regulating the nervous system and up-leveling life. A lifesaver. Medicine.
Yoga— its science, psychology, philosophy, meditations and physical practices— taught me to locate “home,” to hear what African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman called, “the sound of the genuine in yourself.”
Yoga does not call to everyone. One friend, caught between hope and despair in 2020, sits for long breaks with Sudokus. She says, “something about only one number per square, only one possible correct one…I find it very soothing.”
We all need a way, or ways, to still our ups and downs. We all need refuge in this churning life, which will continue to churn, continue to plague us. The question, for discovering this shelter, is “how?”
My mother’s mother kept her Rosary beads next to her on her end table. She’d pray. She’d also get up frequently to play the organ. My father’s mother loved to cook, loved to bake, loved to crochet afghans. One of my aunts knit; the rhythmic clicking of the needles comforted her. My dad practiced putting, hit buckets of golf balls on the driving range, played his trumpet or created projects in his woodworking shop. Some people know the nurturing of nature; they fish, walk, or hike alone or in connection and with others. Some play with pets, make music or dance.
It almost doesn’t matter what “it” is. It does matter, to find inner peace in unpeaceful outer times, that we come to know our “it,” or “its.” Crosswords or jigsaw puzzles. The newspaper’s Jumble. Naps. Baths. Some regular reprieve, maybe a ritual, some structure, some support, during and after which your body/mind/heart smiles with, “Ahhhh. Phew. Tranquility. Thank you.”
When we find places to land, to feel our feet on the ground, when we return to those places– our places–again and again, those places act as medicine. They serve our life force. Then, as our inner thoughts and emotions shift like the constantly fluxing outer world, we can rest more easily in what T. S. Eliot called, “the still point of the turning world.”
It takes dedicated showing up to receive the fruits of a practice. If your way is making art, then craft something. If it’s chopping wood, get into the thickets. If it’s journaling, write. If it’s gardening, dig and plant. If it’s reading, order books or magazines from a library or a local bookstore. When we stop any whirlwind within, we can better hear the sound of the genuine in ourselves. And that can be an up-leveling lifesaver.