Ah, the tricksy perils of modern life. Traffic, timelines, meetings, appointments, insurance, stop lights, empty gas tanks, lunch with so-and-so, dinner with whoever, a store for every need and a restaurant for every mood. Choices, options, billboards, media, mega-stores, pressure to be more, do more, have more. Whew.
Inhabitants of a typical western culture contend with uber amounts of details every day, leaving most with an almost constantly heightened fight or flight response. Throw coffee and other addictive substances into the mix and we’ve got some pretty spazzy nervous systems. It’s no wonder that yoga is sweeping the nation.
Americans, quite literally, need to (and apparently want to) learn to relax.
I live in a place without glass windows. Nor many walls, for that matter. Mother nature is my roommate. I manage a yoga retreat center tucked deep in the jungles of Uvita, Costa Rica. It’s my home for half of the year. I’ve just finished my second winter season and have returned to the United States for the summer.
I’m only now realizing how much living in that foreign land has changed me, and why.
This recent springtime transition from there to here was startling. It took me some time to figure out why my world felt rocked. Almost immediately upon landing on home soil, I felt spacey and distracted. My nervous system amped up and my thoughts became scattered. Making a decision brought unexplained angst.
Of course, when I feel off kilter, I turn to yoga. Being still lets me calm my mind and figure out wtf is goin’ on. I got quiet. I realized that I was reflecting internal chaos because around me is chaos. This place is busy!
But it’s only through the contrast of living in Costa Rica that I’ve come to know the chaos in the this country. It’s like a recovered addict finally understanding how much their drug of choice is effecting them. This only happens once the addiction is removed from the system. I removed myself from the “system” of western culture. I understand the effect it was having on me.
Living in the jungle, in direct connection with Gaia (earth mother), where the pace is ruled by natural rhythms and there aren’t a gazillion choices, my nervous system gets to “unwind.” My sleep patterns changed. I sleep better. My eating simplifies. I desire live food of the earth. My internal world unclutters. My creativity heightens. I breath more deeply. I move more freely. I think more clearly.
Yes, there is a certain amount of stress inherent in running a business, driving a car and having relationships. Yet, there’s a simplicity that’s allowed me to discover more of my true and relaxed nature, uninfluenced by what billboards tells me I should be and buy. Mother nature teaches me daily to expand and contract, accept and flow because I am in direct contact with her. I am her. There is no separation, literally. No walls.
A bit of stress is healthy and inspiring, but we have become extraordinarily out of balance in the western world. Heart disease, caused by stress, is the number one killer in our country. The amount of stress that Americans (and other western cultures are following) have is normal, but it is not natural.
Our natural selves are relaxed and creative. Our natural selves are flexible and vibrant. Our natural selves are playful and sensual.
Taking yourself out of your daily routine, whether it be a barefoot walk in the park, a vipassana or a trip to the ocean, can do your nervous system a world of good. Go ahead, take 3 deep breaths. Do a forward fold in your office. Give your co-worker a hug for no reason. Turn on your favorite music and dance around. Go to yoga instead of the bar. Do whatever it takes to shake the stress from your body and mind. Whatever it takes. You are worth it. You deserve it. Your nervous system and your natural self will fall to their knees in gratitude.
Heidi Michelle, a lover of all life and a compassionate resident of planet Earth, teaches individual and partner yoga, splitting time between the United States and Costa Rica. Believing yoga to be a practice ground for life, she manages Selva Armonia Re-Treat Center and Eco-Lodge as an organism for living yoga. Catch Heidi in Denver on Saturday, June 29th, for some Partner Yoga Play at Kindness Yoga on S. Broadway.