A few weeks ago, my husband Orest and I were lucky to get away and change our pace. We camped at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, where we got engaged four years ago. We hiked by day and roasted hotdogs and s'mores by night. The simplicity of being in nature was challenging at times (sleeping in a tent with minimal padding, almost falling in a stream, figuring out the anatomy of a CamelBak water pouch), but we still love camping. I was grateful for the bathroom, supply store, and ice cream shop nearby. It's good to have options (and swirly cones!) so you're not forced to rough it every step of the way.
We saw a lot of wildlife--everything from snakes to fawns. Below is a picture of a baby black bear we spotted while driving to a trail head. Luckily, we didn't meet any on the trail! This one looks cute climbing in a tree, although I fought the urge to run out and hug it. The mom probably wouldn't go for that!
Coming home from camping is, at first, rediscovering all the underappreciated pleasures. Mattress! Shower! Lazyboy! Refrigerator! HBO! Fresh veggies! How we missed you.
Then some of the less comforting realities set in. The phone blows up with emails and voicemails. There's the return of traffic, commutes, noise, schedules, texts, and bills. You come face to face with the humongous, insatiable monster we call [shuddering] "The To-Do List." That thing has been hiding in my closet and popping out all week!
Still, I can't just run away back to the woods, Into the Wild-style. I like my life, despite the clutter and inconveniences. I'm grateful for the opportunity to even have those "inconveniences!" But it's still messes with my head sometimes. Skin breakouts, stomachaches, back aches, and general exhaustion are all the bodily symptoms.
In order to stay grounded and focused this week, I simplified the schedule as much as I could. I baked some brownies. Then, I turned to my yoga practice.
Svadyaya (Self Study)
So that's my story! Now, when do YOU feel overwhelmed? What circumstances really mess with you?
What does that feel like in your body?
What exactly goes through your head during stress?
What happens to your breathing?
Do you tend to get high strung and aggressive? Or fatigued and withdrawn?
What do you seek for relief? People and action? Or solitude and stillness?
Here is one way to think about finding peace of mind. External affairs affect us, of course, but peace can start internally.
Goldilocks and the Three Gunas
You are Goldilocks (bear with me). You are wandering through the woods. You're getting tired and hungry. You need a place to rest and restore yourself.
The cabin is your body. You step inside and get a feel for it. Every option you encounter to restore yourself (porridge, chair, and bed) has three qualities:
TOO LOW (too dark, passive, slow, sluggish, cold, heavy)
TOO HIGH (too bright, active, fast, hard, hot, light)
JUST RIGHT! (in balance/ harmony)
In yoga philosophy, the three gunas (qualities of all nature) are found in everything and experienced by everyone at different times. These gunas are rajas, tamas, and sattva.
The TOO HIGH guna is RAJAS. For example, if you eat the really hot, spicy, crunchy food and then sit in a hard chair or sleep in a hard bed, you will probably be wound up and unable to relax. You might keep getting up to work on cabin projects and accomplish as much as possible, and won't be eager to return to that bed or chair for rest.
This TOO LOW guna is TAMAS. If you eat the cool, bland, heavy food and then collapse into the super soft chair or bed, it might be really hard to get up again. You might want to Netflix and chill and Tastycake there all the day.
Neither of these qualities are really bad. There are times we need to be super active and alert, and other times it's good to be lazy. There are other things besides us in nature that must be tamastic (such as mud) or rajastic (such as fire). Like anything though, balance is the key. That is where the JUST RIGHT of SATTVA comes in.
So when the average bears (fear, anxiety, stress, change) come into the cabin, you want to be in the most balanced state to face them. A pic-a-nic basket full of coping tools doesn't hurt.
It's a relief to know that the body changes between rajas, tamas, and sattva. The mind fluctuates even more so. This is normal! Finding sattva is a continuing journey. Finding that balance on and off the mat requires practice and attention.
Now as I transition back to the daily pace of life, my yoga practice has been slower. I'm trying to bring all the minimalism that I relished about camping. Simple, strengthening poses like chair and crescent lunge bring me back to the simple rigors of hiking. Long, luxurious reclined twists bring back the languid final hours of sunlight on the picnic blanket.
I hope you practice as you need to practice. If you need action, take it with the sun salutes! If you need it slow and melted as a marshmallow, then make it restorative. If the practice feels extreme--a little too this or too that--back it up. Breath. Choose what is truly best for you at that moment.
A student of mine said it best before leaving on her vacation:
"When the big, bad bear comes a-knocking, I'll reflect."
May we all have the Summer of Sattva!