Sweta Vikram on Finding the Strength Within

practiceNot succumbing to negativity takes daily practice. To lead a balanced life, realism must befriend optimism.

My home-base yoga studio, Bamboo YOGA, in NYC closed last month. I have been practicing there for years. The news of its closing hit me in the gut. It felt as if I had lost a family member or a dear friend.

This was the yoga studio where I did one of my book events for my novel, “Louisiana Catch.” It is a haven where I have moved my body, made friends, and found a community of like-minded people. In the pre-pandemic world, going there was a ritual. During the pandemic, so many of us met virtually and practiced asanas as a sangha daily, finding community, purpose, and a sense of belonging. Thus, sharing our joys, struggles, strengths, smiles, and much more in those 75 minutes on Zoom.

 

Real Talk…

I know I am not alone in thinking that this past year has been relentless. I do not mean just in terms of the yoga studio closing. And, sure, there have been spurts of good news. But mostly, it feels like an ongoing battle. Let’s be honest, didn’t most of us think (even if subconsciously) that somehow, come January 1, 2021 the situation would be different? That midnight would be transformative, and we would wrap up December 31, 2020 and say a buh-bye to all the disappointments, losses, heartaches, and uncertainties.

But that’s not how life has been for a large majority, right? We are all still navigating trauma and feeling burnout from blurry boundaries and the limited outlets for our angst. We are all emotionally exhausted. We are mostly hanging out (if at all) with our bubble pod and vaccinated tribe (if they’ve had the opportunity to get the two doses). Many people might not even realize that they are battling internalized trauma. Because when they think about trauma, they imagine scars and signs of physical abuse.

 

Healthcare workers wearing PPE (image courtesy: Wikimedia)

Covid Continues…

Covid spikes, hospitalizations, illnesses, businesses closing are all the rise in India! I am yet to talk to someone, with ties to India who has not been impacted directly. You wake up daily to news of more deaths and hospitalizations. While the vaccination in the U.S. has partially unburdened us, for those of us with elderly parents and parent-in-laws in India under lockdown, our mind keeps going to “When will we see them next?”

I typically travel to India twice a year, and my father visits us once a year in NYC. I have not seen my father since November 2019. He spent his 75th birthday on Zoom with us because of Covid and the understandable rules around socialization (and the lack thereof). I have friends who lost a parent or both to Covid but were not able to attend their last rites. The fear — even if I do not give into it — lurks around. Because every time I bat an eyelid, I hear of another person fighting for their breath in India.

Those of us in the prime of our careers still see a ray of light. We have to push through whatever we might be dealing with to show up to our clients, colleagues, readers, family. If you have little kids at home, you have to take care of their needs. But what happens to the elderly — those who are retired and unable to step out of the house? Imagine what solitary confinement and emptiness must feel like to them at a time when it is difficult to find daily purpose?

 

Protect yourself from negativity and emotional exhaustion (image courtesy: Sasin Tipchai Pixabay)

Emotional Exhaustion…

Not succumbing to negativity takes daily practice. To lead a balanced life, realism must befriend optimism. Yes, it is not easy. In every meeting, conversation, Zoom chat, WhatsApp message, or text, friends, colleagues, and family confess that they have reached their limit. Not knowing when any level of normalcy will get restored is destabilizing. But you have to protect yourself against negativity and feel grounded in who you are. That can only happen if you know how to give yourself space with as much compassion as you give others. To not be impacted by every piece of news — be it good or bad — takes a lot of inner work.

 

Finding That Strength

I have been practicing yoga for close to two decades now, but during the pandemic my practice deepened on a level I cannot explain. The messier the world became, the more I turned to the yoga mat to tidy my mind. I believed my yoga studio would hold space and always be there. But that is an “unhealthy attachment.”

No manual about life tells you that anything lasts forever. Everything comes to an end. It is our innate human nature to over-identity and over-rely on the outside world and ignore the inherent powers within.

We all have an inherent stability. It is not a gift some people are born with; it is a habit you can cultivate. To unburden internalized trauma, to deal with the unknown, to handle emotional yoyo-ing, to feel rooted, you have to turn inward and find what stabilizes you. Yes, community matters and human connection is integral to our well-being. But unless you learn to befriend yourself, you cannot be truly friends with anyone else.

 

Things to Do

1.     Connect deeply with yourself

2.     Pause and pay attention to what makes you happy and sick

3.     Embrace your fears and make room for your grief

4.     Train your mental, physical, and emotional body

5.     Meditate to de-clutter your mind

6.     Put yourself first because you can’t serve others from an empty space

7.     Replenish yourself regularly

 

Image courtesy: Casey Homer/Unsplash

While it is important to be there for people we care about, it is equally imperative to know when to not become their suffering. While it is normal to feel scared (with family and friends battling Covid), sad (thinking of friends/teachers at the yoga studio), and nervous (about chapters ending when we lose a client), you have to also practice healthy detachment. If every season closes an old chapter and starts a new one, why cannot we have the same faith in life or ourselves?

Pick a tool of choice to find stability in your life. When you learn to find the strength within, you also understand that every challenge helps us rise to life’s greater purpose. Hard times can bring tremendous growth in your life. Every ending brings a new beginning. A business closing doesn’t mean relationships ending. I can use this opportunity to support my friends at Bamboo YOGA as they take the next steps in their lives and business. Families and friends feeling overwhelmed with the rising Covid numbers in India, I can help lighten their mood and connect more intentionally.

How can you help others if you cannot practice calm in the face of adversity? How can you practice calm when you haven’t made space for your own upheavals and cultivated a habit?

“Go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out.” ~ Katherine Dunham

For more of Sweta Vikram’s columns, here’s Center Your Mind and Stretch the Possibilities with Yoga