As a yoga teacher, I don’t think of myself as a healer. I think of myself as a guide or facilitator; one to help people tap into the healing abilities already inside them. These abilities are covered by stress, inflexibility in both body and mind, insecurity, fear and a focus on the external instead of the internal. Even people with little to no yoga experience, after one class, often proclaim, “I feel wonderful!” If this can be the result after just one class, is there something there that can be translated across many, as in, let’s say, a city?
One week ago today was the running of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. The tragic bombing of innocent people at the Marathon’s finish that led to death for 3 people, including one child, and injuries to countless others will go down in Boston’s history as the most tragic day this city has ever survived. The ensuing manhunt, ending in the death of an MIT police officer and a city on lockdown Friday, April 19, 2013 will also go down as one of the most intense law enforcement efforts ever.
As we wake up today, on the one-week anniversary of the tragedy, we will be faced with the challenge we have faced every day since 4/15/13 and will continue to face: how do we go on? There are the victims, the families of the victims, the first responders, the marathon runners, the officials, law enforcement, spectators at the event and then all of us, as residents of this great city, that need to learn how to move forward despite the heaviness in our hearts. What tools do we have? What collective wisdom IS there in a city known both for it’s toughness and big heart that can be a reservoir for healing? And as for yoga, what tools exist in the practice of yoga that can help us?
Use your breath to calm your stress. I was speaking to a retired firefighter recently. He spoke of the tragedies he’s faced in the line of duty, of lives lost of his friends and fellow firefighters. He spoke of the trauma classes he was required to attend and how they taught him the importance of deep breathing to reduce stress. Having never taken a yoga class in his life, he was sharing the power of breathing with me, someone who knows this first hand.
The evidence is clear: taking deep breaths triggers your relaxation response. It’s the foundation of yoga because of its proven effectiveness at reducing stress. Try it now. Close your eyes. Take 5 deep breaths. Open your eyes. Check your stress. Less?
Acknowledge your fears. Yoga teaches us to look at our fears and see how they affect us in the context of the postures. Fear can express itself in many ways: insecurity, anger and anxiety, among others. For many who have been directly affected by this tragedy as well as all of us as residents of Boston, we may have new fears around things like being in public spaces, being alone or passing by reminders of the event. Don’t stuff these feelings deep inside. Look for ways to get them out. Talking, exercising and seeing a professional for help all become important tools to helping us work through this fear.
Be outside. Yoga practice is a moving meditation, while the practice of meditation itself is done in stillness. But you can find moments of stillness and peace anywhere. Many people who have a hard time sitting in stillness or can’t even imagine going to a yoga class can remember moments of peace while on the beach or on a run. Take a few moments each day to be outside. Walk, run or just take a break to go get lunch. Appreciate the sun, wind and fresh air. Chances are, you’ll feel clearer when are done.
Move your body. The impact of painful experiences can be felt in the body and exhibited as tight muscles, fluttering heartbeat, anxiety and stomach upset. The best way to release some of these tensions is to move your body. Yoga, running, walking or going to the gym can all be great ideas for moving and releasing some of these symptoms.
Be around others. In the days after the bombing, people went in droves to local sporting events. The Bruins, Red Sox and Celtics games were well attended and people sang, cried and cheered on the home teams. Boston has demonstrated its true colors throughout this tragedy and the neighborly spirit that was shown by spectators to help others is testament to the power of the community. The word “yoga” means “union” and through this, we have seen this theme reinforced. Being with others, even when you feel sad, is one way to start to shift your feelings to a new place.
Look for the good; learn from the bad. The 24-hour news cycle makes it hard to stay positive, although some of the coverage has been about stories of amazing selfless service. If you’re already feeling vulnerable, you may feel overwhelmed by all the negative information and it can feed fears about your safety. As you watch the news, take what can be gleaned from it that may help in moving forward differently. Look for the stories of positivity and grace amidst unspeakable horrors and use these stories to give you faith in the inherent goodness of people.
Turn off the television and step away from the computer. It’s hard during this time of 24 hours news to stay steady. We know from yoga that setting our eyes at one point is a great way to focus our energy and it helps to reduce stress because we’re not multi-tasking. We also know that the things we put our focus on will draw all our energy to that one thing. So, instead of focusing all your energy on the negative news, turn it off, go for a walk or do any of the above things that will get you moving.
Connect to faith. Connect to whatever faith you practice. Even if you’ve stepped away from it for a while, go back. Faith is the belief in something that your mind may not be able to completely accept or understand. In times like these, we may be struggling to believe and have faith in many things: the goodness of people, that times will get better, that we will be able to live with less fear. All these things require a belief in something our minds can’t accept but we move forward regardless.
Living in Boston for over 20 years, I have grown to love this city deeply. The wounds inflicted upon us collectively on April 15, 2013 will not heal in the near term, but they will heal. Healing a city starts with each one of us, doing what we can to heal individually. Take the time you need, feel what you feel, without judgment, and together we will move forward. The bonds that have developed as a result of this event will continue to grow and our city will emerge triumphantly as a stronger and more vibrant community.