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I find myself continually driven to understand and support the human experience. Personally, I developed this curiosity when overcoming adversity and seeing how experiences that led to me feel isolated were actually opportunities to connect and rebuild. As humans, we celebrate successes, honor milestones, cultivate relationships, nurture wounds, grieve losses, face loneliness, ride the rollercoaster of hope, manage fear, and feel love. There is a range of emotions that arises from these experience that can sometimes be intense and overwhelming and can impact us in profound ways. And what triggers emotions can be different for each of us. While a trigger of anxiety may leave me feeling helpless, there is most likely someone else close by, possibly even right next to me, whose trigger was completely different yet who experiences the same emotion. It’s ironic that a feeling that can be so isolating can be so common.

 

Professionally, my curiosity guided me to becoming a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor where I began to support others in developing their mental wellness and assist them in understanding their needs within the contextual factors that shape their world. When a person is only identified by their behaviors and symptoms, we miss a larger picture of understanding that person within these dimensions, or areas of intersectionality, that contribute to who they are. In addition to considering a person’s DNA, temperament and pre-dispositions (“nature”), it is important to consider a person’s experiences as well (“nurture”). But we don’t just look at a person’s childhood to understand how the person has become who s/he is today. Categories such as race, gender, ethnicity, education, sexuality, ability, age, migration status, class, language and culture, can assist in understanding how these interwoven factors impact all of us. While these factors identify our differences, they can also help to soften our judgment of others and help us to acknowledge the aspects of the human experience that are universal and can bond us together. We don’t have to have the same events happen in each of our lives in order to understand or support each other.

 

When we judge a person based on a select behavior, observation or interaction, we miss the opportunity to understand that person. I may be distracted in a yoga class by a student tapping her hand repeatedly on the mat next to me. My mind may initially go to a place of superficial judgment (“she’s so annoying and isn’t considering others around her”) that only agitates me more and creates a separation between myself and my fellow yogini. Did you know that restlessness can be related to ADHD? What if I told you that it’s also a possible symptom of anxiety? Did you know it could be indicative of trauma? Or what if someone is just having a really bad day and is preoccupied with an unhelpful thought or feeling? Maybe the student is musically inclined and is loving the class playlist! Had you considered any of those factors before judging an entire person based on one moment? It is an incredibly challenging process to stop an initial judgment and consider the contextual factors of a person. When we judge, we isolate. When we stop to understand, we have the opportunity to become inclusive, caring and kind with ourselves and with others.

 

Yoga helped me to bridge my personal and professional experiences and find deeper meaning both on and off the mat. I learned that there is a difference between knowing and doing. An instructor can simply direct students to let go of unhelpful feelings, think positive thoughts, or breathe deeply, but has anyone acknowledged that this is a lofty task?!?! Sometimes there are days where we perseverate, hold onto stressful situations, and engage in negative self-talk. Sometimes, for a range of physical, mental or emotional reasons, it is hard to take a deep breath. This has the potential to stifle a practice and be discouraging for a yogi. Sometimes having a “just do it” attitude can be empowering and gives perspective when excuses and avoidable barriers get in the way of progress. On the other hand, sometimes taking time to recognize and acknowledge the barriers can assist in overcoming these challenges.

 

I’d like to inspire the community by bringing to light the experiences that have the tendency to isolate with the opportunity to connect. What if it’s possible to feel a little less lonely knowing that others are experiencing the same range of human experiences. And what if the added awareness could be a small addition to our growth as individuals and as a community in a meaningful way.

 

Several years ago, I received valuable feedback at a time when I wasn’t performing to the expectations of my job or really myself. The feedback was: you make the time for what’s important to you. I was forced to confront the common excuse of not having time and the idea that there is a difference between what is urgent and what is important. It’s easy to mindlessly fall into the pattern of addressing what is urgent and in your face. There are the reactive “fires” we put out that leave our body and mind in a heightened state of arousal. We tend to give ourselves the minimum amount of recovery time before jumping in to fight the next fire or flee from the next overwhelming obstacle, or freeze in the face of danger. This is when the emotional part of our brain is overworked and the rational thought part of our brain goes into hibernation. What that leaves us with is the decreased ability to think rationally and problem solve effectively. So how does yoga fit in to all of this? When we can develop our physiological awareness, we can train our body to self-soothe and de-escalate when triggered. In doing so, we calm the overactive emotional brain and put it in balance with the cognitive part of our brain in order to achieve an equilibrium and more clearly see what’s important to us.

 

There are postures that can support this de-escalation of arousal when activated. Conversely, there are postures to activate when our responses include unnecessary and unhelpful disconnecting and slowing. We can train our body using breath and asanas to have an impact on our brain which affects our overall physical health, mental wellness and behavioral functioning.

 

Join me on June 3rd from 7-9pm to learn more about mindfulness and the mind-body connection. Come with any range of a subtle curiosity to a full open heart to explore how these concepts are impacting you, and how you can use them both on and off your mat.

 

About Alison White:

 

Alison White has her 200 hour RYT training. She is also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and has been working in the field of behavioral health since 2005. Alison finds opportunities to combine physical health with mental wellness both as a yoga instructor and mental health therapist. She was exposed to yoga from a very early age by her grandmother, Alison’s original yoga guru.

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