For as long as I can remember I have only known a world of busy, a life of structure and a routine dominated of schedules.
Free time has always felt like a fairly foreign concept, one in which I often felt uncomfortable with and quite frankly, deemed “a waste.” I always like to feel like I am fully “taking advantage” of every moment—because, you know, life’s too short to be wasteful with it.
Life’s too short for free time. Be productive. Be successful. Occupy your space, fill your time and stay busy and moving. Busy often equates to worthy in the same way stressful often signifies some sort of twisted success. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves.
Flashback to three months ago and many months prior: me, myself and I operating on 15-hour days, no sleep and cyclical patterns of thinking. I was busying my schedule to the brim, offering myself relatively little time to even catch my own breath. Ongoing bursts of insomnia led me into chaotic frenzies dominated by paralyzing anxiety. I felt like a zombie to my own existence. I felt myself going through the motions of my own mind and my own experiences. I wasn’t doing good work (at least not to my standards and certainly not doing what I knew I was capable of doing).
I felt energetically drained, emotionally depleted and physically tense. But let’s not forget, life’s too short to not be busy and “productive.”
Day in and day out my mornings turned to afternoons and those afternoons turned to evenings. I had a routine but I felt miserable in it. I would jump out of bed in a hurry, immediately rushing into my day, barely look myself in the mirror and acting like getting to work as early as possible was synonymous to my own self worth. I felt this need to constantly be attached to my email and at the office as quickly as I could get myself there. I told myself time and time again that I needed to push myself to full capacity to feel like my day was “worth it.” Lies. Torturous, unhealthy lies.
Then there was yoga—the practice that acted and continues to serve as the refuge from my own mind after a long day of “worthiness” at work. Ironically enough, my mat was the only place I was feeling worthy, or for that matter, feeling anything at all.
Simply put, the practice has always served as a means to getting me in my body and out of my mind and teaching is the one place I feel I am living in alignment with my divine truth, with a strong sense of purpose more beautiful than any work report ever could offer me. I started to realize that my pain was coming from being so far out of alignment in my life and that my thoughts, words and actions were not working together on the same path. I soon realized that living out of alignment was the most counterproductive behavior I could have—and life is too short for that.
After months of not sleeping, no menstrual cycles and overall mental and emotional paralysis I broke down like a pile of bricks in one of those intense life-size Jenga tournaments.
I remember one very vivid night (or morning I should say)– I walked out of my room at 4:11 a.m. and looked out at the water, watching the tears wash down my cheekbones in what felt like a moment of hopeful desperation. I am not a prayer, but I did have an “Eat, Pray, Love” moment that night, where I did pray, asking for guidance, but really, asking for the strength to do what I knew intuitively I needed to do. And in the midst of this surrender, I crashed right into the very thing screaming and begging for my attention: my heart.
It was time to start listening and trusting; to put myself and my needs first and to develop new ways of experiencing self worth and self compassion. It was time to begin living a life in alignment with my values, passions and purpose. I felt like I had finally picked up the phone call I had been avoiding and silencing for months; hell, maybe even years.
Yes, I did quit my job. Yes, it was equally as invigorating as it was scary.
Yes, I subleased my apartment for a month and had an amazing time visiting family and friends in Cleveland and Buffalo, crashing my best friend’s honeymoon in Rome, getting lost in the rain in Paris and teaching yoga in Sorrento. Yes, I made friends in Tuscany and found myself on a magical farm with donkeys, doves and dessert.
Yes, my travels generated creative thought and expression and yes, I felt inspired and empowered as a result of “taking the leap” into the vast waters and fiery heat of the unknown.
Did I know what life would be like when I returned? Did I know what I had gotten myself into? Did I have a plan? No, not so much. In fact, the aftermath of all of the excitement and “bravery” has not been particularly easy or seamless. In fact, I am more uncomfortable than I have ever been in my entire life. I am terrified and overwhelmed by the abundant amount of open space I have created as a result of ditching everything I have come to know as typical and normal.
It’s clear this is the work of a lifetime—to learn how to simply be—and to live in the present moment with compassion and curiosity in the center of the tornado of the emptiness and the unknown.
What a novel concept—to practice simply being in a culture of doing is unlike anything I have ever experienced. This is the yoga practice itself: becoming the observer to our own existence, watching our reactions and responses and breathing in, out, around and through the moments of discomfort and challenge.
I find it to be no coincidence that my yoga practice has begun to change. I find myself gravitating toward senior teachers who are truly masters of their craft. I find myself craving intelligent sequences that make sense anatomically and grounded fluidity that allows the body, mind and heart to align. I care more about the quality of my breath than I ever have before and suddenly, just moving my body into a pile of sweat, doesn’t suffice.
I am seeking a different kind of balance in my practice as a direct result of seeking an entirely new concept of balance in my life. Then it hits me: yoga has evolved far beyond the physical practice on the mat. How I practice yoga is how I practice life itself; the two are blissfully intertwined and clearly aligned.
Here I am, doing the best I can to navigate the world around me and to align my actions with my dreams and desires. I fall out of alignment every day; I veer off course and lose my balance more than I maintain it. Yet this is the core of the practice itself: to bring myself back to center when I lose it; to live in the space between the effort and the ease, the strength and the grace, the busy and the open, the moving and the still. It’s about finding the spectrum of colors amidst the black and the white; honoring the past, dreaming boldly of the future and knowing at the same time that the only time stamp of truth lies in the middle moment—the present.
This is a life-long practice of being and becoming; of finding our own alignment, our own relationship to center.
Today, in my eyes, life is not as short as it is long. Time moves quickly and we rarely take a second to reflect upon how we’re moving along with it.
Words of wisdom to readers and a reminder to myself: Appreciate the hours in the day, even the hours that are empty. Embrace the emptiness as opportunity for discovery. Make space for inspiration to reveal itself. Get out of your own damn way. And when you fall out of alignment (because we all do), bring yourself back to basics. Roll up your mat (literally or metaphorically), find your breath and begin your practice again and again and again.
Author: Lauren Cohen
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Used with permission from Cecille Photography