by Donavan Wilson
My first instinct is to always fight, hustle and Hulk smash my way through challenges in my life. This approach comes so naturally and is very appealing due to our action hero driven culture. There is nothing like dropping the hammer, because it offers instant gratification. Aggression offers so many blessings because it is so immediate, putting me, the aggressor, just a sledgehammer away from a brighter day.
For example, during my first semester in graduate school I pushed myself beyond my former physical limits. Suddenly, while taking my last test for the midterms, I developed chest pains. For some reason, I did not believe an ambulance would arrive to my location on campus in time to help me. After walking away from my desk to regain composure, I told Professor Elliott my situation. Concerned, he immediately offered to call the hospital, but I brashly refused to accept his assistance.
After I reassured him that would not be necessary, I walked out of the classroom and drove myself to the Baylor Family Health Center for treatment. After the hospital staff monitored my vital signs, they sent me home. They advised me to stay away from the classroom and stop working for a week.
In the past, I wanted the strength to fight on forever so I could build a temple for tomorrow. In retrospect, I realize the recklessness of my actions. Back then, I was all gas and no breaks. I really enjoyed smashing the sole of my foot onto the accelerator, since I thought was indestructible.
But now, I understand my mortality and limitations. As I enter the autumn season of my life, I realize that I no longer have energy that I did in my teens and twenties.
Some challenges require different sets of tools in order to master them, just as sailors use many strategies to adapt to changing winds and rough waters. The most important resource and asset is the mind. In order to thrive, I have to cultivate inner strength and stillness in my mind in order to smoothly make my way.
The yoga practice provides repeated chances to cultivate the patience and forbearance I need to face life’s trials and tribulations. Just finding adequate amounts of time every day, be it fifteen minutes or an hour and a half, entails a great deal of self-control. To develop this kind of quietness in my mind never just happens the way it did for Jesus when he used the simple words “Peace. Be still,” to instantaneously calm a deadly storm at sea (Mark 4:39).
The practice, a life-long work, requires grace, patience and perseverance, the same way stormy seas do. The asanas (yoga postures) compel us into different positions, just like life. Each individual practice session offers lessons in resilience, stamina, mental endurance and balance.
With a constant emphasis on deep breathing, yoga promotes keeping the mind calm, over and above the chaos of daily routines. Also, the use of breathing techniques on a regular basis clears out stress, which can appear in an instant out of nowhere.
It is unrealistic to expect my practice and study of yoga to provide an instantaneous, foolproof approach to all of my problems. For me, it provides an opportunity to learn how use my mind and body flexibly and with the dexterity I need to face life peacefully, without relying on force, muscle or might.
For the inexperienced, opening their minds to the benefits of yoga can make a huge difference in the probability of their staying happy, healthy and peaceful. For some practitioners, yoga can provide an escape from their ugly reality that waits for them when they leave the mat. And escaping is alright, because every moment of peace, strength and serenity, away from and immune to our own personal insanity, will add up to a lifetime of well spent, well lived memories.
Donavan Wilson is a writer based in Washington, D.C.