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Cultivating Peace in Transitory Times

Dear Yoga Student,

We are fast approaching the summer holidays. Already, I’ve noticed people are taking time out to rest, be with their families and explore the natural world beyond their backyard gardens and parks. And with the the English football team’s run of success there is an atmosphere of celebration in the air. Freedom and joy are important values to me, so this feels like a lovely time. 

However, underneath all the holiday making and merrymaking runs a current of uncertainty and unease. There are many shifts in the political sphere, uncertainty due to covid-19 and Brexit, evidence of censorship and cover ups emerging and a general sense of a continued concentration of power in the hands of the few.

Life is essentially a balance of such opposing energies. For how can we realise what joy is if we have no idea of sorrow? How can we know peace if we have no sense of how it feels to be ill at ease? We are living in a time of transition and transformation. In addition, we’re exposed to a huge amount of complex, contradictory information from many sources. It can feel unsettling to say the least! As such, it’s good to learn how find a sense of balance and peace, even within challenging times. 

The way our nervous system works is something like this. Our brain does a risk assessment and then activates the appropriate part of the nervous system so we are best prepared to deal with external events. For example, our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) gears up us to battle when we witness injustice (which might be personal, local, national or global). On the other hand, our ventral vagus nerve (contented social engagement) is activated when we bask in the good vibes of happy times with our friends and family. 

However, our brain and nervous system is much more sensitive to threat than ease. Being vigilant helps us to stay alive after all. This means we are much more likely to dwell upon problems and dangers, rather than having gratitude for our good fortune. To compound this problem, our sympathetic nervous system is not really that helpful in solving modern problems (which usually require collaboration, social engagement and good communication skills). Fighting or running away does not generally help us deal with work, relationship or political problems, except in the most extreme circumstances.  

Yoga is a practice that helps us to self-regulate. This means we can become the driver of our own nervous system, so that we can respond to life’s difficulties in a more useful way. By generating inner peace through the breath and mindful movement practices, we also create the conditions for taking on the difficult problems that face us in the world today. We can meet life’s challenges with a clear head, a warm heart and our feet planted firmly on the earth, holding our ground.

 

With love and good wishes, 

Julia

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