This past week I’ve been in bed battling the flu, one of the worst of the seasonal viral bugs floating around, if you ask me. Completely unable to really do anything except lay down, sleep, and watch movies like someone was paying me to, I essentially missed out on almost five days of my life. No work, no rehearsals, even communicating via email seemed to be a struggle for my foggy brain. As it is prime flu season right now, I’m sure that many in our community are in the same boat.
I’ve never been someone who is “good” at being sick. Aside from feeling horrible physically, my mental/emotional state goes haywire. I’ve been this way since childhood. As I kid, I loved, loved, loved school (I know… weird), and nothing was worse in my mind than having to stay home because I was sick. As I got older, having to skip dance class due to illness was basically a “tragedy” in my young, overly-dramatic brain. I would cry and fight with my poor mother until my eventual physical fatigue would force me back to bed. As an adult, while I have quelled the tantrums I threw as a child, physical illness does still bring on a “woe is me” attitude. My worst mental hang-ups come out at these times. Perhaps it’s a feeling of being out of control, but my normally calm, rational self turns into a bit of an anxiety-ridden basket case with a case of the grumps.
While I was on the phone with my mother this week, who continues to patiently listen to me moan and groan when I’m under the weather, I discussed my general annoyance about not being able to get things done because I was sick. (I might mention that I’ve already suffered a few other illness disruptions this winter, along with the great life-disrupter known as Jury Duty). I was feeling frustrated because my yoga practice hasn’t been as consistent as I’d like, and I haven’t really been able to get to class as much as I should. In short, my body hasn’t been feeling strong, and my immune system just doesn’t seem to be the mighty fortress I want it to be, despite my continual efforts to eat healthy, exercise, and get enough rest.
My mother just said, “You know, Katherine, this is nothing new for you. You have always been a little low, even as a kid, during the winter months. You just need to listen to your body and rest and know that spring will come.”
That advice, while certainly comforting, was not new to me, but I’ve been mulling about it all week, and in particular, thinking about it in terms of our mind-body connection. As yoga practitioners we are trained to listen to our bodies, to find our edge and push past it or back away as necessary. There are days when we know that forearm stand is absolutely the right step for us, and then there are days when legs up the wall is most definitely the right choice. We can tell when a half or full bind is right for us. When our minds and bodies are in healthy coordination, we can tell when our thoughts, frustrations, and fears are taking over and we need to focus on the breath and the present moment.
But what about when our bodies aren’t healthy? How can we help our minds to be strong when our bodies aren’t?
In the heart of winter (and flu season), many people, though certainly not all, find themselves under the weather due to illness, experience seasonal depression from lack of sunlight, or just have the general feeling of being down. The common preventative advice is to get enough rest, take vitamin C, and continue to exercise and eat well. However, I’m finding that those tactics are not quite enough for me stave off the winter blues.
I don’t mean to stay that I should somehow become immune to viral illness and that my body should be a superhuman machine that can function in all conditions. What I mean is that when our bodies are feeling sub-prime due to our environments, perhaps we need to take equal, if not more, preventative measures for our winter minds as we do our winter bodies. When we are feeling “low” physically, at any time of year, how can our mental faculties respond with care and compassion instead of frustration and anxiety?
I think this might be different for everyone. For me, I think I’ll be spending some extra time in meditation (and maybe choosing to read a good book before bed instead of numbing my mind to sleep with a healthy dose of Netflix?). For others, perhaps planning some fun, new adventures is the right step. Why wait until spring to check out that museum/concert/amazing only-in-New-York attraction? Bundle up, get outside, and try a new winter sport! Invite the newness of spring into your life even while it’s snowing. If that’s not quite your pace, take a walk through a snowy park and then come home to some hot cocoa and be inspired by the Olympic spirit on your television.
Maybe it means simplifying your social life for a month or two and spending time in meaningful conversation with close friends and love ones, or perhaps it’s time to book that day at the spa you’ve always wanted. Maybe this is the time to really investigate those restorative postures and practices you’ve been curious about. And lastly, perhaps it’s time to remember that friend or family who lives year-round with a chronic illness and does so with admirable grace and strength. Perspective can go a long way.
Our community has a lot in store the coming months, and this winter appears to be one for the record books (polar vortexes?!) so I have my doubts that it will be an early spring. With big transitions for our teachers, trainees, and collaborators alike, there are bound to be lots of ups and downs, problems to solve, and frustrations to deal with. Taking care of your body is a given, but how will you take care of your mind?
- Katherine Moore