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Choose Peace: Overcoming overwhelm to find your centre

Kino MacGregor shares her journey through yoga, and how she learnt to overcome high drama, intense emotions and troubled thoughts with a calm mind and vigilant attitude.

PEACE IS ALWAYS A CHOICE

No matter where you are in life, nor what’s happening around you, you always have the power to choose your response to any given situation. It can be difficult to find peace, but if you apply the tool of mindfulness in action you will find it. Difficult yoga poses prepare your mind for similar moments in life. By learning to choose a peaceful path in your practice you develop the same skill to choose a peaceful path in every situation.

While you may look at me and think I’ve always been peaceful and equanimous, there was a period of my life when I was filled with anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideation. From the outside it ‘looked’ like everything was perfect, but on the inside I was falling apart. During this dark period I stopped the one thing that I needed most — meditation. It was as though I couldn’t face the deep anxiety and irresolution that lay waiting for me in the inner space of my body. So I exited my body and tried desperately to find an escape. But there was none. I could never really evade the thoughts, feelings and experiences stored in my body. I would have to learn how to make peace with them if I was going to find a way back to the light.

The first step to equanimity

The journey back home started with the recommitment to sit in meditation for as little as five minutes a day. Far from the depths of one-hour sittings that I had previously known, I just needed to start with something simple. Five minutes was all I could take. The first thing I found was that the story I told about reality was not a nice one.

Every experience is coloured by the story the mind tells about it. If you see the world as a violent fluctuation between dramatic highs and devastating lows, you will be blown up and down like a leaf in a storm. The more you draw your attention to the severity of the twists and turns of life, the more these intense emotional fluctuations only seem to get worse. What you put your attention on quite often determines what you will experience. In your yoga practice you face tightness, weakness, and impossibility. Yoga asks you to remain equanimous and calm in the face of the struggles of the body. The real yoga is the inner state of a calm mind that is balanced and steady no matter what it faces.

Turbulent times can either shake you to the core or make your stronger. I was shaken to the core by a series of difficulties. My Dad had a heart attack, my marriage was under stress and my body was suffering from a series of injuries. I felt caught by the weight of all. But I slowly took the lesson of yoga into the inner work of the mind. Just like some days your yoga practice will feel amazing and other days you will feel like you’re made of tin. The difficult days are actually when yoga happens. You learn not to hold on to the highs and not to fight against the lows. Yoga is a state of being, and that being-ness is characterised by peace.

Drop the drama

I needed peace and I was caught in a web of drama. Intense emotions themselves can be a sort of addiction. If drama is all you know, you can actually get attached to it. The more drama you have in your life, the more normal it seems. What started for me with a choice to sit for five minutes a day was a reminder that peace is always an option. If you can’t see the peaceful path, you don’t have to move forward. Just like if a pose hurts, you don’t have to push through it. You can choose to observe quietly and wait for the peaceful path to be revealed to you. Knowing when to act and when to sit quietly is a discipline of the mind and the spirit. This is in essence why we practice, so that you carry the seed of a deep peace that passes all understanding and in your heart. If it doesn’t give you rest, if it doesn’t give you peace, and if it doesn’t share love, then it’s probably not the best choice. Don’t rush, let it take the time it takes. Sooner or later you will find your own way to peace.

I had to learn that I am responsible for my own thoughts. We all have to watch our thoughts diligently because thoughts are the number one determination of whether or not you will be at peace or whether you get caught up in some storm. There’s a concept in Sanskrit called prapanca, which means proliferation. It’s the process by which one small thought multiplies and builds until it produces a panic-ridden disaster scenario that has you running for your life. Here’s an example: I have a pimple, pimples are bad, no one will think I’m pretty if I have pimples, if no one finds me attractive I’ll never find love, life without love is meaningless, why should I be alive, I should just die now. This is just an example, and an exaggeration, but you can see how one thought leads to another. If left unrestrained thoughts multiply and take on a momentum that create a false reality. Soon the thoughts themselves can weigh down so heavily so there’s nothing left but to feel boxed in and claustrophobic. But, no matter how intense the spiralling storm of thought seems, you always have a choice. Do not get pulled into the drama of your own mind and especially not anyone else’s. The more you feel hooked, the more desperate it makes you, the more you just have to pull back. It isn’t easy, in fact it’s the hardest thing in life to remain peaceful amidst a dramatic storm. The waves crash down all around you, the wind comes roaring in, while you choose to remain still with firm roots.

Learning to respond instead of react

Every day I wake up and renew my commitment to be vigilant in thought and action. The smallest seed of complaint can grow like a weed in the garden of the mind. Then, before you know it, all you have are weeds. Not a single one of us is beyond needing to tend to the state of our inner world. Yoga gives us the strength to sort through our thoughts and get rid of the harmful ones.

You cannot control the outcome of every situation, but you can control how you respond to it. If everything is annoying and everyone is evil, you live in fear. But if everything is fixable and everyone is basically good (but sometimes foolish), then you live in love. Cleaning out the mind is perhaps the greatest responsibility we have. You are responsible for everything you think, say and do. Taking responsibility and getting real about what’s inside can be hard, humbling and sometimes heartbreaking. There are those of us who have blocked out facing reality simply because the truth is too painful to face. But sooner or later we will be strong enough to walk into the jungle of the mind, pick up the tool of practice and start weeding. Eventually, the mind shines, like a ray of sun after a long storm, clear and free, and your spirit will be at peace.

Start now

You can start today. Assume any comfortable seated position. Sit for five minutes. Watch your breath. Practice observation without judgement (no good or bad). Train your mind to be at peace. Refrain from reactions and just be. You can change your world by changing your mind. Just like I did. The journey only begins when you are finally ready to take the first step.

About the author:

Kino MacGregor is an international yoga teacher, author of four books, producer of six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, writer, vlogger, world traveler, co-founder of Miami Life Center, co-fouder of Yoga Challenge and OmStars and co-creator of Yoga Pro Wheel. Kino’s dharma is to help people experience the limitless potential of the human spirit through the inner tradition of yoga. She is one of the few people in the world of yoga to embrace both the traditional teaching of India’s historic past and the popular contemporary social media channels. You can find her online on OmStars (www.omstars.com), teaching classes and workshops all over the world and on social media with over 2 million followers across all her channels. Learn more at www.kinoyoga.com