Ever feel triggered? It’s that feeling of being hijacked by a strong emotion, such as anger, where a chain reaction of thoughts lead you into reactivity, or impulsive action. Or, when you’re deep in a state of happiness, do you ever suffer from the thought of never wanting to let it go? Perhaps sadness, desperation or obsessiveness creeps into what was a joyful moment.
Equanimity is a powerful tool for regaining inner balance and peace, during whatever high or low part of life’s rollercoaster you are experiencing. Yoga philosophy identifies root causes of human suffering, called kleshas, and are commonly based on mistakenly perceiving that our identity is whatever impermanent state, such as emotions, we’re experiencing and forgetting that life is ever-changing. It includes being constantly driven by our aversions, such as resisting and running away from what we dislike, and our attachments, such as clinging to or continuously running after what gives us pleasure. Both kleshas of aversion and attachment create a lens of dissatisfaction and restlessness. Equanimity is the ability to accept that impermanent highs and lows of life are inevitable and being able to source balance and clear perspective from within to respond to the moment with presence, not reactivity.
It’s also important to clarify what equanimity is not. Just because you accept that life happens, it doesn’t mean you have to approve of what’s happening, such as social injustices, or that you should sit back and do nothing, feel nothing. In contrast, it requires a level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness that empowers you to notice when strong emotions begin to arise and to exercise your freedom to choose to pause and not be overcome by their trance. This “space between stimulus and response,” as Viktor Frankl described, “is our power to choose our response,…(wherein) lies our growth and our freedom.” Moreover, unlike indifference or dissociation, equanimity involves recognizing and feeling the strong emotions and expanding your heart’s capacity to include the whole spectrum of human emotions. It also entails understanding any layers of emotions that may sit beneath the surface of the louder emotions. For example, underneath anger may be sadness and hurt. In so doing, you can see yourself and act in the world with nonjudgmental truthfulness and from a compassionate wise heart. It takes courage to look inside yourself honestly before acting outwardly and to act intentionally and wholeheartedly.
So how do you develop equanimity? If you are prone to reactivity, as our human brains are wired to have the “fight, flight, freeze or collapse” stress response for survival in the wild, then it takes a shift of perspective. As you understand the value of equanimity for inner and outer harmony and spiritual well being and evolution, you may feel more inspired to invest your energy in strengthening this inner muscle. Daily meditation practices are useful to learn to mindfully observe your emotions and thoughts and allow yourself to feel whatever arises without having to fight or flee from it. Specific guided meditations on dealing with difficult emotions and on befriending varying circumstances you might deem positive or negative can help. Through a well-rounded yoga practice, you can develop self-regulation techniques for soothing your mind and body out of a stress response by using physically grounding postures and movements, conscious breathwork to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and mental focus to stay present in your body even in discomfort. Introspective practices, such as journaling and sharing your personal experiences with a trustworthy witnessing presence, such as a friend or community member, can increase self-awareness and cultivate the habit of identifying emotions and self-inquiry to trust your inner wisdom. Practicing the tool of equanimity when you’re not in the heat of strong emotion can make this skill more accessible and familiar to exercise when you do encounter life’s unexpected circumstances.
Finally, equanimity is a worthwhile mindfulness skill to invest your energy in learning. Your direct experience of the inner state of balance it builds can be the most convincing reason to practice it. Its impact can extend beyond small disappointments into tragic situations and can affect not only your well being but those with whom you affect through your presence, especially in times of difficulty when a calm and collected mind is direly needed for decision-making. With an open heart, wise mind and calm body, your skillfulness in equanimity can contribute to balance, peace and harmony in the greater community.
Explore mindfulness and yoga practices for equanimity and clarity in our new online series, Daily Yoga Habit, starting on January 1, 2022 for 10-20 minutes a day.
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REviews of Root 2 Rise Yoga:
Michelle truly lives out what she teaches. She is so much more than a yoga teacher - I learned this when I went on her exquisitely curated trip that she organized to Costa Rica this past June 2018...Hopefully like me, you'll be delighted by her effervescent love of movement, nature, and all people!
Michelle clearly stands out with her beautiful and bright energy. I love how her practice and teaching encompass body, mind and spirit. She not only teaches yoga but lives and exudes it.
Michelle not only teaches 'yoga', she embodies it fully with her heart and soul...
Michelle is by far one of the best instructors I've ever had, period. Patient, clear in her explanations and demos, and so encouraging...
My first yoga class was with Michelle years ago. You can have the best (yoga pose) sequence and not teach from your heart. With Michelle, I also feel her passion when I'm in her class. I can see she loves what she does, and she inspired me to want to teach yoga, too.
I’ve had dozens of instructors over the years, but Michelle is far and away the best yoga mentor I’ve ever practiced with. She epitomizes grace during these difficult times. Michelle has saved my sanity and my back while working from home, keeping me grounded with her sharing of yogic teachings and meditation techniques. Her repertoire of physical asanas is encyclopedic, and I’ve loved learning new poses and stretching my boundaries. Jump in, all. You’ve got this!
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