Ujjayi: Part I

Even when we feel not so much.

I’ve had a post churning in my noggin for the past few weeks, and I finally have a free evening. Just to help you visualize the current scene, my scruffy and slightly smelly dog is passed out at the foot of the bed, more than likely to come curl up at the head after I fall asleep, “My Way” by Fetty Wap is playing in the background, and I’ve finally turned off this loud window unit my landlord viewed as an acceptable alternative to fixing our air conditioner.

So, in both of my current athletic endeavors, riding and yoga I find a lot of parallels. (Let me be clear, I have been to one, maybe two yoga classes in the past six months, but I do listen to a weekly yoga podcast and practice my ujjayi breathing sometimes so it counts) Both activities specifically encourage and can be made more successful if you have a skillful body awareness. In my mind this means you’re aware of where you sit on the horse, perhaps where your lower leg is while focusing on rounding your horse off the outside rein. You’re very present with how your movements affect your horse’s balance and in yoga you are grounded and the awareness helps you become very present. (Because I have taken two classes in six months, my yogi dialect is a bit off.)

The internet so clearly defines body awareness as:

Body awareness is the internal understanding of where the body is in space.

Let’s just shift from this discussion to tie it in later, to a little thing called anxiety.  Probably about two years ago I  began getting extremely nauseous and anxious before the jumping phases at horse shows.  My hands start sweating and ache; I get sick in my stomach; it’s really bad. If I don’t address it before I get on my horse and to the warm-up, disaster ensues. It’s bizarre, because I can be walking to get a coke at a concession stand approximately 1 to 2 hours before my round, and it hits.

So what does this have to do with body awareness? Actually, I’ve come to combat this miserable anxiety with my own form of “mind-awareness.”  I would like to coin a better phrase, but it has yet to come to me.

Two weeks ago, the normal nausea and anxiety had hit as I tacked and dressed for cross-country. It is so frustrating because I love competing, and it’s almost a miserable cloud that fumbles through this enjoyable part of my life.  So, I got on and began the quarter-mile hack to the warm-up area. jump

As I’m mentally preparing and going over the course, I go through the following mental check-list and conversation to combat this anxiety.  Am I scared I’m going to get hurt? No. Am I scared of falling off? No. Am I scared of messing up my horse’s record? No, she’s not on the market. Ok. So all I have to do is give my horse the best ride she needs. If she has an issue at a fence, that’s ok I can react to give her confidence. Ok, so all I need to do is give the horse confidence.  This round isn’t about myself, it’s about this horse having an educational round.

All the while, I’m practicing my ujjayi breathing which takes your focus to your breath while taking in more oxygen through deeper breaths.

Half-way to warm-up. Anxiety disappears.  My hands relax, and I can swallow without fear of lunch coming up.  

I can’t stop this anxiety and nauseum from appearing at shows.  At least not yet.  But, if I just focus on what’s going on around me and what I am doing.  I can subdue it.

As I was driving home from the competition, I was thinking about how I can take this practice into every-day type situations.  Can it subdue worry, my temper, jealousy, or sadness? I think so.  A few intense situations pop through my mind in which I just let my emotions carry me really far from reality, and I missed out on enjoying things because of my emotions.

Frye tackled the cross-country course! Photo by JBishop Photography

When I dealt with depression, now almost two years ago, when I was finally prescribed Zoloft by my physician just a few weeks later I remember feeling so much stronger because I could take a situation and really process, is this something that deserves concern or is it trivial to the big picture.

Now, while I’m not on any prescription, I can have that same control and decide whether situations deserve some concern or may be bypassed.  I think this blog needs two parts. This first part is just to describe my experience and how you can control your thoughts and reactions.  In the second part, I want to share some of the other ways I can control my emotions and reactions to decipher what deserves attention, and what is a fleeting worry not deserving a second of time.


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