Normal Again

Normal Again

“Things I’ll Do Once I Feel Normal Again”

This is the theme I started journaling on last week, *|FNAME|*, when I noticed that my daily entries were a little more doom-and-gloom than I felt comfortable with. I was going on week 9 or 10 of a too-long affair with the pitta dosha, which had been keeping me up at night (not in a good way), and scorching my days with variations on the theme of inflammation. As my body battled back-to-back viruses and infections, it seemed as though I’d never be “normal” again—that my life, once full of mobility and creativity, would be permanently confined to the couch. With little to share in my daily writing practice besides how much I’d been sleeping, I realized I needed to use the power of my mind—which ironically had gotten me into this situation—to shift my energy toward healing, rather than continuing to feed the suffering. 

The things that came to mind first were what you might expect one would desire after a long infirmity: taking a leisurely walk in the park, enjoying a latte with all the caffeine, spending time with friends without worrying if I’d literally fall asleep in the middle of the conversation. These were the simple pleasures of my “normal” life—the life I longed to return to. But as I kept adding to the list each morning, a kind of assignment to align my energy for the day in a positive direction, I realized that a lot of what I used to do wasn’t making the cut anymore. Namely, the more intense aspects of my life pre-illness, which I believed gave me energy and strength, were no longer as appealing. I started to wonder if I even knew what “feeling normal again” meant.

***

It doesn’t feel coincidental that this question, this energy, is arising in me at this time of year. The mid-point between winter and spring can bring up all the feels: fatigue, lethargy, nostalgia, restlessness, anticipation. On some days we long for the excitement of the holidays that have passed, or the bright summer days we know are ahead; on other days we wonder if time is passing at all, Groundhog Day-style, or where our bodies end and the couch begins. In Ayurvedic terms, we can explain that tension by acknowledging the transition between vata dosha and kapha dosha in our environment. Earlier in the season, vata’s lightness and spaciousness whisked us through fall and early winter, allowing for feelings of both energy and depletion. As we enjoyed heavier seasonal foods, including treats and feasts, we filled in that space with nourishment and connection for body, mind, and spirit. 

But we might be at a tipping point of nourishment about now and looking for opportunities to lighten up. We crack open widows even when it’s 30 degrees, and turn our face to the illuminated sky as it stays bright into the 5 and 6 o’clock hours. This is the energy that balances kapha, but takes a bit more umph to revv up. It’s still more cold than not, more dark than not, and we might not have enough inner spark to make good on those stirrings of spring that are making their way to the surface. Without enough light to see into the future, it’s only logical to cling to the past.

***

Whether it’s nature or personal circumstances (like mine), or a bit of both, that opens your eyes to the change that’s been brewing during the quiet winter months, it’s here, and it’s ready to make moves. The fact is, none of us is going to ever feel “normal again” on the other side of right now—even if our health has stayed stable all season (and lucky you if so!). Our bodies are always remodeling themselves, our opinions and beliefs always changing, nature always subtly transforming until BAM the flowers are here and I’m sweating inside my puffy coat.

No matter how attuned we are to those micro changes, it’s usually at pivot points of our lives where we feel that shift more predominately. Our four seasons are such points, but they also say that the body is totally regenerated–new cells, new fluids, new prana—every seven years, and I’m coming up on such a birthday. So maybe what I’m undergoing is a natural, though dramatic, inner and outer makeover. Maybe what seems like an acute situation—my body’s inflammatory response to emotional and physical stress—has been accumulating for much longer than I thought, and a new self, like spring, is simply making a dramatic entrance.

***

There are infinite ways to explore and conceptualize this dynamic nature of our universe in the microcosm of our bodies, but my favorite way is spending time in the pelvis. This area of body epitomizes the dance between vata and kapha we might feel at present: the heavy, dense, protective bones of the pelvis (we can also include the legs/whole lower body in this discussion) surround the constant flow of energy and substances in this vital center. From waste products to babies, from feelings of desire to feelings of distress, so much processing takes place in the pelvis.

It’s also the home of a deep, powerful intelligence we often forget about in our mind-centric culture. The gut’s enteric nervous system is actually the origin point of 80% of our nervous system activity, sending information from the body to brain (bottom-up processing). From a structural standpoint, we also find the extraordinary psoas nestled deep inside the bowl of the pelvis. The psoas is responsible for most of our foundational movements between torso and legs—sitting, standing, walking, running. It’s also the first muscle to move in response to stress, sensed from bottom-up or top-down. You want a contracted psoas if you have to fight, flee, or freeze; but many of our bodies are in this state without any serious threats around—whether because of prolonged sitting, general inactivity, or chronic low-level stress keeping us on the edge of our seats. All. Day. Long. 

Facing a future without any sure or known elements is the perfect recipe for a tense psoas. Hence our longing for being “normal again”—for what we know, for the familiar, for routine. If we look at how this biological response, it makes total sense to cling and grip when we sense danger (aka stress). Way back in time, the future likely included death if we weren’t on guard—compared to the past, when we were alive. Who wouldn’t do everything you could to hold onto a past that meant life?!?

But holding onto the past—or anything, really—in non-life-or-death situations goes against nature in pretty much every way. In fact, those life-or-death grippings were only meant to last for a few minutes—out in nature, that’s how long it takes to either escape danger or be eaten. Unnecessary tension from stress prevents the free movement of vata, while layering on inertia to kapha, which together dampens pitta (the dosha of heat and transformation that “balances” both vata and kapha). Desiring “normal” perpetuates a cycle of suffering that’s worse than the suffering of change and unknowns. It’s the same as being stuck in February and refusing to open the curtains, preventing us from seeing that the light is, indeed, still here—and building.

In yoga practice, there’s an over-emphasis on “opening the hips” for the purposes of flexibility (and achieving showy asanas) and emotional release. The watery nature of the pelvic area indeed makes it a seat of emotions, but dramatic stretching of these soft tissues, which are so tightly held in so many bodies, usually does more harm than good. Like a sudden illness or injury, or a drastic shift in weather, big swings are as jarring as they are exciting. While I wish I had woken up one day totally recovered from my illnesses, if I did I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the stages of recovery that I needed to go through to actually heal from the original stressors. There’s no shortage of quick fixes and instant gratification in our world that would satisfy the part of us that longs for normal; but as that mindset infiltrates our universe, we’re finding that our bodies, minds, and planet are suffering as a result. 

My approach to “opening the hips,” therefore, takes a much more gradual, yin-yang approach. Between strengthening, stretching, slow-flowing, and softening, the pelvis becomes a place where we can practice being in a state of movement and stability, releasing and receiving, normal and unknown at the same time. There, we can experience Patanjali’s definition of yoga as “being seated in one’s true Self.” We can find ease in the place where we all began, even while allowing that place to be the fertile ground from which our new self blooms. 

***

After a lot of recent couch time, I’m personally very excited for this month’s hip-focused practices. Not only for the feel-good sensations of releasing tightness and tension and regaining strength in my body, but for making more room for my dynamic spirit to land in my body and feel at home there. To make a new list that shifts my attention away from what I miss about what was to what I look forward to about what is, and what will be. 

February has been labeled as the month of love and romance—which has everything to do with the hips. But what if it was also a month of non-attachment to anything but the present moment, a time where we could practice falling in love with who we are now, and now, and now . . . ?


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