It’s no secret I have been laying low for a few months. As I mentioned in a Facebook group recently, “I’ve had a lot of life happening.” An unprecedented emotional stress level made it tough to overcome a stomach bug and that progressed into a flare up of my ulcerative colitis.
Luckily for me, drugs and some non-traditional physical therapy, somato-emotional release, and energy work seem to be really helping. And thanks to the prednisone, I have a mild euphoria going on lately that gives me just enough of a boost to get crap done.
Amidst everything my mind and body are going through, I recently returned to yoga. It’s one of those activities I always enjoy, but unless my soul is starved for it, I don’t necessarily keep it up. I can, and do, practice at home, but I get so much more from the message and intention of practice when I attend class at my gym.
So when a new friend invited me to join her last week at her studio, I was excited. Toward the end of the sweaty session, the instructor talked us through the different progressions of a headstand. It’s one of those things I never took the time to break down, let alone attempt on my own. It sounds stupid to say I never had the courage to try, but that’s really what it boils down to. A simple demonstration from the instructor, though, and I was eager to give it a go.
We didn’t have much time to work on it, but after one failed attempt, I was able to move through the progressions and much to my surprise (and joy!), I was doing a headstand! And WAY easier than anticipated! I surprised myself and immediately wanted to try again, but we were on to the next pose after a brief rest.
There I was, smiling in a room full of stinky, sweaty strangers.
That goofy smile immediately brought me back to this ski season. It was an epic winter full of fantastic snow here in the Rockies and for the first time in a long while, I was able to take advantage. It started off a bit rusty, seeing as the last time I had been on a board was 5 years ago (and even that was only 1 day for the entire season), but I gained confidence with each run and a renewed love of being out on the mountain. Zero muscle soreness helped progress things along (thanks, weightlifting), and sharing physical activity has always brought my husband and I closer together.
On the last day of our final trip, instead of hitting the road, my husband and I decided to take advantage of all the fresh powder that fell overnight; he would go up first while I entertained our son, then we would tag team. When we met up, he told me I had to go to the bowls. The snow was amazing and if I was ok doing it alone, I had to go. (Yes, yes, not the best safety practice to ride alone, I know.)
I made my way to the bowls via a second gondola, short ride down, bit it hard on an easy run, then another lift or two. A short hike up, and I got up my courage to drop in. It had been years since I had ridden in that much powder…and I never forgot how much it sucks to get stuck. But after a few “I’m-mostly-out-of-control” turns, I found myself smiling as I rode down to the trees, sailing through each turn. I might have let out a “wahoo” or two. If you’ve never experienced snow like this, it’s equal parts floating, gliding, and exhilaration. It’s an addictive feeling, and despite my awkwardness, I found myself smiling.
Totally alone, smiling.
When I realized I had a full-on, open mouth, ear-to-ear smile, I found a good place to stop and look around. Visibility wasn’t great, but I wanted to take it all in. Although it would have been wonderful to share this experience, this happiness, with my husband or a friend, I wanted to appreciate the fact I was able to have joy totally solo.
As I stood there, I tried to remember the last time I felt that way, just by myself.
My buzz was briefly overshadowed by the fact I couldn’t immediately recall a single instance. Running and competing were big bearers of that joy in years past…sometimes because I loved it while I was doing it, but mostly because of the sense of accomplishment in hitting a new PR, the sense of community within a club, or maybe simply not giving up in a 30mph headwind.
This little reflection has taught me the root of my contentment is through mental challenge. In both my yoga and snowboarding examples, the challenge was actually more mental than physical. Truth be told, the anticipation of failure/slipping/getting stuck was far worse than having to stand back up in a yoga class full of strangers or digging out of 2 feet of powder. Sure, I was happy to have achieved an unannounced challenge, but my joy came from discovering the challenge was far easier than I ever expected.
My clients know I like to throw in unexpected challenges from time to time. Not for giggles, but for that immediate “fix” you get from actually surprising yourself. It makes you want to try again, and try harder. ‘If it was that easy when I wasn’t even trying, what can I actually do if I apply my newfound skills?’ You gotta get that fix again! Surprising yourself makes you want to try something new, something more challenging. It recharges your batteries and reminds yourself why you work toward the goals you strive for, and reminds you those goals are getting closer. It reminds you simple things bring joy and that same joy should be a part of your life.
But, like anything worthwhile, joy is an exercise in practice, and patience. Just remember the more comfortable you are, the less you’re challenging yourself.
I’m not going to dive into the “Why is joy so elusive to me?” Or rather, “Why do I elude joy?” rabbit hole…But it is also something to reflect on.
For now, I’m going to focus on cultivating a little more joy for myself and those around me…and dreaming of next ski season while I practice my headstand.
What was your last happy surprise that brought you pure joy?