Last Wednesday ushered in a chill that penetrated two layers of socks and pants — while wearing them indoors. Yep, on the coldest day and night of the season, our heater decided to stop working.
Halfway through the 19-degree day, it occurred to me that a 61 degree temperature inside was not normal, especially when the thermostat was set for 69. I could hear the heater’s continuous blow of air, but didn’t look at the problem — instead, adapted to the situation without question.
It wasn’t until about 3 p.m., when I was sufficiently freezing and becoming restless, resentful and angry, that I opened up the door to the heater and realized something was wrong.
No matter how much we train to be mindful, all bets are off when our basic needs aren’t met. We resort to the same impatient, reactive behaviors we attempt to release on our yoga mats.
Our instincts are first to adapt, not change.
Your basic needs
So adapt we do. We put on hats and coats. Or we stop reaching out for help. Our yoga mats and meditation cushions get lonely.
The solution is often right in front of us, but we don’t open the door and peek inside until we’re mired in misery.
Why do we adapt so easily to the things that cause suffering?
For starters, a good chunk of our everyday lives are habitual, some say up to 50 percent (Making Habits, Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean). What you choose to eat, wear, when you sleep and how you think about yourself — all of these seemingly outside our control, automated by past choices and thought patterns.
So even though emergency heater services can help within hours, we don’t call until we realize we have a problem. We think, Well, it’s usually cold in here, I’ll just put on a sweater.
And then the night temperature drops to 7 degrees and your pipes might freeze, and suddenly inconvenience turns into crisis.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
We get down on ourselves for slipping into our old patterns, when really we’re neglecting something essential: sleep, food, warmth, acceptance, love.
Are you not your best self because your basic needs aren’t being met?
No matter what’s bothering you, taking the time to ask “Why do I feel this way?” — and asking it until you can’t answer anymore — can help you deep dive into the root cause well before you need to call for help.
When my whole house was colder than my refrigerator, I couldn’t focus on anything for too long. I tried comparing myself to others: At least I have a house. I tried realizing it was impermanent: It will be fixed soon. I tried gratitude: Thank you for it not being worse.
Comparing yourself to others and feeling gratitude that you “have it better” does not address the fact that your “better” is still awful.
It’s the same for our own suffering, no matter the cause. Relatively, it might not seem worth getting upset about. Yet, you do. You get upset because your suffering is big to you.
Perspective on your problems is a good thing, but it can turn bad when you dismiss your suffering simply because “It could be worse.” That sort of thing doesn’t lead to healing. It just makes you ashamed to be hurting in the first place.
You, like everyone else, need your basic needs met before you can even begin to be your best self. Use your yoga mat as time to peek inside and ask “Why?” long before you’re forced.
Try it: Knees-to-Chest Pose, Apanasana Variation
Sometimes you just want to curl up into a little ball and hope that when you unfurl the world will look different. And it can, if first you focus on what goes on in your inner world. I tossed Apanasana into the practice this week because it’s great for warming up on chilly days (literally and figuratively).
- Lie on your back and bring your knees in toward your chest. Wrap your forearms over the knees and clasp your hands.
- Inhale and lengthen through the crown of your head and tailbone to elongate your spine.
- Exhale and lift from the shoulders and back, curling your forehead toward your knees. If you experience any pain or have a neck injury, please keep your head on the mat.
- Gently squeeze your legs in, breathing smoothly for three to six deep breaths. Exhale and release your head and arms to the mat, planting your feet on the ground.
- To come out, roll onto the side of your choice and press into your arms to lift yourself up to seated.