On World Peace Day, I wanted to take some time out and think about what the idea of peace really means to us on a day-to-day basis.
The dictionary definition of peace offers us two versions; firstly it means the freedom from disturbance or a state of tranquility; and secondly, it means a state in which war is non-existent or has ended. It is not my area of expertise to discuss the second meaning and although I wish that version was a reality for us all, sadly at the present time it is not. Instead, I'll focus on that first definition.
Freedom from disturbance - well that sounds rather lovely doesn't it? Peace and quiet, the mental space to do what we want without being annoyed or distracted by any outside interferences. How realistic is that really?
This week, I spoke to some of my yoga students about how sometimes we have to craft that space for peace and tranquility even in the most difficult of environments. When we are stressed or in the midst of a noisy and difficult environment, it is peace that we need above all else, but it often feels impossible to find. How many of you have thought you would like to meditate but can't find a quiet corner of the house to do so? How many times at work have we just needed a quiet little bubble to sit in, without the noise of the phone ringing or the chatter of our co-workers annoying us?
Well, even in the midst of all that outside distraction, it is possible to attain a degree of inner peace. The simplest way to do this is to just close your eyes and take three deep breaths...and I mean deep. Really breathe into the tummy - imagine you are inflating and deflating a balloon in your stomach - and allow the energy of that breath to infuse your whole body. With your eyes closed, you are no longer using your sight to witness the chaos around you and are immediately able to bring the focus into yourself a little more. Yes, you'll still be sat in your home, office, busy airport etc. but you are at least able to find a few seconds where you quite literally, close your eyes on what is going on around you. Of course, don't do this when driving!!
Filtering out the noise is never easy; even as an experienced meditator I still get frustrated when the doorbell rings or one of my pets makes a noise and makes me jump, but I can soon settle back into that relaxed space because I have been practising achieving that state for a long time now.
One of the most interesting things I see is, when I start a new restorative yoga or meditation session, I ask everyone to sit quietly for 5 minutes, with their eyes closed and to just breathe. The amount of people who cannot sit still and relax is astounding! These are people who have specifically come to me because they want to relax and learn to switch off but it's almost as if their brains and bodies simply won't allow it. They fidget, they cough, they half open one eye to peep at what everyone else is doing, and they all say that that part of the class is the hardest bit!
Why do we find it so hard to switch off these days? In my opinion it has an awful lot to do with the way we live our lives but also the way in which 'time saving' technology has become all consuming. We are never more than a few feet away from our smart phones and indeed, some people go into a full on panic if they forget and leave their phones at home, thinking that they will somehow miss out on something important. Seriously, how many truly important messages do we actually get everyday? This fear is in many ways unrealistic but it keeps us glued to these little hand held boxes of information. I have all the notification sounds turned off on my phone because I realised that the sound of a message appearing was actually causing my stress response to trigger! Consider how many beeps and noises we get - Facebook notifications, email, texts etc. - and think how many times our stress response kicks in on an average day...ridiculous isn't it? No wonder we all feel so fraught and easily wound up!
I do realise that meditation isn't for everyone - many people are put off by the stereotype of people sitting cross legged and 'omming' but that simply isn't the case. I know people from all walks of life, from accountants to yes, yoga teachers like myself, who meditate daily and find it helps them. It's just sitting quietly and letting external factors melt away for a few moments or minutes. You may even be doing a meditation-style practice without realising it already - taking walks in the countryside, doing adult colouring books, knitting, sewing, building things from wood, stroking your cat on the sofa - all of these can give you the same peace inducing feelings as a traditional meditation practice.
So, on World Peace Day, why not take 5 and give yourself some much need space to feel free and access tranquility.