A teacher and friend of mine recently said something about relaxation that really resonated with me. She was teaching a lunchtime express yoga class, one that was fast and athletic and packed full of asana that covered every type of posture you could think of. When it came time for Savasana, she looked up and noticed that we had exactly one minute before the class ended. “A short Savasana, about one minute!” she declared as we blissfully collapsed to our mats in sweaty heaps, exhaling a big, collective breath together. “Your task is to drop as quickly into Savasana as possible to make the most of this one minute, so give yourself the next two breaths and try to get fully relaxed.”
I inhaled, I exhaled, and relaxed my belly, chest, arms and legs. I inhaled, I exhaled, and visualized my spine, hips, and back of my head melting into my mat. She went on. “It’s interesting. In birthing classes and preparing for labor, women are taught to bring themselves to a state of calm very quickly, especially as labor progresses and there’s less time to rest between contractions. In that way, they can get the most out of short periods of time. That’s what we’re doing here.”
One of the most valuable skills you need is the ability to calm yourself down. We’ve got all kinds of stuff invented for this very thing: big glasses of wine and bubble baths, reality TV, and there’s at least one app for that. These things serve a purpose but do nothing to help refine your own capacities, nor do they help us in finding ourselves.
Just as babies learn to self soothe when needs aren’t immediately met, consciously choosing to find your inner sanctuary will not only help you cope with difficulty, but will also help you find new reserves of courage and substance. It means staying present to the challenges but taking refuge in a mental space, a space where you feel protected and safe and supported.
When I had nightmares as a child, my mom would rub my back and tell me to imagine that I was on the beach in Kauai, our favorite vacation spot. I pretended to feel the warmth on my skin and hear the crash of waves and hear the happiness of my family around me. This became a self-soothing technique I’d use for years to come, whenever that creep of anxiety began to choke me, from algebra tests to cross-country races.
Your inner sanctuary (unlike your liquor or tub or iPhone) is available to soothe you and calm you and bring you into connection with presence at any moment, in any situation, with any person and in any place.
So how do you establish that inner sanctuary? Like most things, you start with the breath. Let each breath take you deeper within yourself, to your beach. Each breath becomes more and more calming, soothing, connecting. Stay present. Find the breath within the breath. Listen. Be still. Over time, this practice gets easier and you’re able to drop into sanctuary on only one or two breaths. Then you tap into that wellspring of wisdom and strength that was there all along.
What about you? What do you do to find your inner sanctuary?