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  • Writer's pictureDaphne Dixon

What We Think We Need

Early on in the pandemic, I hit a wall. It was a wall that had been building before lockdown happened, but one that solidified fully when chaos and uncertainty became the new norm, in ways we have never known before.

A few years back I had hit another wall. A bottom really… And when I realized I needed to rebuild and create a new model of how I was living, yoga was a large part of what helped in that process. Yoga not only helped me start to heal and care for my body with deep intention, it helped heal my soul.

Yoga is something I feel I need, not only to function day to day (because I am of an age where I think about that more than I used to…) but also for grounding and centering myself: my mind, my heart, and my nervous system. It helps me move through the day easier, not only physically, but also with greater clarity and focus.

But over the course of the pandemic, my routine was thrown off… My schedule is always something that is in flux, and adapting to fit the ebbs and flows of life (and my which there are, but obviously this past year has been a whole new version of that.

Different shifts in family obligations (ones I fully chose) lessened the space I had carved out for myself for this important self care. Then, the mind that likes to judge me for not being able to keep up the same routine (let alone not doing more...because I always want to do more yoga!), also creates dialogue in my head that pits these family obligations against my own needs, and desire to evolve. Enter conflict and struggle...

I was caught up in the dialogue of what I told myself I needed, and from there, set myself up for conflict.

And it’s a classic pattern, isn’t it? I have done it to varying degrees over the course of my life, but it has never resonated so much as during the pandemic, when so many were discussing how some of our “needs” were now being restricted. It forced me to take a look at what it is I really DO need, and what choices I make in order to meet those needs. I think sometimes we get used to how we get certain needs met, and have become attached to that pattern, then if/when the pattern gets disrupted (as is likely in the uncertainties of life…) it feels like something is being restricted when it likely just needs to be reframed, and to find a new pattern that works better for the current conditions.

Take my yoga, for instance… Pre-pandemic, I was going to studio classes and maintained a monthly membership so I could go as often as I wanted. I had been doing this for a year because I could no longer find the time and space to practice as I had been for the past 2 years at home due to the increased responsibilities with one of my family members. I appreciated being able to pick classes each week that worked into my schedule, and just show up and follow along…

Once the pandemic hit, I was forced to practice at home again. Not a bad thing, per se… I actually prefer home practice, but I get so caught up in my yoga sometimes, and the connection that is deepened when following an intuitive home practice, that before I know it, two or more hours has passed…lol (yes sometimes even three when including journaling and meditation). When I have 10 other things I am juggling, that is a big chunk of my day, as worthwhile as it is to me overall.

Then I started skipping more and more because of the responsibilities… Where I once used to strive for practicing 5 times a week, that ratio started flipping sometimes. I started getting angry and frustrated about it…resenting the responsibilities I signed up for because of how it was now infringing on my needs.

At this same time, I was hearing friends talking about how they “needed” to see people in person to be happy and feel connected. And even though human connection is a need for most of us (to varying degrees...), it made me think: how much do we really need to see people in person to feel connected? Is it the loss of seeing people in person that we are feeling, or is it the disruption of the pattern, and the lack of being able to see other options for how to create a new pattern that fits into the current conditions better? And is what we think we need actually what we need? And if so, how do we figure out how to honor those needs in ways that don’t create disruption and conflict in our lives as we try to meet them?

With my yoga, one of the things I have had to learn to adjust is my expectations for my practice. Doing so is actually something that is a part of what is taught in yoga: tuning in to listen to what you need right now, and understanding that our needs and capabilities change day to day, moment to moment. It is only in cultivating the deep listening that we can learn to honor those variations, and let go of expectations that set us up for sometimes pushing too far, taking on too much, or going beyond what we are meant to do that day. When we learn to honor the needs of the moment, and practice within the range of what we are capable of right then, we reduce the chance of injury or overexertion that ends up limiting us the next day, or even for days to come.

Our current culture does not favor adjusting expectations (at least when lowering them…), so it is something I am still working on… Unless you were born into money, we have all been raised to grind and hustle. We learned early on that we are judged on our ability to produce and manifest (and now are expected to post about it on social media…) “No pain, no gain” may not be said as often as it once was, but the culture is there, and everywhere we look. Artists are now expected to do it all...create, promote and manage their own careers. The mythology of bootstrapping is shown in almost every aspect of our labor market and economy: if you don’t have what you want or need, you must not be working hard enough...meaning you’re lazy (this transfers to general assumptions about health and fitness as well…). These are the programs most of us operate under, but are also programs we can override when we choose to observe how these patterns work in both large and small ways in our lives.

But getting back to the “need” part, and honoring the need I have for yoga in my life...

Part of the lessons of this past year have been for me to recognize how there are more ways than one to get those needs met. I had framed my need to look a certain follow a certain pattern and path. But when observing the conflict I was creating with that, I came to realize that I had other options I was missing out on as I focused on the conflict. The most obvious was shifting my schedule to get up earlier, so that I had time to practice before anyone else got up, and I got swept away with the days tasks… But another was to recognize that I didn’t always have to do what I consider a full practice each day, and that doing some journaling, breathwork, and a few basic stretches is fine some days too. The need is to take care of my body, mind and soul NOT be a slave to what I have been programmed to think that looks like. It is hard to separate that out sometimes, but when I do, I know it is the path that feels more aligned and intentional.

The need for human connection is a tougher one to translate this idea with, but one that I think ties in. Yes, we have missed so much this past year… I miss being able to go out for dinner or a cocktail. I miss dancing, and live music. I have missed laughing with friends, hosting parties...celebrating special occasions, as well as mourning loss. And I have missed play, touch and intimacy...or at least, on the level that I had become accustomed to it. (the pattern!)

My choice to limit and restrict those interactions was necessary, but not easy. I did what I could to find new ways to keep my connections up, and part of that was not getting stuck in only seeing the patterns of the past that I could not maintain in these current conditions.

I know some have gone through great grief and loss over the COVID restrictions, and I am not here to compare paths, or how we navigate them. How we learn to move through the world is unique, and cannot be taught or dictated by another. But I invite those who have struggled with the changes of this past year to consider how much of that was created by the patterns we become accustomed to, and to think about how our needs are not really dependent on the pattern...and that there might be different ways we can learn to get our needs met when we learn to separate the patterns or programs we are running on, and see beyond them.

There are true needs that each of us have, and then there are “needs” disguised as programs…

As I receive my 2nd vaccination soon, and feel more confident to resume some of the old patterns and programs of how we like to socialize as humans, I hope to be able to see them in a new light, and recognize how they are not the true need, even when they are something I have missed.

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