How to stay steady when life gets stormy

Being human is messy and complicated. There's no avoiding it.

Just recently, I was on my way out the door to teach yoga at Kripalu. I was so happy that Kai had sweetly fallen asleep for his afternoon nap, and excited for my Friday evening out of the house.

Between being at home a lot, caring for my son, and working from home, even a trip to the grocery store feels like a mini vacation.

As I stepped into my rain boots, my phone chimed with a new text message.

My heart sank as I read it.

“Say a prayer for Aura. Robbie’s rushing her to the ER.” My mom went on to say that my eight-month-old niece was experiencing severe stomach issues, and her doctor had advised that she be seen immediately.

In a split second, I went from feeling excited and joyful to feeling terrified and helpless.

I took a few deep breaths, and watched what was arising within me.

I observed the fear, dread, tightness in my stomach and shoulders, helplessness, vulnerability, and concern for my niece, brother, and sister-in-law. I watched my need to show up strongly for the students I was about to lead in yoga practice, the doubts that I'd be able to do so, the urge to get on the highway and drive straight to Pennsylvania to support my family, my angst around the total uncertainty and the chaos and conflict that swirled within me.

I stayed present with the conflicting thoughts and feelings, without trying to stop or change them.

I simply made space for them, while part of me remained separate from them. These were the facts: Aura was sick and going to the hospital, and I needed to get to Kripalu to teach yoga. I would know more after my class and, until then, I would have to live the uncertainty.

I arrived at Kripalu, and focused on teaching my class. When worries surfaced, I acknowledged them and allowed them to stay with me for as long as they needed. I sent some healing thoughts to my family, breathed deeply, and directed my awareness back to the moment: the students before me, the sensations of my own body and breath, and my connection with the ground beneath me.  

As soon as class was over, I checked my phone for updates.

Aura was okay. The doctors had ruled out any serious concerns. I both experienced and watched a huge wave of relief wash over me.

Like the weather, life can go from blue skies to torrential downpour in a second, and you can't control it.

We've all had those moments, when life is flowing along smoothly and we’re suddenly blindsided by trauma or tragedy. Thankfully, the situation with Aura turned out to be a blip on the radar, but it still stirred up tremendous turmoil and uncertainty for me.

Yoga teaches that, although you can’t control your inner weather, you can choose how to be with it.

I knew, when I got that text message from my mom, that I had to use the tool that has become my savior in times like this, one that’s central to the teachings of both Kripalu Yoga and Pranakriya Yoga. We call it “the Witness.”

The Witness is the part of yourself that simply observes your inner experience as it unfoldswithout judging it, reacting to it, or needing to change it.

It’s a part of you that’s fully present, yet removed just enough to watch calmly. The witness observes thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, inner dialogue—everything and anything that arises within you.

My Witness allowed me to contain the enormity of my thoughts and feelings, without being consumed by them.

It allowed me to stay grounded and connected to the facts of the moment. Without the Witness, my mind would have gotten attached to stories of what might happen, or the strong emotions might have taken over and compromised my ability to function as I needed to right then.

Shutting down or going numb might protect us from the pain of the moment, but it cuts us off from parts of ourselves that are real and true and need to be integrated in order for us to be whole.

The more you witness, the better you become at witnessing.

The Witness is a muscle that strengthens as you use it. Every time you watch without judging, you strengthen your ability to be present with strong emotions and intense experiences.

This leads to more calmness, freedom, and peace.

When you’re witnessing, you no longer become your feelings, so your feelings no longer own you. You’re free from their grasp. Even in the midst of feeling an emotion, you're able to see that this emotion will pass. Sadness, anger, joy, and fear move through you, but they are not the essence of you.

As my teacher, Yoganand, puts it, your witness, or your true self, is like the sky. The weather changes from moment to moment, but the sky never changes.

The more you practice the Witness, the more you can identify with the sky rather than the weather, and the more calmness and clarity you feel.

I can't say enough about how powerful this tool is, and how profoundly it has helped me to heal, grow, forgive, enliven, and live a more full and peaceful life. And it is accessible to all of us.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

I believe we grow best with the support of community, so please take a moment to share a comment below.

Is the Witness new to you or something you already work with in your life? 

Thank you so much for reading. I'm honored to explore with you!

With love and gratitude,

Allison Signature 2
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Comments (121)
Post by Blaze on 28 Apr, 2014

Yo, that’s what’s up truhyfullt.

Post by Tamber on 28 Apr, 2014

Full of salient points. Don’t stop beleiving or writing!

Post by Juan Santagata on 28 Apr, 2014

It’s laborious to seek out knowledgeable folks on this topic, however you sound like you already know what you’re talking about! Thanks