Finding peace amidst the chaos

When I first started my work with special-needs children an average day for me was typically divided into two extremes. The first half of the day I work with extremely active pre-school children whose diagnoses place them within the autism spectrum. Their autism often makes it difficult for them to communicate their needs and self-regulate; hence the activeness. The kids are full of love and they teach me a valuable lesson about life on a daily basis but there are many times when any sense of calmness shoots out the window and chaos quickly seeps in through the doorway. Whether we’re bouncing on therapeutic medicinal balls, exploring musical instruments, doing sensory activities like sand table play or painting, there is never a dull moment in the classroom.

In the beginning I remember taking my thirty minute lunch break (which often felt like thirty seconds); I would go into the parking lot, sit in my car in complete silence and take a deep breath. I felt as if I had been running around on my toes all day (which was normally the case) and hadn’t had a moment to regroup from the hustle and bustle of the classroom environment.

I began to realize this was one of the most challenging jobs I’ve had. The kids can be demanding and the job requires an abundance of energy and patience. There were many nights I found myself in bed at 8:00 p.m. I haven’t had that early of a bedtime for myself since I was eight!

Then begins the second part to my day; the part of my day where yoga comes in. Throughout the day I’d find myself daydreaming of walking into the warm, dim lighted studio room where I could lie on my mat for a few minutes before class started and enjoy the tranquility and complete silence. This was my ‘me’ time. There was no way that any human under the age of five would be calling for my attention for at least the next 90 minutes.

In hindsight, as much as I was separating my work from my practice it was only when I began to witness these two very different parts of my world merge together that I truly began to realize the power of my practice.

As time went on I saw how the benefits I received through my dedication to yoga were expanding outside the studio walls and into my daily life. I recall one day in particular when I saw a crystal clear glimpse of my practice at work. It had been a particularly long day. It was nearing the end of the day and I hadn’t yet taken my lunch break. My stomach was growling and I could feel my blood sugar drop like a bowling ball hitting the cement floor. The kids were especially energetic on this day and it was growing increasingly difficult for me to focus and be present.

I remember sitting with a crying child in my lap doing my best to calm and comfort her while two other children next to me began to fight over a toy they both just had to have. Another boy was running around the classroom blatantly ignoring our ‘walking feet’ rule. It was loud, it was hectic, but I somehow managed to bring to light my inner peace. I took a deep breath: long inhale, long exhale. In this moment I was able to completely ground myself and tap into a source of energy that I was unaware existed. It may have been buried deep that day but it was there nonetheless! This allowed me to handle the chaos and bring everyone back to an even keel while maintaining my mental sanity.

This tapping into my inner self for energy, motivation, and patience is something I experience in every single yoga class. In so many of the postures, and especially on the days my body feels weak and tired, I have this quick second where I want to come out of the pose early and rest in savasana. Don’t get me wrong-there are definitely days when I succumb to this impulse and give in. But the days when I don’t, the days when I push through that feeling and give it my 100% effort I truly see the benefits it brings to me mentally and physically and the positive energy it creates for the rest of class and beyond. It’s a sense of empowerment unique to the art of yoga.

There are some nights I fantasize staying in savasana for the full 90 minutes. I feel mentally and physically exhausted, so much so my ego tells me I need a break and don’t need to practice. But I stay. I know those 90 minutes in a 104 degree room is exactly what I need to reenergize and revitalize my physical and mental states. So as difficult as it may be at times I ignore that little voice in my head that urges me to go straight home lie on my couch and eat chocolate.

I can’t solely take all the credit for this will power. My inspiring yoga teachers tell me time and time again to set my intention and the rest will follow. It’s the day you feel there is absolutely no way you can scrape up any motivation to practice that you need it the most, and those are the days your practice will serve you in the best possible way.

Now, anytime I find myself pondering if I should skip class I try not to think about it too much and I jump in my car and go. I’ve found myself surprised at my capabilities on the worst of days. After a challenging day on the job going to yoga helps me to create balance in my life. It takes effort, but it’s ultimately up to us as individuals to tap into our own potentials. For me that means choosing my mat over my couch- no matter how difficult that choice may be.

“By releasing your attachments to obsolete thoughts, feelings, and assumptions, you gain the energy and clarity to make shifts to live your best, find your passion, and deal with the transition of designing, embracing and choosing your life’s path.”

Marisa Religa is a practicing yogi from Niagara Falls, New York. She has been practicing hot yoga for the past six years. She will complete her teacher training in Madrid, Spain with evolation this upcoming spring. She also works with special-needs children and writes as a freelance journalist.