I’m going to begin this piece with a story. A story about connection, and why it truly underpins all that life has to offer.
Being the animal lover that I am (I grew up with A LOT of pets), my partner and I had agreed to dog sit for a friend, whilst they finally enjoyed the opportunity to holiday abroad, post the Pandemic. We (well, I!) had been keen for a pet for quite some time, but due to various reasons we hadn’t yet been able to take that leap. So the idea of dog sitting was a no brainer!
Well up for the cuddles and companionship, it was a lovely moment to greet Rosey the Staffy at our door, who was dropped off by her human Daddy, along with a few of her favourite things and very cosy looking dog bed. We had a quick chat about all doggie related bits and bobs, and within 30 mins Daddy had to go, who was due to fly that afternoon. It didn’t take long for Rosey to come to the realisation that Dad had left, and she was with this strange women (yes, me) who she had never met before, in a home she had never seen before. Inevitably, she was anxious.
She panted with anxiety, exploring all the corners of the house, just to see if Dad was for some reason hiding in a corner. She repeatedly jumped up onto the sofa, (just positioned under the living room window which looked out to the front of the house), frozen, staring, waiting, hoping for Dad to come back. She came to me for cuddles, then back to the window. Back to me for cuddles, back to the window. This continued for almost an hour. It occurred to me during this time, that it reminded me of my time working as a Nanny. That wobbly moment where together you and said child wave goodbye to the parents leaving for work. That inevitably, for children , before they truly know (and feel connected to) you, or understand what is happening, is scary.
So, in order for Rosey to settle, she needed to feel safe. For her to feel safe, we needed to establish trusting connection. Ultimately, she was dysregulated, and I instinctively needed to be “there” to help her nervous system to relax during what felt like a very unsettling time for her. So I stayed close, calm, and present, offering an abundance of unconditional cuddles and gentle soothing strokes. Until she seemed to be ok with me, secure enough that I would “do” for the time being whilst she figured out what the hell was going on! Within a couple of hours, she was all wagging tails, enjoying receiving treats and being centre of attention.
The experience was a strong reminder that, life is not about eliminating or even avoiding the bumps and twists and turns that come our way. In fact, its impossible to do that. What it important though, is HOW we navigate through those bumps and twists and turns. To go through hardship, is of course incredibly tough, and anyone, (dogs included!) will have some personal account of this. But to go through hardship entirely alone, isolated, disconnected from any other. That is a different story. See, we, humans, and all mammals on this planet, are wired for connection. Yes, we like space, freedom, alone time (myself included here!), but ultimately, we are social creatures, we are WIRED for connection. Why? Safety and survival. It’s why we build families. Its why we bond with partners. Its why we make friends. It’s why we create community. For Rosey’s nervous system, if she were totally on her own, in an unfamiliar place, without her owners, or any other: that would mean BIG alarm bells. Her survival would be threatened. But, with a safe other (me), with a calm, regulated, steady (and secretly excited!) nervous system, her nervous system detected mine, she began to trust: “this is ok. I am safe. I have this strange lady who I think is going to be nice to me!”. Once her nervous system had decided I was safe, it was smooth sailing. She was happy, she was settled. We had co-regulated.
What this beautifully highlights, is that connection doesn’t at all make hardship go away, or stop distressing events happening, but it for sure makes it somewhat more bearable. It provides a buffer for coping, some sense of stability in what would otherwise be an unstable situation to navigate. Ultimately, it helps lower our internal distress levels.
So why is this relevant to Yoga, to children?
This pattern of what played out between Rosey and I is a fundamental process in mammalian bonding. It’s the same dynamic that very often plays out between parent and child, and even partner to partner. It is the subtle and subconscious communication that occurs between nervous systems. Not in our brains, but in our bodies. It’s the science of vulnerability, the science of attachment , the science of social engagement..
Our nervous systems begin to develop before birth, and continue to be shaped through the entirety of our lives. It learns to have a ‘mind of its own’, always subtly detecting for signals of safety, not just in the environment, but in others too (especially in caregivers, ESPECIALLY in a crisis). In times of distress, our nervous systems are ultimately LOOKING for connection, even if we’re not aware of it. It’s why we instinctively offer a hug to the tearful expression of another. That is literally our nervous system saying “I see you, I hear you, I am here , you are not alone”.
The beauty of intuitive connection and co-regulation can be seen on so many levels across the whole of humanity. It’s that moment when a distressed child surrenders into the arms of their safe parent, and gently they come back to themselves. It’s when families come together for each other with open arms during a turbulent shake up. It’s someone holding your hand whilst you draw upon internal bravery as you step forward and face a fear. It’s communities pulling together when upheaval occurs, stepping out onto their doorsteps to join forces and clap together to show solidarity and support to the NHS during the pandemic. What this ALL is, is Unity. And what Unity is, is Yoga.
(Note to readers: The direct translation of the Sanskrit word “Yoga” is Unity).
Gently (and respectfully) putting the movement practice of Yoga to one side, and shining a spotlight on the philosophical foundations that have underpin the practice for thousands of years. It is clear that what is has been talking about this whole time, is connection. Connection to self, to the cosmic whole (universe), to breath, to body, to spirit, to the nonduality of the wider world (oneness with others/ nature) and of course connection BETWEEN all of these things. So I invite you , after reading this piece, to set an intention to allow yourself to gently begin spotting the beautiful moments of connection in your life. Whether it be with others, nature, yourself , yoga or any form of activity. Allow it, and embrace it, and don’t be scared of it. For it is the true essence to life, the beauty of human experience.