Finding My Happy Place

Tri-Color Beech Tree – photograph by Willow Arlen

Sometimes, we need to slow down and take a moment to breathe. Take a hike, go to the beach, sprawl in the grass… and just give ourselves permission to remember the things that make us happy.

A year ago, I would’ve told you running was my happy place. Or, one of them… right up there with the warm spot in the blankets on cold winter mornings, weekend road trips, standing in front of the oven about to remove a perfectly baked confection, eating said confection… I digress.

Running was like a meditation for me. I wasn’t competitive, or interested in distance or speed – it just felt good. I’d drag myself up, put on my shoes, and make myself get out the door. A mile or two later, I was a different person. I was happy, relaxed, satisfied, and ready for the day. Most days, at least… some days I was just lazy, but let’s not talk about that.

For a while now, I’ve been struggling with a bit of runner’s knee. As the name suggests, it’s a common ailment among runners and athletes. The term “runner’s knee” can actually refer to any of a few different issues, but I think I’ve finally figured out what my problem is… a tight ITB band (iliotibial band, which runs from the hip down to the tibia, below the knee). The band is meant to pull the patella out to the side and help stabilize it, but if it’s tight can cause friction and strain. Fortunately for me, there’s a simple stretch to help cure this, so with a bit of luck I’ll be back in my running shoes soon.

Us – photograph by Ariana Haynes (thanks, Mom!)

In the meantime, however, I’ve been finding alternative ways to unwind, relax, and clear my mind. I need that happy place, that calm collected feeling, now more than ever. Swimming has been nice, and taking long evening walks with The Fiancé… but neither of these has really challenged me the way running did, or given me the same satisfaction. Then I remembered something I hadn’t done in a very long time… something that would not only challenge me physically and give me the energy I was craving, but would also help to strengthen and heal my knee.

Bow Pose, image source: iStock

I used to do Bikram Yoga on a regular basis, and honestly I don’t remember why I stopped… something to do with being busy, and jobless… but for the past couple years, I’ve only gone a handful of times.

If you aren’t familiar with Bikram (or Hatha) Yoga, I’m not talking about a guided meditation, or a stretching class. Bikram is a full-body workout, done in 105 degree heat and humidity. Basically, a sauna. The heated room helps to warm your muscles so they’re flexible, and less prone to injury. It also makes you sweat like a horse, detoxing your whole body.

Unlike some yoga which focuses on twisting the body into incomprehensible pretzels, Bikram is designed to flex the body’s natural range of motion, stretching and strengthening the muscles and bringing the mind into balance. At the same time, many of the poses create a compression or extension of specific joints or organs, slowing circulation to that area. The pose is held, and held, and then released – allowing a flood of fresh blood and oxygen through, a surge of energy opening up the passageways and clearing away blockages. This method is proven to do all kinds of good for the body, such as regulate cholesterol, increase circulation, improve joint health, clear the lymphatics, and help to reduce things like arthritis and thyroid problems. No matter what condition your body is in, there are benefits to be had from this type of yoga.

The whole class is 90 minutes of intense mental and physical focus, at the end of which you leave feeling like an entirely new human being. The moment I step outside that room I feel a burst of energy. Light, comfortable, awake… the after-glow is what it’s all about. Sometimes you have to push yourself through hell to come out the other side, but no matter how hard any part of it  may seem, it’s always worth it at the end. Even the day after, there’s a pleasant calmness in my bones.

Morning Dew – photograph by Willow Arlen

As I said, it’s been a long while since I’ve practiced. I went for the first time in ages the other day, unsure if I would be participating with the class or having to sit down every five minutes. After each completed pose, I felt a rush of pride that I’d survived – yes! If I can do the last one, surely I can do the next – and I did. Again and again, and after each one I felt stronger and more confident. I left the class grinning from the inside out.

I got in my car and the radio came on, playing one of my favorite bands… but I turned it off. All I wanted was silence. Peace. My mind was settled and I had a tingling awareness of my whole body that can only be described as joy.

Driving home, it was one of those beautiful clear nights when you think I just want to drive forever… somewhere, anywhere. One of those thoughts that gives you a little flutter in your stomach, that ‘what if I did something spontaneous?’ feeling.  Do you ever get that?

So I did. I went home, grabbed The Fiancé, and drove away into the sunset. I didn’t tell him where we were going – I couldn’t have told him had I tried. I headed straight out of town, away from all the city lights, until it was dark and open fields stretched out on either side of us. I pulled over, shut off the engine, and The Fiancé looked at me as if to say, “is this the part where you kill me and hide the body?”… really, as if I’d be so obvious.

I got out of the car and climbed onto the hood. He followed suite. The moon was so bright there were hardly any stars to gaze at, but we gazed anyway, quietly pointing out constellations and talking.

Coming out of yoga, I found that calm collectedness I had been looking for. How easy life was after pushing myself through something difficult, how open my lungs were to fresh air, how clear my vision to the world around me. Laying there in the cool night air, with the love of my life beside me… I found my happy place.

Sunset over the Ocean – photograph by Willow Arlen

What’s your happy place like, and how do you find it? Tell me in the comments!

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16 Responses to Finding My Happy Place

  1. Foodie Stuntman August 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Happy place for me is teaching my daughter new stuff, whether it be academic stuff or experiencing new things like going to a zoo.

  2. Maggie August 30, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    This is beautifully written. My happy place too for many years has been running. Now that I am 6.5 months pregnant, I haven’t run in awhile and I feel its absence in my life. I’ve replaced that happy place with brisk walks, rich tasty desserts, half-caf cups of steaming coffee, and my absolute favorite happy place in the world…being with my daughter and husband. This is a great post to get people thinking about all those positive sides of life!

    • Willow August 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Thank you! And those are some great happy places – lazy weekend coffee runs with The Fiance are one of my favorites. :)

  3. Kat August 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    I hope the stretches help your knee and you’re back in those running shoes!

    I did yoga for several years, but then I stopped. One day I tried running, which was was pathetic at first (in school I was always the last kid to finish), but I felt great. I started running somewhat regularly and I felt happier, calmer, more relaxed (and totally more fit, even if in my head). So running is my happy place.

    • Willow August 31, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

      Thanks – I hope so, too.

      And I love how you say it was pathetic, but if felt great… feeling good is the important part!

  4. August 30, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    what a beautiful post! finding time to breathe and relax is so important for overall wellbeing! thats for sharing! beautiful photos too!

  5. Abby August 30, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    What a wonderful post! Happiness for me is being outside, fresh air always clears my mind…I love sitting in the grass with my puppy and watching him play, or hiking, sitting on the beach, or just outside reading. I do love yoga + running, but I don’t always get to those everyday.

    • Willow August 31, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

      Thanks! I’m out-doorsy too… I get antsy if I’m stuck in the house too long!

  6. leaf (the indolent cook) August 31, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    Such a lovely, peaceful post. My happy place is an extended time away from work, free from deadlines and obligations. Then – being either all relaxed or domestic, or in search of adventures in a foreign land. Wonderful.

    • Willow August 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

      Ah, yes – time away from obligations! I’m enjoying a little of that myself, this weekend. *Kicks feet up*

  7. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes August 31, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Oh wow Willow this is such a beautiful post – I absolutey adore the picture your Mom took of the two of you.

    My happy place is finding just a little quietness and silence in everyday – no talking, no distractions – just taking the moment, any moment everyday to just listen and pay attention to the natural beauty around me. In these moments I love paying attention to the little details that surround us but are often overlooked – the smell of a fresh cut lawn, the gentle breeze coming off the lake at sunset or the way my pup is so obliviously happy on our nightime walks.

    • Willow August 31, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

      Thanks! And I’m the same way – sometimes those little moments are just perfect. :)

  8. Courtney J September 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    This is such a wonderful post Willow. Made me really smile. I am so happy you found somewhere you can feel blissful, peaceful and calm. To be honest, I’ve been looking for a thing/a place to help me feel some peace and calm. My sister recommended yoga. Your post has convinced me to give it a shot. :) I think I will start with a beginner class and then attempt the hot yoga classes. Sounds like a wonderful physical and mental work out. Love the thought of driving off into the sun set and laying outside staring at the stars. I may have to do that this weekend :)

    • Willow September 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      Yay! You should definitely try yoga… I did a few different kinds before I found one that I liked, so you might need to hunt around for the right one. And stargazing = so much wonderful. That, or getting up extra early to watch the sunrise (we have a window that opens onto the roof, so we can climb up there like a secret hide-out). Anything to get away from the world and find your own little moment in time. :)

  9. shannon @ a periodic table September 12, 2012 at 2:48 am #

    willow, i love this post so much! what a beautiful photo of you and The Fiance. :) i’ve always wanted to try Bikram yoga – just never have (like you, something about being busy, not making the time, etc). however, i’ve been doing vinyasa flow yoga since college – so, forever now. I love it, and it centers me completely. I remember in college being in such a grouchy mood going to my yoga class (it was on saturday mornings) but had the same experience you had after; i felt lighter somehow, and more connected to myself, and peaceful. Sometimes i got a little teary (i’m weird like that) over it. I still practice yoga to this day (although i should spend more time on it) and it still has the same effect. Obviously my number one happy is my little 2-year old; she’s really what my world centers around. Being with her is, even when it’s tough, my number one happy place.

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