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Friday, March 14, 2014

Practice

The hardest part of yoga, perhaps, is the thing that's always tripped me up when starting something new: practice. As a noun, I love the practice of yoga. I love attending a class, trying new postures, meditating, reading and writing about yogic philosophy and anatomy.

“Practice,” as a verb, however, reminds me that I have to be bad at it for a while. Nevermind that judging my asanas or breath or meditation or choices as “bad” is a very non-yoga thing to do. I want to be good at it. To feel successful. Like I can actually deepen my stretches, like my meditation really is peacefully transcendent.

I've never liked to practice. When I was a kid and my mom signed my brother and I up for piano lessons, I hated practicing. My kind older neighbor would remark on occasion how lovely it was to hear us playing when the windows were open. I recoiled from her perfectly gracious words. Someone hearing me mess up?!

Beyond the perfectionism, I think it also has to do with earnestness. Despite my goofball ways, I was a pretty serious kid. One of the worst things to me was, and still is, to be laughed at when I'm being dead-serious. Even when people aren't laughing out of meanness at all, I feel patronized. It takes me tons of self-talk to remember that others are coming from a kindly perspective. That when they're amused, they're really seeing me through the lens of their own experience. (The good ones, at least. Sometimes people really are dumb and mean.)

I've adjusted for this by developing a goofy sense of humor. By constantly cracking jokes, and certainly making fun of myself whenever I can. I do like making people laugh, but the side effect is that when I make fun of myself, other people don't get to. If I'm busy calling my outfit loud and crazy, other people don't have the chance to ask why I'm wearing weird clothes. If I put on a voice to mock mushy-sentimentality, then I don't run the risk of being misunderstood or made fun for my own romantic notions. It's a nice shield, really. It prevents me from being subject to the dismissals of “That's dumb!” or “Why are you doing that?” when sharing the things I truly care about.

It's hard for me to practice yoga in our tiny apartment when my partner is around. He respects my practice, and is glad for anything that makes me happy and fulfilled. But he doesn't share my love for it the same way, so it's hard for me to share it. In the same sense, it's a big deal for me to share my absolute favorite books, or movies, or shows, or music. Those works that truly transport me to another space. When other people say it's crappy music, or even just point out, “Oh, what a nice plot element,” it seems less like an opinion or observation, and more of a comment on the very center of myself. What I'm lost in the splendor of Oz, and they start pointing out the lovely brocade of the curtain? Or worse, if they laugh at the thought I could be taken in by such a display.


So to practice yoga, is for me, a practice in failure. Or, rather, a practice in letting go of the outcome and finding my breath and my peace in the attempt. Letting go of others' experience and fully embracing my own truth. I am allowed to try. To earnestly love yoga and care about my yoga practice. I may reach farther than I did yesterday. I may not. My mat doesn't give a damn. After all, it's only practice.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

This Polish proverb I came across on Pinterest, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” became my mantra over the last few weeks of January. To me, it meant: I did not create this situation, therefore I will not take on the negativity derived from it, nor spend my energy trying to put out its fires. Immersed in a negative environment, it was essential to me that I hold strong boundaries to keep the negativity from settling inside me. Not only is it extraordinarily easy to take on others' negative energy, it's also easy to fall into the pattern of constantly expending time and effort to mitigate the damage.

During yoga training this past weekend, we explored this idea further through our discussion of breath work, or pranayama. Through our breath, our energy, even our heartbeats, we're connected to the life around us. If that sounds a little hippy-trippy for you, think about it this way: when a barista is rude while serving your coffee, do you think of sharp comebacks or reprimands for their service? Why not accept that this person may be having a bad day, and continue to be kind and courteous in response? In every situation, we retain control over our own behavior. If my first thought is to snap back in an “I'll show her” kind of way, I only feed the negativity. Whereas if I simply maintain my courtesy or even go so far as to wish the barista a better day, I've cut off the spread of negativity, and added some light into the situation.

Energy waves are palpable. The human heart creates a magnetic field with every beat that can be detected beyond the boundaries of the body. The significance of this fact increases with the knowledge that heart rhythms change according to one's emotional state. Negative people can drag down everyone around them. Likewise, however, upbeat people can lift everyone's mood. Though it's easy to fall in with someone else's negative energy, the fact remains that you have control over your own breath and your own body. And thank goodness that's true. No matter the situation- work, family holidays, household accounting, whatever- our breath is our own. Returning to your own breath to calm your body has a myriad of positive outcomes. Your mind feels more calm because it's actually firing different neurons when stressed. Your body can let go of its physiological fight or flight status, and operate normally: digesting well, eliminating toxins, sending oxygen to all cells. It's certainly not always an easy choice (which is why it's called a “practice”), but we can choose not to ride other people's negative energy waves.

For me, not riding the negative wave meant releasing the need to “win” the battle. I took the steps I needed to in an attempt to follow my own conscience and guard my energy. In the end, I didn't prove to the other party I was right. I didn't change anybody's mind to see my way. Someone else made the final call, and it wasn't the way I wanted it to go. But you know what? I don't need to win. I don't need to fight. I don't need to fan the flame of drama. Being right is not as important as being calm, centered, and sane. I didn't get my way, but I still have my health, my sanity, my breath. What's even better is letting go of the situation entirely. I can recount the situation to my loved ones, whom I'd like to keep informed, but it feels so much better to stop talking about it, to never revisit the subject and move on to happier topics. When you relive situations or recount experiences, your body reacts as though you're actually experiencing the same thing again. Try this: envision very clearly picking up a piece of lemon candy, unwrapping it, then placing the candy in your mouth. Feel the tartness spread over your tongue. Now tell me: did your lips actually pucker? Similarly, to continue recounting that awful thing your boss/mom/friend/acquaintance said to you is to relive the experience, sending all the same stress hormones into your body, putting yourself on edge over and over again. Instead, let go and refuse to dragged along.


It's not your circus, so stop letting the monkeys invade your life.