Yoga has changed a lot about how I interact with the people around me and how I react to situations. It’s very fulfilling to realize I’m not taken off balance in a moment when I might have become fearful or angry in that past. However, there are other times when I find myself to be decidedly un-yogic. Hurricane Irene gave me a week without lights, air-conditioning, internet access or hot water. Living in a town with huge, old, oak trees that loose branches in wind, rain and snow storms; we’ve had plenty of power failures. In the past we’ve been dark for 10 minutes to 2 days. A week is a record.
My immediate reaction when the lights went out was to sit and wait for my world to re-illuminate. Any minute now. Ten minutes later, resignation set in and I followed through on the preparations I’d made: grab the flashlights, light the candles, pretend to read Yoga Journal…..but my real focus was on waiting for the lights to come on. Surprised that the lights were still out when I went to bed, my first cogent thought the next morning was, “I HAVE to have power today.” The next two days became a pregnant pause of tension. A void of waiting, and thinking “I HAVE to get power this morning.” “ I’m sure I’ll get power this afternoon.” “ Pleeeease let me get power tonight.” “It’s not possible that I’d have to take another ice cold shower today.” As each deadline passed without success, I felt my non-yogi nerves fray. Finally, on the third day I stopped resisting. The fact that the power was not coming on in my timeframe, and that I had no control over when it would come on, sunk in and I accepted it. Immediately, the tension melted and I could get on with the details of life without lights and hot water.
It occurred to me after the fact that I had just re-experienced an old lesson. It wasn’t the lack of electricity that had caused me to feel frazzled and frustrated. The tension was the result of my resistance. Every moment spent wishing things were different caused anxiety, discomfort and suffering. When I finally settled in, and accepted the situation, I could move through each day, making whatever adjustments were necessary, and still feel centered. Another opportunity to break-through.
I made a mistake while teaching a Power Yoga class last night. A rookie mistake. I thought I knew better.
Halfway through the 75 minute class, we were holding tree pose to let the energy quiet down. As I observed the students it seemed they were well focused and the vibrations in the room were mellowing. Nice. And then I said it. It slipped off my tongue unchecked. The dreaded “R” word. I told them to “ relax”. The word every yoga student hates to hear. The word relax can easily send a room of otherwise composed yogis into a tail spin of self doubt and recrimination. “I thought I was relaxed!” “How can I relax anymore than this, while standing on one foot and trying to breath?” “I thought I was doing so well, what does she see?” “OMG, I must be the worst student in this room, I don’t even know how to relax!”
Of course, yogis are not alone in their contrary reaction to the word. Try telling your spouse to relax when they’re intently pushing their side of a disagreement will not diffuse the situation. When your best friend is hiccupping through a puddle of tears over a failed relationship, she does not want to hear that she’ll feel better if she relaxes. Who hasn’t witnessed the failed attempts of a mother telling her overly tired toddler to relax as he spirals into a public temper tantrum? And weren’t you secretly tempted to give the mother the same advice?
There’s no question that relaxing would improve the tenor of each of these situations, just as the broad concept of relaxing through your asana practice is worthwhile. By lightening up and loosening up, you let the poses breathe themselves to life rather than forcing them into being. The benefit of relaxing when confronted with stress, on and off the mat, is that you learn to let go of, rather than adding, tension. Which then dissolves the stress. However, the bottom line is that telling someone to relax engenders the exact opposite effect. Even in a yoga class.
As soon as the word slipped off my tongue I regretted it. The best I could do was shrug it off (relax) and move on. But it was a humbling reminder that a diligent mindfulness practice is as important while teaching as it is while practicing.
Have you ever had a yoga teacher say or do something that threw you off, took you out of your zen, or just really annoyed you?
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