Stay & Breathe. (Or, How Yoga Fixes My Problems)
The morning after my polygraph exam, I woke up at odds with myself – surprised that I had slept at all. The icky feeling I left the patrol station with, the afternoon before, had not dissipated one merciful bit overnight; rather, it seemed to have grown, snatching up any peace of mind that might have been restored by a good night’s sleep.
I dragged myself through my morning routine: let the dogs out, get the coffee started, brush my teeth, contacts in – check. Grateful for 10 minutes of knee-jerk normalcy – when I was drinking, things like this weren’t even on my radar – I let the dogs back in.
It is an interesting experience – and a unique opportunity, probably – to find oneself privy to a 4-hour memory recall of every mistake you have ever made in your life, to discuss and disclose each and every detail to not only a stranger you have never met, but a stranger who just happens to be a police officer, and – if you pass said test – someone who will potentially be a future co-worker.
Still thoroughly distracted by a mind busy re-playing the events of the interview, refining my answers to questions that I would almost certainly never be asked again in this lifetime, I forced myself to pull on my yoga pants and dragged myself out the door and to the studio for practice.
Once on my mat, my mood did not improve. The six variations of forward-folds cued by one of my favorite teachers couldn’t touch the self-pity I was wallowing in. My resentment mounted as I flowed through what felt like an excessive number of vinyasas. After about 20 minutes of fighting back tears, I saw another yogi roll up her mat and slip out the door, a full 70 minutes of class left to go. I looked after her longingly, wondering if it wouldn’t be prudent for me to do the same. This whole movement thing just did not seem to be doing the trick for me, today.
“Just stay,” I told myself, focusing my inner voice on something constructive and in the present moment for the first time in what felt like days. “At least just for the next breath.” Stay. Breathe.
I did not stay out of obligation, or maturity, or commitment, or responsibility. In direct contradiction to the profound personal transformation I had been anticipating when I embarked on my yoga journey many years prior, my character defects did not stop challenging me. My resistance to discipline did not dissolve under the weight of a carefully work-shopped chaturanga. It was not any more comfortable for me to do the thing I did not want to do in this moment than in any moment before. But, in spite of a quagmire of personal imperfections, and almost entirely free of my own wanting or will, I stayed – because that’s what years of practice has taught me to do.
Could the concept be any simpler? I don’t know about you, but when my feelings are bleeding out, I need everything around me to be as complicated as I am feeling inside. Because my ego is demanding that I destroy myself so it can live. And my internal chaos feels normalized by external chaos. When everything I’m looking at is “ok”, it only magnifies the dissonance of my soul.
I could not change anything that happened yesterday. I could not even change the feelings that came up – in this case, feelings that I apparently had been bottling up for 20+ years. My emotional conflict was not responding to logic, though – surprise, surprise.
I went through the motions, attempting to quiet my chitta vritti with some vague notion of “doing the next right thing”. In this moment, it was another chair pose. Oh great, more twisting. Half moon…please don’t call out revolved! My ego was not going to go quietly today, this much I was sure of. It wasn’t until I pressed myself up out of my first side of pigeon – an hour later – that it occurred to me I might be starting to feeling better – no, I WAS feeling better. The paradigm shift – that elusive head-change, that, like falling asleep, you must stop looking for if you are going to find it – had finally happened. And, as usual, like every other time, my monkey mind immediately starts asking me, how did that happen? Like every addict, I want that fix again, and immediately – better, faster, and more of it.
But, my soul knows the answer…there are no shortcuts on this trip called life. Thanks to years of practicing when I wasn’t in crisis, when I didn’t need it, my practice is there for me when I do need it, like a spiritual savings account. For a long time, I thought practicing yoga would make me a different person…in fact, that might be why I began doing it. I knew that life would continue to happen, of course, but I assumed it would eventually not bother me. I was wrong – I am still human, at least for now. Things will not only bother me, they will devastate me. I am a work in progress. But thanks to my practice, I have somewhere to go when they do. When things don’t go my way and my mind scatters, when the last thing I want to do is be still and quiet, when my anxiety screams for a whirlwind of action, the Universe reaches out to catch me as I fall, with the simplest of anecdotes: Stay. Breathe.