I often tell my yoga students to take a moment to honor their choice to practice yoga because they are helping to make the world a better place. While I tend to share the comment in a lighthearted manner, I believe that the meaning runs deep. I have personally experienced a complete shift in my own energy before and after I practice yoga.
For example, I am often fairly stressed out on my way to teach yoga or to participate in a workshop or training. A great part of this stress comes from my lack of control over the transit I take to get there. When I am rushing to get to a class I teach, I tend to grow irritated with just about everything and everyone. I grow particularly incensed by the behaviors of the other people on the bus. Then I realize that I am rushing to get to a class where I am encouraging people to slow down. So I am a few minutes late. It’s not a big deal. Plus, Europeans less uptight than Americans are about class starting at the designated time. I am so blissed out by the time I finish teaching that I often float home with a smile on my face.
Of course, the sensation that everything is beautiful in the world doesn’t always last long. The challenges of transit often burst a hole in my bliss bubble. If I am headed to the yoga studio where I took a teacher training last year, I have to take switch transit three different times to get there. This commute takes a mere 20 minutes by car but can last anywhere from 45 minutes to more than an hour and a half on transit.
Any bliss I experience from my yoga practice is often eclipsed by the challenges of the journey home (and my tendency to give in to frustration rather than simply enjoying/accepting the ride with grace and equanimity). On the way there and back, I am generally a ball of nerves, wondering if I will make each transfer and then exploding in frustration if I miss it. On many occasions, I have stuck at the light just before the stop to switch from the 44 to the 94 trams. I check my app every couple of seconds to see if I will make the transfer, only to watch the 94 pull up to the stop, pause to let people off an on, and carry on its way. This drives me absolutely batty, and I have to practice some extreme willpower to keep from sending texts to my husband, voicing my contempt for Belgium and all things transit related.
This is why the practice of yoga “off the mat” is just that: practice. It is far less challenging to create a feeling of bliss in the absence of other beings. In a bubble, it is possible to control everything that happens. In life, this is beyond impossible, and it is my continued inability to accept that I am not in control that bursts my yoga bliss bubble, whether I am on the mat or out in the world trying to behave as a “good” yoga should.
I have been practicing learning how to create a life of balance for many years now. I wrote a dissertation on the subject of personal balance (what I refer as “self-sustainability”) because I truly believe that global health, wellbeing, balance, sustainability, or whatever term you wish to use for the ability this planet to support the continued existence all beings and systems ad infinitum, depends upon and begins with each individual.
What I am finding is that even with all of the knowledge I have gained in my studies and practice, the work of creating and maintaining balance is a full-time job, which may have incredible long-term benefits but does not pay very well in the immediate present.
When our system senses danger, it reverts to a fight or flight scenario. Since moving to Belgium, I began going into flight mode, panicking in each new situation that I had to figure out. I would plan my transit route to the airport, only to find that an entire area where the bus to airport used to stop had been completely raised and was thus devoid of any bus transfers for the next six months.
With time, I have become more accustomed to finding my way around. I rarely experience a complete nervous meltdown when a transit challenge arises. This is a step in the right direction, spiritually speaking; however, it seems that the other crisis response has taken root. Now when I am confronted with a situation I cannot control and that I find difficult to stomach the emotions that boil up inside of me tend to be the fighting kind. I literally rage inside.
A few weeks ago when one of the drivers of bus 17 left several minutes early yet again, I ran after it, waving my fist. I then screamed, yelled expletives, and proceeded to sit down on a bench and cry.
Do these seem like the behaviors of a yogi in control of their emotions, accepting the uncertainties of the universe with grace and equanimity? Not so much.
My guru husband tells me that in my frustration, I am instinctively reverting to learned behavior patterns. Essentially, my old habits are blocking my practice, thwarting my efforts to accept that I am not in control.
I may be a mere 36 years of age, but I feel like an old dog these days with old habits that refuse to die. It is just so much easier to give in to the things that trigger and feed those habits than to work to create new ones.
I can feel sorry for my Self, my suffering, and all the things I want but don’t have:
Poor me, I don’t have a car, which limits where and what I can do
I adopted a dog I can’t leave for more than two hours or he will have an emotional meltdown
I don’t have a regular income
My dog who has had nonstop diarrhea since we adopted him
I can’t get a work visa in a foreign country where I everything I do has to be a “cultural (mis)adventure;”
The dermatologist can’t figure out why my fingers are swollen and itchy
The hard water makes the ends of my hair matted and dry
No ocean or mountains
Instead of giving in to victim status, perhaps I could follow my husband’s advice (and the responses I get from most people when they hear about my life in Belgium) and practice gratitude for the following:
The opportunity to live in a foreign country
The ability to bring both of my cats with me to said foreign country
The presence of a fairly well designed and affordable transit system so we don’t have to go bankrupt buying a car and paying for insurance, gas, etc.
Not having to work a 9-5pm job
The freedom to take the time to cultivate the skills and behaviors that will nourish my soul
A dog who is my proverbial shadow, which was exactly what I was pining for in the absence of my beloved Okami the wolf dog
A beautiful forest with endless trails to explore with my husky shadow
So what now? Well, I think I just continue to practice. As I tell my yoga students, “Practice takes practice.” I can practice awareness and pay attention, so I notice when I am being triggered. Then, beyond noticing, I can take that next step to try to pause and breath long enough through the old habits rising to choose a different response.
Well, I can at least be willing to entertain the possibility of practicing acceptance while I continue to breath.
Just as my heels don’t touch the floor when I take my first down dog of the day because my hamstrings are tight, I need to ease in to the journey of creating new habits. I also need to be gentle with my Self (and my poor husband) as I move through uncharted terrain.