Photo Credit: Angry by PhillieCasablanca
Earlier this week, I got into an argument with one of my man-children, Steven.
We're at this interesting stage where he is an adult, still living at home, and I am now home a lot more than I used to be. So there is the usual head-butting that goes on at this time in his life but it's combined with some pretty big changes in the day to day living dynamics at home. Among these is the fact that we're spending a lot more time together than we were used to.
The thing is, that no matter how well you get along with someone, normally, sometimes life circumstances really just mess with that. Steven and I normally get along pretty well, especially for a 19 year old man-kid and his step-mother! But, we also have a heck of a lot in common. Among the traits we seem to share is stubbornness.
I'm sure you can imagine, then, that when we both get our stubborn faces on and dig in our heels, things can get interesting.
I don't even really remember what started this argument except that we were both convinced we were right and the other person was wrong. Isn't that how most arguments begin?
But, as is often the case with arguments - it got out of hand. Pretty soon, I was trying to make him listen to me no matter what as I explained (a bit TOO thoroughly) why I was right. And this led to some inevitable frustration and he ended up losing his temper and yelling at me.
Fast forward about ten minutes and we were BOTH in tears and feeling like it was all our fault. Because another trait we have in common is our tendency to self-blame.
Thankfully, my wife was able to offer us both some much needed perspective. She wisely reminded us both that everyone has things about themselves - habits, patterns, and general "stuff" that comes up sometimes when we get disconnected during an argument. She validated us both by reminding us that we're allowed to be angry. Sure, we could have both handled our frustration and anger better but the feelings were valid.
This is still something I'm really working on... the idea that it's okay to be angry.
Whenever I get frustrated or angry, there is a degree of anxiety - partly because it doesn't feel like it's allowed. This adds a whole new level of tension to the experience of being angry.
One of the things I've been working on is the process of allowing or surrendering to the feeling of being angry. Not necessarily acting on it but, in a way, revelling in it. Because when I embrace the feeling of anger (or frustration, disappointment, or sadness), I find that the feeling only lasts a few minutes.
I read somewhere once, a long time ago, that our emotions are like clouds in the sky. The natural state of our mind and emotions is calm and clear but over top of that are the clouds of our feelings and emotions. But the interesting thing about clouds is that they are never still. They are always on the move. If you lie on your back and stare up at a blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, you'll notice that the clouds you're gazing at twenty minutes from when you begin are totally different ones!
Why is that so significant?
Because, it means that no matter how angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, or upset you feel right now, that feeling is already in the process of moving along in the sky of your mind. If you resist it, pretend it's not there, or try to stuff it down it's more likely to stick around longer. But if you allow the cloud to float across the sky at it's normal pace, you'll find it gone before you know it.
This isn't just woo-woo stuff, you guys, I promise! I've done this and it does work. I remember one time I experimented with this very much on purpose. My wife, Peggy, had done something to annoy me and I got mad. But instead of trying to fix it or address it or make it go away the "traditional" way, I just dove directly into the anger (silently). As we went about our grocery shopping, I intentionally focused on HOW mad I was at her. I let the anger just fill me right up. It must have been less than five minutes later when no matter how hard I tried, the anger was still dissipating. In fact, it became so hard to hold onto that letting it go was the only option available to me.
Afterwards, I felt great because instead of telling myself I wasn't allowed to feel that way or, perhaps worse, projecting my feelings onto my wife, I allowed my feelings to be there - to be accepted.
Now, don't get me wrong. It's way easier said than done. But it's a practice I am definitely continuing to work on because it makes such a huge difference in how I'm able to handle difficult situations when they arise. In the recent argument with my son, I didn't dive into the feelings - instead I tried to force a resolution which resulted in an unpleasant outcome. But afterwards, Steven and I were both able to admit that we could have handled things better while still validating each other's right to feel the way we felt.
Everyone gets angry. We're all entitled to our feelings. Sometimes giving ourselves the permission to FEEL our feelings is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.
Last week, I found that my personal energy was running very low. I was tired, feeling run-down, grumpy, and just generally a bit out of whack.
Despite not feeling well, though, I found that I kept trying to hold myself to my obligatory “should’s”.
I should… work harder on my upper body strengthening poses in my Yoga practice
I should… socialize at a higher energy level than I am.
I should… clean and organize the house
I should… stay on top of all my ongoing projects
And the more I held myself to the “should” things, the worse I felt physically and emotionally. I was drained and exhausted but I kept trying to fight my way through it.
And then I remembered that I COULD do something different.
I could… practice Yoga restoratively in a way that would replenish my depleted energy
I could… say no to social obligations and instead take some time to be by myself
I could… relax a little bit about the house and trust I could catch up more efficiently after a break
I could… work on my projects when I want to and have the energy but not when I don’t
I could… accept my energy level and flow with it instead of fighting against it.
And so I made a conscious decision to follow my could's instead of my should's. I chose self-care.
I practiced gently. I took the quiet time for myself that I needed and said no to extra social activities. I let go of some of my stringent expectations of what needed to happen at home. I worked on projects only as much as I felt I had the energy for and therefore the work I did do was quality work, and I trusted that my body knew what it needed and that the world wouldn’t come to a screeching halt if I gave it what it wanted.
In other words, I gave myself permission.
One of the biggest barriers to taking care of ourselves is fear: Fear that if we choose self-care, or self-nurturing that we will somehow end up letting other people – or ourselves – down. Often we think things will fall apart or that if we let go of control everything will be a huge mess.
But. When you stay mindful of yourself and what you need, what often happens is that you function BETTER overall than if you ignore your needs.
That is the magic of self-care. Had I continued to follow my shoulds, I would have followed them right into feeling extraordinarily depleted and possibly putting myself in a position to be unable to be really present for my students when it came time to teach. Instead, I took a step back, gave myself the gift of allowing some space and breathing room into my day for rest and reflection, and ended up feeling like I was able to be fully present and effective when it was time to teach.
Sometimes, giving yourself permission to take care of yourself, to NOT check off every item on your to-do list, is the most powerful thing you can do.
Try it! And let me know how it worked out for you in the comments.
I had a difficult day on Saturday.
The responsibility for having such a difficult day lies fully with me, however I like to see days like this as opportunities for growth; to learn even more about myself and how to better care for my body and spirit through the practice of Yoga.
I've been offered some amazing opportunities, recently, to attend development workshops designed for Yoga Teachers to expand their knowledge and improve their offerings to their students at an affordable rate that makes these opportunities for expanded learning accessible to many. These workshops are led by highly respected Yoga Instructors in the local community.
These workshops have been an amazing blessing in my life. I generally get to attend at least two each month and I always seem to take away something really valuable from them. Some of the recent workshops I've attended have focused on topics like Mantras, Important Muscles in Yoga (like the pit of the abdomen, and the Serratus Anterior), the Sacrum, Yoga Mythology, and more.
This last Saturday, the workshop I was attending focused on some intersections between Buddhist philosophy and Yoga, particularly with relation to the Subtle Body. I had been particularly excited about this workshop because it sounded like it was going to get into some areas that I haven't had much exposure to, yet.
The topic of the workshop was fascinating. The instructor shared his views on the buddhist philosophies surrounding the Subtle Body, and how the energy channels that run through the body can be accessed through a practice of Yoga Postures. He spent over an hour on the lecture portion of the workshop and then began to lead us in a Yoga Posture sequence designed to help us light up these areas of our Subtle Body.
I'd had a gradually worsening headache throughout the first portion of the class. I had tried to ignore it so that I could pay attention to the instructor. But when the physical portion of the practice began, I became immediately discouraged when I realized that even down-dog was causing me pain. But, instead of listening to my body, I was listening to my mind telling me to do whate everyone else was doing. To not draw attention to myself by doing something different. Then the instructor began to lead a series of very advanced postures that were beyond my capabilities to do safely: advanced twists, arm balances, and inversions.
And that is when, emotionally, I just sort of shut down. I had been struggling with the warm-up portion of the practice already because of my headache. But as he began leading everyone in Tree Pose with half-lotus, followed by Warrior III, followed by a series of advanced seated twists, advanced Bridge variations and more... I was forced to face the fact that the entire sequence of postures he was teaching were too advanced for me to participate safely.
Normally, in the interest of self-care, I would modify each pose so that I could access the same intentions/energies of the practice through poses designed for my body. But my head was pounding I was so distracted by my discomfort that I was unable to come up with alternatives for most of them. So, I tried to do a few of them anyway, hurting myself in the process until finally - I just stopped. I did a few gentle twists, and squats, and rested, but all the while I was feeling sorry for myself and embarassed at my inability to "keep up".
While the instructor led the class in Shoulderstand and several variations, followed by plow pose, I rested in Legs-Up-The-Wall and tried not to cry from frustration. I hadn't been able to connect to my subtle body because I was focusing all my energy on how I wasn't doing what everyone else was doing. I felt embarassed and stuck. I had essentially trapped myself with my thoughts. By the time we got to Savasana, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically tense. I just couldn't let go.
After the workshop, I realized how much pressure I had been putting on myself at every single one of these workshops to "keep up". I was putting myself in the position of being the "spokesperson" for fat health. I was so committed to making sure I could "prove" that Fat Yogis could still be awesome Yogis that I had become totally disconnected with the entire reason I practice and teach Yoga in the first place: to experience (and share with others) the profound transformation that can take place when you accept yourself, and love your body.
Knowing that compassion for myself is what my Yoga Practice is all about doesn't always make it easier to put into practice. And in these moments, when I want so desperately to be a wonderful example of a Fat Yoga Teacher who can keep up with all the other Yoga Teachers, it can FEEL impossible.
This was a necessary lesson for me. In my excitement to be among my Yoga Teacher Peers, I forgot the most important thing about my Yoga: Acceptance and Care of my Self. I failed to care for myself when I got caught up in ego and competition and "trying to prove I could keep up" instead of doing what my body needed in the moment: which was truly to just sit.
It can take a great deal of courage to do your yoga differently in a class environment. I remind my students many times in each class I teach that it's OKAY if their yoga looks different. It's OKAY if they are resting during a pose that is not right for them that day and it's OKAY if they do a completely different pose if that is what they are called to do. It is easy to be compassionate with others. It is easy for me to remind my students to treat their body with care and listen to what their body needs. But compassion and care for self is something I find much more challenging than compassion and care for others.
Body acceptance, and body positivity are not something attained in the blink of an eye - if they are ever fully attained at all. Rather, this self-love is work. Hard work. Learning to truly accept and love and care for yourself, properly, all the time takes constant attention and diligence.
In retrospect, I learned a lot this weekend about how I have been approaching these Yoga Teacher development workshops. I'd been approaching them with a sense of pride and ego and "I can do what you can do". I learned that I need to leave that at the door if I am to get the most out of these experiences. I need to work even harder to listen to my own body - even more than I listen to the instructor at times. I need to self-care and ensure my body has what it needs to practice safely.
Most of all: I need to remember that my Yoga will always look different. Because I am different. Not better than. Not less than. Just different. That is what is so beautiful and inspiring and empowering about Yoga - that it is different for everybody and every BODY.
“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Nelson Mandela
I know I haven't posted in a while, I've been busy studying like a good Yoga Teacher in Training! But, what better excuse for a new post than one in honour of Love Your Body Day (October 19th)
and End Fat Talk Week (October 16-22nd)
If you've read my previous posts in this blog, then you are already well aware that I am a very body-positive kind of gal. But that doesn't mean that I still don't struggle. It is difficult to be body-positive in a not-very-body-positive sort of world.
Every single day, I am bombarded with messages that fat is bad and thin is in. I am surrounded by people who use self-deprecating talk. Nothing is more demoralizing than being in a room filled with women who all talk about how they hate their bodies, and that is my every day reality. Making comments about hating your hips, your muffin-top, your thighs, your hair, your nose, your whatever - seems to be a socially acceptable way for women to bond with each other. By choosing to love my body, I am forever excluded from that club. Not being a member is okay with me, but it doesn't change the fact that the constant message surrounding me is that the majority of women behave this way, so I should too.
I get funny looks and arched eyebrows when everyone in the room (most of them quite slender) are talking about their diets and I am just sipping my coffee and keeping my mouth shut. After all, as the fat girl in the room, I should be right there on the bandwagon with them, right? Except that I'm not.
I don't want to feel obligated to make some socially acceptable comment about feeling guilty about that brownie I'm about to eat. I'd rather eat the brownie, enjoy it, and move on with my day rather than spend more time feeling guilty about the indulgence than finding pleasure in it. In my opinion, I have two choices: eat the brownie, or don't eat the brownie. If I CHOOSE to eat the brownie, than I'm going to pay attention and enjoy it. If I choose NOT to eat the brownie, it's going to be because I'm not hungry, it doesn't sound appetizing, and I don't want to - not because I feel guilty or have outlawed brownies.
Being body-positive is a challenge. It makes me unpopular at times. That's hard. We are, after all, social creatures and most of us spend our lives craving the acceptance of others. But it's a lifestyle I am committed to living. It makes me happy. It makes me feel like I can do anything. EVERYONE deserves to feel that way.
Have you ever seen the movie Mean Girls? In one scene, all the "popular" girls pose in front of the mirror declaring something they hate about themselves while the others offer insincere pity and nods of understanding. The heroine of the tale, having been homeschooled and not exposed to this odd 'game' can't figure out what to say she hates about her body - so she tries and ends up confessing that she has really bad breath in the morning. The thing is, having not been exposed to peer pressure her whole life, she had no concept of why she even *should* dislike anything about her body. So, when pressured to come up with something - she couldn't. It's a playful and glaring example of the ways that body-hate is "popular" and body-love is not understood or accepted in a general way.
When a fat girl says "I love my body exactly how it is", she risks being met with shock, disgust, pity, or even outrage. How dare I, as a fat person, choose to stay fat? The very idea! It's completely unrelatable to most.
Maybe it's unrealistic to expect that people would nod approvingly at this declaration, the same as they would if I said "Wow, I hate being fat, I need to go on a diet!". But it's what needs to start happening. We need to start recognizing that how someone chooses to occupy their body is their choice and to live your life accepting yourself is a pretty big accomplishment. Let's start acknowledging it as such!
We all need to look at the message we send to our friends, our coworkers, our family members, and even strangers when we withhold our approval, affection, or encouragement from those who seem happy with themselves or refuse to engage in fat talk or self-deprecating behaviours.
Why is it easier to encourage someone on a diet "You can do it!" "I'm so proud of you", than it is to offer approval over loving their body and feeling confident "It's so great that you are comfortable in your body, how awesome!".
The bottom line is, that it doesn't matter what colour your skin is, where you come from, how tall, short, fat, thin, muscled, scrawny, non-stereotypical, feminine, non-feminine, masculine, non-masculine, curvy, straight, bendy, pimpled, bald, furry, or unusual your appearance is because... "You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection" ~ Buddha
This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival
For more information about Love Your Body Day, Body-Positivity, or the fight to end Fat Talk, I would encourage you to visit these fantastic sites for more information, resources, and general fabulousness:
NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day
Take the pledge to End Fat Talk
The Body Positive