People Should Enjoy Themselves More Often

So. Much. Yoga.

Ashtanga yoga. Yoga for athletes. Hot yoga. Prenatal yoga. Yoga in the morning. Restorative yoga. Yoga that kicks my ass. Yoga that makes me laugh. The Yoga Sutras. Don’t-try-this-at-home yoga. Yoga for children. Yoga for sinus infections.

Yoga, with every single bellowing breath.

Even when I’m doing something that’s not yoga, I’m still practicing yoga. Needless to say, I have really been enjoying this life lately. I have been busy in one sense–I’m constantly studying, practicing, and thinking, but not so busy in another–with exceptions to the little time spent with my roommates, friends, fellow yogis, and Alex, I am by myself. I am alone.

I’ve always been one of those people that loves spending time alone. I used to hate going to school when I was really young because the teacher thought I was weird if I wanted to play by myself. Me wanting to be alone was the kind of thing that caused raised eye brows, psychological testing, and parent-teacher conferences. My little mind quickly learned: being alone=bad, being with others=good. We were all taught this, in a subconscious, can’t do anything about it kind of way. This is how we learn almost everything dealing with social interaction.

When we learn that basic “being alone=bad” rule, our minds cling to this and we accept it as truth. Now, when we are in a situation where we find ourselves to be alone, either mentally or physically, that “being alone=bad” trigger goes off in our brain. We get scared. We flee, away from solitude and toward other people, toward anything at all. And when we can’t find those things, another trigger goes off. The brain goes into Oh Shit Mode and we don’t know the deactivation code. We get anxious, sad, depressed. We get lonely.

The brain cannot be blamed for automatically thinking that being alone is a negative thing. Our minds don’t have the capacity to assess every experience as something entirely new and unknown. So, we create a mental filing cabinet filled with things we think we know about certain people, situations. When presented with a situation, we pull out one of those files and then act in the way it says to. Stereotyping is our brain’s way to save mental energy.

And that is the first and probably only time I will ever put my psychology minor to use.

Sometimes though, the information that our mind gives us is wrong. Especially in the case of finding yourself alone. Being alone, for me, has been a very good thing. I have always seen it this way. I like walking around Savannah (it’s a really good city for aimless walks), studying, running, reading, writing, observing, laying in the park. Just me and my breath, straight up kickin’ it.

Try it. Be alone. People won’t look at you funny, they won’t wonder why you aren’t surrounded by your bffs, they won’t look down upon you for not having some beautiful significant other’s hand to hold. They probably won’t notice you. We aren’t as interesting as we like to think we are.

Now that I’ve spent some time here, I realized something funny. Something ironic and backwards.

The more time I spend alone, the less lonely I become.

Weird, I know. But it’s the truth. You’d think it would be inevitable in my situation, that throat-lumping moment of realization as I lay down to sleep at night, that silence, so vast. Alone.

It isn’t inevitable. Alone doesn’t have to be scary. Alone, after all, isn’t scary. Don’t let your kindergarden teachers fool you. I’ve become closer and more connected to the people in my life lately, and I really believe that I have solitude to thank for that.

Go sit somewhere by yourself. Make yourself a four-course meal. Go shopping. Write. Dance. Breathe.

Oh Shit Mode, deactivated.

Another (this time, mental) Leap of Faith

Settled. Finally.

This past weekend was my first weekend of yoga training. Before we introduced ourselves, before we were told what we were going to be doing, studying, and learning, Kelley (our teacher) arranged us, the most scared and anxious little yogis I’ve ever seen, into a circle.

“Describe how you’re feeling right now, in one word,” she said.

Nervous, overwhelmed, intimidated, tense, restless, and so on were the said words. I said curious, but that’s because I was too scared to say that I was scared.

But now, after weekend number one of training completed, after not living out of a suitcase, after moving in to my beautiful, sunny, comes-with-a-garden home in the Victorian district of Savannah–my word has changed.

Settled.

All that, and even my roommates are cool. Ahh. Settled.

I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. This is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, learning.

I made the right decision. Maybe “right” is the wrong word, because there wasn’t really a right or wrong decision to be made. It was just the “more beneficial to my life at moment” choice. And I’ve realized something about this decision making shenanigans. Usually, the more scary, daring, blind leap of faith, leave it all behind, balls to the wall choice is the way to go. Well, this is at least how it is for me.

But of course, I’m a really lucky girl for having such cool people in my life that support me as I make these omg! wtf? wow. you’re going to college where? yoga what? decisions. Mom, Dad, Mai, Mo, Cass, extended fam (way too many of you to name) Mere, Mega, Mandy, Alex, Megan Gala, Steve, Keri, my pups and everyone else that has made me feel good about this decision…THANK YOU. You have no idea how much you help me.

Okay, time to talk about yoga. And how it took me about two minutes of training to fall completely in love with it. And how it’s changing me in ways that are awesome. And how it’s all I think and talk about. And how I am in love with it.

Yes, we’ve become very intimate, yoga and I. Yoga knows my body, inside and out. Yoga knows my mind, my every thought; it has seen me at my most vulnerable, my strongest. Yoga can tell if I’m faking it, lying, half-assing, or being lazy and believe me, yoga doesn’t like this. It has shown me how to love more deeply.

I realize that this “yoga” character I have in my mind is actually, surprisingly, no one other than myself. I’m actually just starting a passionate love affair with Georgie Abel, and I’m currently in the getting to know her better phase.

Yoga is something I’ve always loved, but in just three days of training, yoga means something entirely different to me. I’m even willing to admit that my previous yoga practice, before reading all of these books and attending only three days of training, may not have actually been yoga. I think I was just stretching and breathing on an eco-friendly mat while wearing a lululemon tank top. Maybe whether it was yoga or not doesn’t matter, all I know is that what I’m doing now is much more awesome.

Most Westerners are only practicing asanas, or postures. This is only one of the many things that yoga is. Yoga didn’t start with asanas. It started with meditation, as a way to see your true self and connect with the universe. The poses came years later, just to help the process of meditation. I am learning that postures we go through in a yoga class are just extra, they are not necessarily the important part. Asanas are a means of getting something else–centering, settling. Ahh. There’s my word again.

Starting this journey, I knew it would change my life, but I didn’t know how. I still don’t know, but I do know that I am evolving at the speed of light. I feel like a flower from one of those high-speed scenes in a nature documentary. I’ve decided to give up everything that I thought I knew or had been told about myself, all of the things I thought I knew about the world and the people in it, every judgement, fact, and opinion–a clean slate. I want to see it all anew. I want truth.

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. -Thoreau

It was scary, thinking about abandoning all of these layers of “knowledge.” What if the truth isn’t that awesome? What if it scares me? I was again forced to make a decision, to either stick with what I think I know now, or be brave enough to let it all go, to take a leap of faith.

This time, it didn’t take me long to decide.

 

The “Stick Up For Yourself” Culture

As part of my pre-yoga teacher training homework, I’ve been reading pages and pages of text about yoga and the philosophy behind it, its history, meaning, and benefits, how to eat, breathe, speak, sleep, think, love and wash the dishes. I’m learning infinitely, and the information that I’m gathering is materialized into something a little different every day. I’ve been seeing the things I read come to life in random situations. Some days, I notice that I’m breathing deeper, or that the person next to me is slouched over, or that my dogs would be really good gurus. But today was different. Today I noticed something about people, and I saw it everywhere. Today, all I saw was anger.

People are really, really angry. Even some of the ones that don’t feel like angry people, are. For example, I saw a guy step in dog poop this morning. He scraped it off his shoe and then started going off about how people never “clean up after their dog” in this “damn town.” After some exasperated sighs and shakes of his head, he kept walking down the trail, resentful, day ruined.

At the coffee shop, the line was long and there was only one barista working. Even though she kept apologizing for the wait, people were really pissed off. One guy said something about how he tries to “support local coffee shops” but if all he gets is “this kind of service” that Starbucks is really “his only option.” Everyone else was in a tense, arms folded across their chests kind of moods.

People were honking at each other on the roads, fighting on their cell phones, swearing at the refs of college football games. And all this, in Northern California! We’re supposed to be the most laid back of them all.

I really don’t think today was different from any other day, I just noticed the anger because I kept my eyes open for it. It was freakin’ everywhere!

At closer look, almost all of this anger is caused by the assumption that when something unfortunate happens, it is a personal attack from someone else on our perfect, never having made a mistake, God-like beings. How dare that person cut me off! That barista isn’t even thinking about me and my day. How could all of these people not clean up after their dogs, what about me?

We are told from a young age by parents, teachers, television and society as a whole to “stick up for ourselves.” We live in a “stick up for yourself” culture. If someone does us wrong, we think that acting passively is a blow to our self-worth, a sure-fire sign that someone is suffering from low self-esteem. We’re told to confront the person, let them know how shitty they are, how shitty our day has been because of them, how if they can’t undo and explain their shittiness that they are, undoubtedly, even more shitty. But is this really self-esteem that we’re dealing with here?  I’ve learned recently that most of us mix up the meanings of self-esteem and ego. Self-esteem is something that, if it exists within the person, doesn’t rise or fall depending on external situations or circumstances, it cannot be changed. It doesn’t need to be flexed or put on display. Ego, on the other hand, is what most westerners have plenty of. It’s what causes us to feel that “how could they do that to me” feeling.

I’m guilty of getting angry and offended when a participant in my fitness class acts disinterested in what I’m teaching. I taught a cycling class at 6am for a few months, and one morning I had a participant who kept checking her phone every five minutes. I figured she was so ready to get out of the class that she kept checking her phone to see what time it was. Then, she walked out of the class halfway through. I automatically took it personally, like how could they walk out of my class. Maybe they didn’t like the way I was teaching, but how could they do that to me? The next week, the same woman came to my class and apologized for leaving the week before, and explained that she was waiting on a phone call from her son to see if he needed a ride to school, which he ended up needing. It had nothing to do with me or my class.

We are constantly making false attributions about why people act the way they do, and it leaves us really mad. These attributions always place the blame on the person we are dealing with, never the situation or simple bad luck or timing. We don’t think for even a second that maybe the person in the car who just cut us off is trying to get somewhere really important. Even if they’re just a bad driver, it has nothing to do with us. Sometimes the traffic is bad, the lines are long, the ref makes a bad call, and sometimes, for no particular reason at all, we step in dog shit.