Detach, detach, detach

It happened. I had been warned, by many, that it was bound to happen to me, to everyone, but I never really believed them. I had even seen it happen to other people, and I thought–no way not me. But alas…

I cried in a yoga class.

And I don’t mean just gettin’ a little teary eyed. I’m talking globs, puddles almost, of tears, of snot, of sweat–splattering on to my yoga mat like a Jackson Pollock painting.

It happened towards the end of class, while holding the most notorious of the tear-jerking yoga poses–pigeon pose. This one stretches deep in the hips, the place where we store a lot of emotion, stress, memories, baggage.

This was a very sad experience for me. I’ve heard some people describe their yoga-induced sob fest as cleansing, refreshing, freeing, but I did not feel any of these things. I just felt sad, even in the days proceeding the class. But it was a different kind of sad than usual…it was a sad that I was okay with being.

At first, I tried really hard to figure out why the whole thing happened. What was I sad about? Was it some tragedy or unresolved feelings that I had stifled deep down? Was I missing my family? Was I scared about the future? Was I just tired?

Why the hell did yoga make me cry?

It turns out that there is tons of research on how we store emotional experiences in our bodies, especially from when we are young. The theory goes something like when we are children, we aren’t capable of mentally handling traumatic experiences, so we instead store them in our physical bodies.

But this, I realized, was not the interesting part of my experience. What I was more curious about was the kind of sad I was feeling. I was, for the first time, okay with it. I’m not going to go as far as saying that I liked being sad or enjoyed it, but…almost.

I brought this sadness home with me to California while I was visiting for a few days. It wasn’t depressing or hindering, and my family didn’t notice. It just gave me a few days to myself, to listen to music, to go climbing, to read and write. A few days of calm, introversion. The sadness slowed me down, a lot. I felt super weird for actually not minding being sad. I thought I was, ya know, going crazy.

I was fortunate enough to climb with a very talented climber while I was home. I asked him how he stays so motivated to practice every day, how he doesn’t get bored, how he keeps loving the sport more and more as he grows older. He told me that he loves climbing because every day his body has something different to offer–whether it be anger, sadness, frustration, bravery, strength, energy, a sense of calm. He said that whatever it is he is feeling that day, he climbs that way, and enjoys it. Because tomorrow, that feeling will most likely be gone.

Isn’t it funny how the universe just kind of hands you exactly what you’re needing? What I was needing in that moment was to hear what this guy had to say.

Fleeting. That was the word that was stuck in my head after I got done climbing that day. His words were more than just really good advice–underneath them, in his very last sentence, he said something key. The feelings will be gone. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in the next second. Who knows–they are here now though, we might as well be okay with them. Hell–we could even use them, to our advantage..ya know…kind of what I had been doing…with my sadness…all week long. And I was thinking I was a complete weirdo for it.

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. -Joan Didion

If I know one thing to be true, it is that everything changes. Especially emotions. Emotions are so much more insignificant than we give them credit for, especially the bad emotions. When we are sad, we feel that we will always be sad, stuck in that sadness, doomed to live a life full of shitty things forever more. When we are happy, we feel that it will never leave, and that we are finally done with that negative part of life, that nothing shitty will ever touch us again. But this is not life. We will never see the day where we get sad and stay sad forever, nor will we one day be happy and keep being happy for all of eternity.

It’s all fleeting.

Once we understand that emotions and situations are not going to be that way forever, they will loosen their grip on our minds. It’s called detachment, my friends. It has been, by far, the hardest thing for me to learn in yoga training. This is probably because our society is the most attached of all people in existence.

When we don’t give our emotions permission to feel so important, so everlasting, we can actually use them to our advantage–yes, even the not-so-fun ones. When you are sad, isn’t there a sense of calm that comes with it? Use that. Be calm. When you are angry, isn’t there a sense of strength and energy that comes with that? Use that–responsibly, effectively.

And then of course, there is the feeling of being content. Being okay with all of it. I have learned that you can be content and sad, or angry, or confused, simultaneously. Fleeting is a good word to remember.

Being happy all of the time cannot exist. Without sadness there is no happiness, and thank God for that. Sometimes, rose colored glasses can start to hurt your eyes.

So whatever you are feeling, be okay with it. Sometimes that is harder said than done, but don’t we all know, from personal, hands on experience that emotions never stay around so long that they kill us? Don’t we know, that if even for a second, we will be happy again?

Detach, detach, detach.

Crying in a yoga class did turn out to be a freeing experience. I just had to wait a little to feel that way about it.

Balance, Being Strong Enough to Bend

Throughout this yoga teacher training program I have been constantly encouraged to “live my yoga”. In other words, your yoga practice should not end once you step off you mat, it should become a part of your life, a part of your every breath. I thought, so confidently, that I was succeeding in doing that, until this past week or so. Yoga seems to be getting really good at letting me know when I’m not seeing a situation 100% correctly. Yoga is just cool like that I guess.

I have in fact been doing yoga off the mat: breathing deeply in stressful situations, being aware of judgements, preconceived notions, expectations, or negative thoughts, practicing compassion for all people–even the ones who annoy the hell out of me. I sit up straight when I’m driving. I meditate as I walk to work.

I think that I was so focused on doing yogic things off of the mat that I forgot about doing yogic things while still on mat. I also forgot about practicing yoga while climbing. Afterall, climbing is yoga. The rock is your mat. The moves are your asanas. Breathing as you move is pranayama. Keeping a clear mind is meditation. The cracks and grooves and pockets and indentations in the rock are your teachers–they are your guides and tell you what to do next. Climbing is without doubt, yoga.

I was very confused for a while about both climbing and yoga. I felt like I had hit a plateau with bouldering–I thought, maybe I’ll start sport climbing more, or maybe I’ll try being a badass trad climber, or maybe, just maybe I’ll take a break all together. Same thing happened with yoga–maybe I should just do Ashtanga? Or more Kundalini? Maybe I should try Bikram? Anusara? Or maybe…Ill just stop for a while.

Then came the real “living your yoga” realization–as soon as I started having these thoughts about yoga and climbing, I started getting very confused about my life in general. Maybe I should move back to California? Maybe I should start teaching just power yoga? Should I go to grad school? What the hell should I eat for lunch?

Or maybe the confusion about life came before the confusion with yoga and climbing…either way, they directly affected one another.

When my toes have a death grip on my yoga mat, or when my hands have a death grip on the rock, it is always because I am gripping somewhere else in my life. I felt especially “grippy” when I was holding on to some past resentment I had for a certain person in my life. My yoga poses were stiff, my climbing felt so forced and shitty. When I started practicing letting go of tension in my yoga practice: either in my jaw, my shoulders, my toes, I noticed that I started letting go of mental tension as well–I cultivated forgiveness, compassion, and love.

I remember a yoga class I went to last week where all of the asanas were all accompanied by a sense of ease. It wasn’t a necessarily easy class, I just felt light, fluid, grounded, and strong. We practiced Lolasana, a pose that is usually extremely hard for me, and during this class it was no easier necessarily. I just didn’t let it bother me. My legs floated up above the ground. I was having fun and my body felt good.

Lolasana-that’s BKS himself.

While bouldering the other day, I felt these same feelings. Hard moves were still hard but they didn’t make me want to shout “FUCK THE WORLD” after I fell. My body felt light, fluid, grounded, strong. I, for a very long time, was a v4 climber who could dabble in v5, but on that particular day, I flashed (completed on the first try) a v6.

What I have learned here is a lesson in balance. When climbing and yoga-ing and living, we must be strong to feel light, we must let go to have the energy to keep going, we must flex to be fluid. Strength and flexibility are both necessary, without one characteristic, the other is useless. It doesn’t matter if you are strong enough to hold yourself up in a handstand, your shoulders must be flexible enough to be all the way above your head. We must forgive and we must let go of resentment to understand the correct way to stand our ground. Are we strong enough to bend?

No more clenching jaws. No more fuck the worlds. No more gripping, holding, restraining, fighting, or wrestling. Of course, there will be some more of these things in my life. But now I can ask myself, why? Why am I fighting this? If I clench here, it means I am clenching somewhere else. What’s up with that? Strength is something I have a lot of. I got that from my Mama. What I need to cultivate is softness, while keeping that strength. This is what I aim for in yoga and climbing and life, every day.

Perhaps you are like me. But perhaps you are on the opposite side of the specrum–flexible, maybe a little too flexible. Maybe you let people walk all over you, maybe you are never in control of your own life. Wherever you are on the spectrum, know that you have a precious gift: you are either flexible or strong. These are both good things. Keep those things. Cherish those things. Just try to add a little of the opposite into your life, your practice, anything at all. And watch how everything will start to reach a midpoint, a center point, a point of balance.