I am not a chill girl, never have been. For those who know me, I think “chill” would be one of the last adjectives that my name would elicit. My whole body and being vibrates at a high frequency. It is difficult for me to sit still through movies and I do not speak in words, only exclamations. Better descriptors would be exuberant, spastic, hyper- you get the picture.
When I meditated for the first time, five minutes, I nearly fell over, my muscles agitated by the lack of movement. Slowing my hyperactivity and slamming into the wall of stillness, my body showed me how little power I have over my mind. One time, in yoga teacher training, we meditated for an hour and I started crying. Tears streaming down my face, the space and silence surfaced long-shoved away thoughts and emotions. Despite the illusions and instagrams, the yoga poses and harrowing headstands, I too am at the beginning of a long journey to peace.
Not to say that progress hasn’t been made. Kara Baruzzini and I were joking in the car on our way to Dearborn, about the days pre-yoga. Ah, this period of darkness and crippling helplessness, the years B.Y. (Before Yoga) were significantly more chaotic than what I live with now. An energetic person, I was dangerously reactive in the years before yoga. Any stimuli could cause me to detonate. I had only one intensity- intense. I was harsh, perfectionist, and unforgiving. "Could you just-- go easy on the world?" my mom once asked me, exasperated. In disagreements with significant others, I shouted and screamed. I knew exactly what words would cut into the deepest parts of their insecurities, and I delivered without remorse. When the fire and flames would fade away, I was left with a person I really cared about, destroyed by my own doing. When things didn’t go my way, my amygdala (the brain’s fear center) would take over (in psychology, this is called an amygdala hijack), and I would fight or flee. When I lost student government elections, I fled the high school, demanding my mom take me home immediately. At pom practice, I cried in the bathroom. In lacrosse games, I shoved. You get the picture.
One time in middle school, a boy in front of me in English class was chomping his gum. The mere noise produced a physical reaction in my body, as my shoulders scrunched up and head throbbed. My fists balled, and my right leg started to tap up and down, fidgeting out of discomfort. I couldn’t stop hearing his chewing, couldn’t listen to anything else but the squish of the wet gum between his molars. This barely discernible sound (!) that I am sure no one else even perceived, was making me tweak out. In one of my least equanimous moments, I reached forward and rapped him on the shoulder. “Can you like not chew your gum so gossily?” I asked, petty and perturbed. Not great.
I’ve been practicing yoga for two and a half years now and I have seen significant changes in my body and spirit. My hips settling and unlocking, I can slide into my middle splits. My increased stamina for meditation and overall bodily strength allows me to endure and enjoy entire yoga classes without taking child’s pose. As someone who used to spend the bulk of a yoga class laying on the floor, I celebrate this progress. Being able to still an unstill mind and find peace in chaos has been the greatest unexpected benefit of practicing yoga. By exploding the volcanoes of our mind through vigorous exercise and long holdings of intense yoga poses, we build resilience and the aptitude to come back and return to peace when things get uncomfortable. Equanimity.
But this week, something feels different. Returning to my old ways of reactivity, I am hypersensitive to the world. A comment from a friend that was not intended to be mean at all, I took as an attack. Not winning a school-wide award or a friend walking by without sufficiently greeting me seemed to signify that no one cared about me, that I was nothing. See, after reflection I realize that my past narrative of worthlessness, revived by the cyberbullying last week, is the one I am applying to my current stimuli. Agitated. Bothered. I am uncomfortable in my own body.
I didn’t realize this unconscious discomfort until it was brought to the surface, in a yoga class, fittingly. The class began, and in our beginning breaths, I heard a squish to my left. “What the-” Front of your mat, interjected the yoga teacher. Another squish. I turned my head to the left. The girl next to me was chewing gum. And not just chewing it, chomping it. Like 7th grade English class, boy who I rapped on the shoulder, chomping. “Who chews gum in a yoga class?” I felt my resentment bubble up to the surface. Breathing deeply, I tried to drown out the chewing with the audible sound of my loud breathing. Squish. Downward dog. “This girl is going to choke!” I couldn’t focus. I was rolling my eyes. Sighing loudly. Glaring at her. I was losing it. I was transported back to the years pre-yoga, when I was affected by everything. Reactive. And I was hyper-aware to how affected I was. Not only was I noticing how bothered I was by the chewing, I was getting bothered that I was bothered. I preach about acceptance and surrender and non-reactivity, but here I was, the most reactive one in the room.
The class continued and so did the chewing. Then finally, at the peak moment of heat in the class, the teacher led us through a five minute Buddha squat. An intense pose with your legs spread and both knees bent, the goal is to get your knees in line with your hips. “Lower,” the teacher demanded. My legs started shaking. Gasping for air, I couldn’t hear anything besides my asthmatic breaths. My hip began to release all of the pressure I carried in them, the stress in my connective tissues evaporating as I held the space. My muscles screaming drowned out the incessant noise in my mind. My body silenced my thoughts by producing a sensation that was louder. For a minute, suspended on my toes, I was free of my agitation.
“Release.” I put my hands on the floor and came to my knees. My anger dissolved. Warm gratitude spread throughout my body. “Frog pose.” I came onto my forearms and spread my legs, coming into a bent middle splits- an intense hip opener. Being that it was such a crowded class, my whole upper body was splayed out onto the gum chewer’s mat. We were in line with each other, my sweat on her mat, her foot brushing my arm. I was aware of how close we physically were, and together, our bodies in the same pose, I was also aware of how our breathing had synced up. One living organism. No longer were we separate. We were just two people, moving through the motions. There I was, infringing on her personal space, so sheepish and embarrassed of my reaction to her gum chewing. Maybe chewing gum was a way she comforted herself, something she enjoyed, something she needed to get through her yoga class. My judgment of her required that I forget how very similar we are. For there are things, rituals and routines, that I do to get through my yoga class, my life. My anger came from a lack of empathy, a refusal to put myself in her shoes, selfishly ignoring the fact that we are all just trying to get through the day.
From that yoga class on, I have felt a greater sense of peace and surrender in my week. When I begin to get agitated or bothered, I relish it. Taking a curious mindset to my emotions, I first notice what I am feeling, labeling it, and then welcoming it. I ask myself why I am feeling that way and then I choose to not become it. Recognizing the fire and agitation for what it is allows me to dump a bucket of water on it and not let it consume me. My pain is a signal that I am reacting to something, and I celebrate that there now exists an opportunity for me to soften. Intensity and discomfort are a gift. For in the heat and fire, we are able to burn something away and let it go.