Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ugly and Lovely Spring

This gorgeous, finally-warm month seems to have been packed with lots of violence and sadness.  Some of which I experienced within my circle of family and friends, or was at least as spectator to personally, but most of which took place outside of my life and inside my world of news in the New York Times and the mammoth that is the Internet and social media.  Some of it was me choosing to delve back into a dark time in our history which also produced wonderful things - I've been watching and reading Band of Brothers, and on Memorial Day Marc and I decided it was finally high time I watched the devastating Schindler's List.  Some of it was the absolute mad state of our current events: following the stories of the Nigerian girls, the shootings at UCSB, the scandalous goings-on with the VA, which directly affects my family, and now the death of the incomparable Maya Angelou, and more.

Despite all of this, I'm approaching the end of May feeling strangely happy and inspired.  I think in part I've just been feeling a profound sense of gratitude for my circumstances in life and a feeling of total humility for how relatively charmed my life is - and it really, really is.

It's tempting to avoid the news because it is usually overwhelmingly depressing, negative, and tragic, and there's no way any one individual can carry with them all of the horrors that happen day to day.  I often go through phases where I just have no desire to follow the news too closely.  However, I usually find that the more connected I am to it and the more I try to learn about a story (and better yet, try to do something about it or engage with someone about it), the better I feel about things overall.  I'm still left with knowledge and images of tragedy I might not otherwise have if I didn't watch the NBC Nightly News (how I love me some Brian Williams!) or decided not to read various shared articles by my Facebook friends, but the old cliche "Knowledge is Power" is always and profoundly true.  It's always better to know and to be an informed citizen.  Heartbreaking though it might sometimes be, it gives you the gift of perspective in your own life, to say nothing of gratitude.

I have stopped myself so many times this month during challenging moments at work, frustrations when traveling, when I was struggling to heal ASAP from a stupid and stubborn minor toe injury, and told myself how tiny those problems are in the grand scheme of what so many other souls are dealing with or have dealt with.  I received some wonderful news last week regarding a family member's health and was at once overcome with a sense of joy that I felt almost anything could go wrong for me that day and I just flat out wouldn't care.  The relief I felt overshadowed absolutely everything else, and man, were my priorities straight that day.

It's hard to put into words everything I'm feeling as this month draws to a close with all the joy and madness it's contained, and with Maya Angelou's death yesterday causing the world to overflow with her massive abundance of wisdom and articulation, I was terribly tempted to just plaster my blog with her words.   When you're searching for profundity, who better to turn to than her, right?

But - that wouldn't really have been in keeping with her spirit.  However inarticulate, I believe she taught that it's important to speak - to sing.  To at least try.  We can't solve everything wrong in the world or prevent bad things happening in our lives, but we can do our part.  We can keep our priorities straight, have compassion for those less fortunate, and hold tight to whatever religious or spiritual practices keep us grounded.  I know with every fiber of my being that my new daily practice, which is roughly two months strong now, has been invaluable in keeping my head on straight.

I will close with her last public quote, however - a tweet, which is just so very 2014.  It's simple, it's profound, it's why I practice and need yoga.


"Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God."
-Dr. Maya Angelou-

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Simple Inspiration

I'm keeping things pretty simple today - a relief after last week's rather gut-wrenching, but necessary and therapeutic, post about my jury duty experience.  Normally when I keep things simple it's because I'm just linking to an article I liked, or posting a picture of some kind.  But today I feel inspired by a very simple quote brought to my attention by my incredible mother-in-law, who inspires me herself in so many ways.  And what the hell, I'll accompany it with a link and a picture.

A study came out last fall detailing how the anticipation, and more specifically the dread, of a painful event is actually worse on us than the thing itself.  (Read a summary of it here) To me, that doesn't seem like a huge discovery.  I suppose they've officially proven it, but it honestly seems rather like common sense.  I think anyone who tends to be a worrier would probably agree.  It's easy as yoga teachers or for those who are very religious to talk about surrendering to the universe or to God, but it's tough to really practice it from day to day.

It doesn't just have to be something major or physical - I find so often that when I worry or anticipate something going on at work or someone's reaction to a problem, the reality is almost never as bad as the scenario I've worked out in my head.  And what a waste of that time I just spent dreading, worrying, and anticipating!  I feel like I've lost entire days worrying about an event, spending the day anxious and miserable, only for it to wind up being no big deal.

One of my little "life commandments," after being inspired by Gretchen Rubin's "Happiness Project" is that, "Worry is futile."  I believe that sentiment with every fiber of my being, but find it hard to put in to practice.  I tend to be a worrywort in general, so it's a constant practice for me to be aware and let it go.  Sometimes when you repeat the same mantra over and over, however, instead of gaining power it can lose a bit of power - you get used to the words, you get used to repeating it to yourself and honestly sometimes the power and effectiveness wears off a bit.  It helps to hear the same teaching, the same reminder, the same sentiment in a new way.

My mother-in-law, who is a devoted Christian, reads a particular passage in the Bible every morning and shared with Marc and I this one line that she finds comfort in.  It's been rolling around and around in my head all day long, and when I sat down to write this was truly the only thing I wanted to share.  I hope it sticks with you and gives you some comfort today, whether you're a Christian, a yogi, a worrywort, or blessedly laid back and present.  It's striking in its simplicity and in its command, and today I feel there's really nothing left to add...


"Be anxious of nothing."

My beloved mother-in-law and I by the Ipswich River, 2010.
Guess which one of us struggles more with worry?

(Though in my defense, Marc had just stolen my paddle.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Yoga for Coping

I typically try to be very faithful to my weekly blog habit (or sometimes, I'll admit - obligation).  When I go off a week, there's usually a good reason, typically because I'm out of town.  These last (almost four!) weeks I've just been damn busy. Days off have been very few, and haven't involved burrowing at home but rather going out and about in this gorgeous city, seeing theatre, family, and friends.  That's part of the joy of spring - it's a hell of a lot easier and more pleasurable to go out in the world and escape the walls of your tiny apartment than in polar vortex weather.

Last week was supposed to house my first day off since Easter - last Thursday.  Instead, I spent last Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday sitting on a case for jury duty.  I don't want to go into any more detail than I have to, because it still hurts my heart to think of it.  Just emailing a friend about it this morning has been enough to send me into a funk today (the dreary overcast sky and the sudden jerking stop after two and a half weeks of go-go-go momentum certainly contributed as well, I'm sure).

On Tuesday morning I was selected as part of the jury for a trial on allegations of child sexual abuse.  There was no physical evidence in the case, as was made clear to us before we were selected.  It was purely he-said-she-said, her word against his.  In this case, the word of a mentally delayed 13-year-old child against a 58-year-old man, who invoked his legal right not to testify on his own behalf.  We only heard from her, the other witnesses called, and both attorneys who were both clearly slumming it.  That's one thing we as a jury all 100% agreed on.  This case was tough, no doubt about it, but the way it was tried by both sides was abysmally bad.  Important questions by both sides were just never asked, too many details remained unexplained, and so many hours were wasted on repeating simple points that frankly didn't really matter when it came to the question of finding this man guilty or not guilty.

The trial lasted a little more than six hours.  The only testimony that honestly mattered worth a damn lasted an hour and a half at most.

We deliberated for over fourteen hours.  Over the course of Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday, and all day Friday, the twelve of us were in a room together trying to make sense of this case, trying to come to a unanimous decision, and all too often, simply at a loss for what else to say and simply willing the time to pass faster.

We never reached a verdict.    I was one of 10 who firmly, whole-heartedly, repeatedly voted Guilty.  Two firmly, whole-heartedly, repeatedly said Not Guilty.  There were two women who had initially voted Not Guilty and changed their votes, one on Wednesday and then the other by Friday. The judge finally accepted our inability to reach a verdict on Friday afternoon and it was those last few hours of Friday's deliberations that the truth of what it meant for us to be a hung jury hit home.  A lot of us cried.

After the trial I felt physically sick - physically heartbroken.  I felt, and am still feeling, guilty, so confused as to what the purpose of me being on that trial was, horrified that I played a part in a failure of our justice system, and just so, so, so, so sorry for that little girl and her family.

What does any of this have to do with my blog about yoga, you may be asking?  (And WOW, what a departure from the last entry, huh?)

The whole point I wanted to make from this entry is that the yoga has been getting me through it.  I woke up extra early every day before schlepping out to damned Kew Gardens, Queens to make sure I could get in some kind of movement (especially on days we were trapped in the room for hours on end) and my morning meditation practice.  Most mornings I woke up after a horrible night's sleep, my stomach feeling upset, my heart heavy, and my head a bundle of anxiety.  This practice went such a long way toward strengthening my spine, both literally and metaphorically, and allowing me to face the day.

Coming home after, I always tried to do something - a restorative pose or a bath (and yes, a non-yogic amount of wine) to help myself shed as much of the case as I could.

The power that it had in helping me cope was amazing.  I feel like so often yoga teachers only show the brightest, sunniest sides of themselves on social media - for a variety of understandable reasons - and yoga has this reputation of being a cure-all and of guaranteeing a happy, trouble-free life.  Like it's some kind of protective bubble.  It's an amazing thing, but nothing can completely protect a person from whatever trials life is determined to throw at you.  Just like you can be a Christian but still have a bad day and not live up to the ideals you strive to live up to, you can be a yogi and have shitty days where you just can't help but see the bad in the world.  It's just part of life.

These days, yoga is as much a business as it is a practice, and it's easy to merge and confuse the two.  I make my living teaching yoga, and marketing what I do is a part of my livelihood.  I'm not saying that I lie or would promote something I didn't believe in, but because my job for the most part makes me incredibly happy, I put forth that positivity, that happiness, the occasional party-trick pose.  It's just as easy for me to forget that just because I'm a yogi doesn't protect me or my family from the fact that sometimes shit happens.  The real power of yoga is not just that it makes you happy or even cheers you up - it's an unbelievable tool for coping.  For getting through.  For feeling the fear, the remorse, the shit, and breathing through it.  Until you get to the next day, the next, and the next.

The day after the trial, I immediately jumped back into my work and slowly but surely, started feeling better after each subsequent class I taught.  I started the day sobbing on my co-worker and friend's shoulder and ended it quietly content, feeling rewarded for having reconnected with my students.  I can't undo what was done last week, as much as I want to more than anything.  But thankfully my job allows me to help make life a little less stressful and a little easier to cope with for others - and reminds me to do the same thing for myself.