I start the day stiff and crooked. I’m 41 and my joints crack sometimes. My hair started going gray over half a lifetime ago. I have my issues: worries about members of my family, worries about saving enough for retirement, little annoyances of home repair and phone calls I’d rather not have to make, daily chores, what to make for dinner. There’s one tiny slice of the day when I can put all that stuff aside and escape it all. It’s a guilty pleasure. I know what some people think of “women like me,” as I roll out my yoga mat, and I don’t care. Let them be jealous. For half an hour, more if I can get away with it, I’m going to get all the hassle out of my system and leave it on the mat.
Stress does things to us. Sometimes I catch my reflection in my laptop screen. Every single time, and I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME, this happens, I see that my shoulders are hunched up and there’s a crease between my eyebrows. I try not to, but my shoulders hunch forward when I type. In fact, I type so much that my biceps get sore. It’s easy for the accumulation of daily stress to build up without our noticing. That’s how we come to realize one day that we can’t sit on the floor and get up again anymore. Not without a laborious, embarrassing process of grabbing onto furniture or asking for a hand up, anyway. I’m determined that I’ll still be able to get off the floor when I’m 80, and what I’m doing on the mat every day is one way to work on that. In the meantime, though, my daily desire is to get rid of the tension and aches and pains that have started creeping up on me since the previous day. I’d like to leave all that on the mat.
It’s more than just the aches and pains that I want to leave behind, though. It’s my story. Yoga teachers often mention this. The story is the way we explain ourselves to ourselves. Whatever may or may not be true about reality, we interpret it based on our perceptions. My story may be that someone is being mean to me, or that something is unfair. My story may be that life is difficult. My story may involve all kinds of catastrophizing about money, politics, the weather, aging, my brown lawn, or how to interpret the look the person on the next mat gave me in class. Whether any of this is true or not, whether any of it will still be relevant to me in five years, is all beside the point. For the next fraction of time, my job is to focus on my body and my breath. I’d like to stop my mind from drifting away and get myself focused back on the mat.
So much of my thoughts, feeling, and behavior revolves around my mood. When I’m content, I can be a good listener. I can take extra time and I feel like I can afford to be generous with my attention. When I’m crabby, burned out, or anxious, it makes me selfish without realizing. I feel like I need the conversation to keep circling back to my problems. I tune out. I take things personally. I can’t quite reach the threshold where I can be present for someone else. The more I practice setting aside my story, the more I work on releasing physical stress, the easier it becomes for me to realize when I am not being my best self. I can recognize a mood for what it is: a temporary emotional state that will soon pass. I can check in and remind myself to behave in a way that is more consistent with my intentions.
Why does the body fill up with so much stress, irritation, resentment, anxiety, worry, criticism given and received, bitterness, envy, and grudges? Where does all that come from? It’s like a pollution in the muscles. What would it feel like if instead my body were filled with joy, enthusiasm, tranquility, gratitude, acceptance, and appreciation? How would I stand? How would I sit? How would my shoulders feel? I don’t know yet, but I’d like to find out. I have a sense that I’m more likely to find it somewhere on the mat.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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