After three weeks of what seemed like a cough that was here to stay, I was finally ready to get back to a day that didn’t involve cough medicine, the hot water kettle and a box of tissues. So obviously, I wasn’t happy when I woke up with a stuffy nose and scratchy throat yesterday. Allergens have found me. Determined to not miss my yoga practice, I dragged myself to the studio. The regular teacher for that time slot was away so we were being led by a substitute teacher. I was sniffling, irritated and desperate for a relaxing and calming practice that would magically cure me. Class began and my brain took off. Nothing seemed good enough to me as I breathed in and out and shifted from pose to pose. The lights were too bright. The music, a Hare Krishna Hare Rama kirtan sung by a man with a heavily anglicized accent, was way too loud. The room was hot and I was in a full sleeved tee shirt and long pants. The guy next to me could not stay balanced to save his life and was teetering through his practice, threatening to come crashing down on me and add broken bones to my list of health woes. I was moving through the poses in a mechanical fashion but clearly, my mind wasn’t there. It was taking me along on a ride of misery.
My mind kept protesting through the practice with proclamations like:
- “This just sucks. Why did I have to fall sick again? Why me ?!”
- “I am complaining to the regular teacher the next time I see her.”
- “Why isn’t she asking us if we’re hot and then turning on the fan? Everyone’s obviously very uncomfortable!”
- “This light is going to give me a headache.”
- “What an idiot this guy is! Why couldn’t he find a corner to put his mat if he was so out of balance?”
- “Why am I not flexible like these women? It’s been a year of regular yoga practice for crying out loud! I clearly suck at this.”
And then it happened.
I was in a boat pose and at this point, quite exhausted and angry at everything. My teeth were clenched and I was holding my breath trying to stay in the pose. The teacher came over and gave me the biggest, kindest smile that seemed to say, “I know this is hard, let me help you” and then she proceeded to straighten my legs and hold it out in position for me. I let out a breath and closed my eyes. My jaw relaxed. Suddenly there was space. A palpable pause.
The thoughts came crashing down. Suddenly, I wasn’t able to believe the stories I was telling myself for the past hour. I was breathing deeper and I was relaxed. With every pose that followed, I did my best and the negative chatter eventually subsided to a point where I thought to myself, “This is isn’t so bad I guess”.
We’re all carrying stories in our head as we go through our lives. Stories about people around us, our jobs, our families and ourselves. Quite often, we’ll find that these stories aren’t based in the truth or arrived at carefully either. They are formed hastily and slapped together using snap judgement and fear. Fear of losing someone, fear of pain and discomfort and the worst of them all, the fear of just not being “enough”. If you’re lucky you may have an epiphany like I did at my yoga class that breaks the narrative and helps you rewrite the story in a way that is constructive and healing. If not, you may delude yourself into believing the stories you concoct, slipping deeper and deeper into their grip.
In her terrific new book, “Rising Strong”, Brene Brown says that a phrase that has been a lifesaver in her marriage, parenting and professional life is “The story I’m making up is …”. In an all too familiar story (check out the excerpt on Oprah.com) about a fight she had with her husband, over meal prep and groceries, she admits to her husband, “The story I’m making up is that you were blaming me for not having groceries, that I was screwing up”. To which he responded, “No, I was going to shop yesterday, but I didn’t have time. I’m not blaming you. I’m hungry.” End of argument. I have had this exact fight numerous times with PK and not once has it been resolved this quickly! What a simple, yet powerful idea!
There’s a choice: We can hide behind anger and resentment at the first sight of a conflict in our lives or we can slow down, breathe deeper and ask ourselves, “What is the story I am making up?”. Are you choosing right?