Missives from the Mat #12 — Trapped and Released

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Who knows why anyone does anything.

I chose to pursue yoga because I knew that I needed centering, healing and quiet.

I was a recent first-time mother, my world was turned upside-down and I had an anger simmering in me that I didn’t understand.

I knew my anger had nothing to do with the baby, but I did feel trapped, as though becoming a mother had sealed the deal: I was en route to becoming my mother, with whom I did not much agree about anything. The only thing I knew how to do was to be Not Her. I did not know mySelf.

Suddenly I had these visions of her visiting endlessly –the proposition of which was absolutely terrifying– and never leaving. Mom would corner priests at the end of Mass; she would close down restaurants. She never said “good bye.” I remember witnessing my parents’ lengthy chats by the car in the driveway when my father would Just Try to Leave for Work. My fears and visions evolved into nightmares and then full-blown panic that I’d never be able to escape her. By giving birth to my son, I’d given Mom a lifetime pass to my … life.

It was all totally irrational. It was all in my imagination. Until it started to happen.

Mom stayed with my first son for several hours a day for nine months after I went back to work as a corporate communications manager for a major telecommunications company. At work, I had it all: stimulating conversations, deadlines, feedback, actual objectives which were attainable and measurable and money. At home, I had none of that, or so I felt. Looking back on all this, now 16 years later, I can see that I had all the measurable outcomes and objectives and goals I needed — they just weren’t mine to attain; they were my sons’. My own personal growth at the hands of my beautiful boys is priceless. No therapist could ever come close to helping me see where I needed to change.

So when I’d heard from my mother that my son was beginning his first steps and that I’d not be there to see it, I had to make a choice: miss out or miss out. I chose to miss out. I chose to stay home.

The morning I decided to leave my job; I had just printed my resignation. This is my beautiful son when he was about a year old. 

The morning I decided to leave my job; I had just printed and signed my resignation letter. This is my beautiful son when he was about a year old.

So I quit work. That job… yikes. It was amazing. But I had other things to do; I had to quit my old world to light up my new world.

But I was a mess still and I had to get out. “You have anger problems,” I remember my mother smirking at me in a smirky voice, as though my unexpressed, repressed rage and anger was all about me and not at all about her and her years of addiction, parentalizing and manipulation of me, upside-down mentality, and hocus-pocus “that’s not what happened” revisionist history.

Full disclosure: I am a peacekeeper by training. Still trying to win her graces, I didn’t want to upset my mother. She offered to stay with him that first year when she learned that I was interviewing daycare providers, “I’ll not have my grandson stay in one of those baby bins…” she would hiss. (I didn’t notice at the time, but I think I was being judged.) So we made a deal: she would clean up. No more drinking and no more pills and she could stay with him. But she had a price, I had to pay her. Every day she would take a cab to my house and be his onsite Mimi. Nine months later, when I left my job, she told me her world fell apart. That I had “taken away [her] reason for being.” The guilt of it all: to quit my amazing job, to stay home with my son, to lose mySelf in his mothering and lose mySelf in diaper duty, having no one to speak to but a toddler for hours on end was all a bit too much. This was supposed to be a happy time: MOTHERHOOD! But I had anger issues, right? Who would teach him Shakespeare? She asked. What about how he likes his lunch? She continued to visit daily, but I couldn’t pick her up, I was exhausted. But because I couldn’t pay her way over, or much of anything after I stopped working — we gave up half our income — the visits atrophied. She did teach him his first sentence, “Puck bit Mimi” after my father’s corgi, Puck, bit my mother rendering a dozen stitches in her right hand … much to the chagrin of our relatives and my mother’s friends, my father kept Puck. I could write vast tomes on my mother’s relationships with my father’s dogs.   

So I took up yoga at a local rec center on Sunday mornings. I’ve never been very churchy. This was a perfect compromise. It was the conscious breath with movement that was a nice departure, but the nap svasana at the end which hooked me. I remember thinking to myself, “And we get to take a nap too??” when each class was over.

I’m not an athlete, but I am athletic. I’m not a super-still person, but I can meditate. Get someone to tell me what to do and I’ll do my best to make it happen, so it was that people pleaser in me that helped yoga become a successful element in my life.

It was yoga’s subtle push to open my mind to my inner Self and see what’s inside it (rather than what’s outside it) which ultimately made me stay.

If You Go Looking for Crazy …

Anyone can flap their arms and kick up dust when crazy is going on all around. If you go looking for crazy, you will find the crazy. There’s never a shortage of crazy. So… why not try to be the stillness? Why not contribute to the silence?

After a few months of yoga, I realized that how I felt about / related to / fit in with the outside world was a direct mirror of how I was dealing with my inside world.

I’m reminded of those spin-art cards created at carnivals and festivals: you drop colors of paint on a card and then someone sets the card on a turntable which spins. The centrifugal force sends the gobs of paint to  radiate from the center and then you have your art.

Instead of being like the spin art, when our inner world starts to leak through to our outer world, I’ve learned that I need to go inward, go inside, and settle down and figure out how to deal with myself instead of oozing on to everyone else. That’s what yoga does for me: it keeps me from oozing on to the people I exist with. Yoga keeps me from being like spin art (which is always left behind at the carnival anyway).

Yoga’s near-compulsory / encouraged mindfulness has taught me to keep mySelf in mind in all of my reactivity. Do I still react? Yes. It just takes longer to happen now and is over much sooner. Also, my apologies are more freely offered. I’m also a much better listener. Not perfect! But better. I also have gained the freedom to be OK with making a mistake or to draw back on a boundary if I’ve spoken too soon. It’s OK to change our minds.

No Longer a Baggage Handler.

Yoga also gives me a more open mind which helps me allow people their baggage if I get static from them. I don’t have to take their baggage either — that’s another benefit of yoga. What’s on my mat is mine and what’s on your mat is yours.

I used to get terribly enmeshed with people. Now, I just smile and nod.

Some people come to yoga because they want better abs. Some people come to yoga because they need to stretch after sitting in a desk all day. Some people come to yoga because it’s cool. Some people come to yoga because they don’t know why, they just know it works.

I teach yoga because it has changed my life.

It’s been quite a year for me. A year ago, I had just written the check to attend a 16-day yoga teacher training retreat which beautifully humbled me. Three weeks after that, my mother suddenly died and the next day, school started for my kids. Three weeks after that, I pushed through to complete my RYT-200 written exam as my birthday gift to myself. Then on a snow day from school, I wrapped up the final stages of my yoga certification. Three weeks after that, I was teaching yoga in this beautiful room:

nice huh? it's a 40'x40' space surrounded by woods. all you hear when it's silent is the ticking of the wall clock, the chirping birds and children at the nearby pool in summer. i can't imagine myself teaching anywhere else.

nice huh? it’s a 40’x40′ space surrounded by trees. all you hear when it’s silent is the ticking of the wall clock, the chirping birds and children at the nearby pool in summer. i can’t imagine myself teaching anywhere else. at night, when the evening class ends and it’s dark outside, you hear the peep toads and crickets. in the winter as the snow falls outside…it’s like a dreamland.

The first time I stepped into that room to take yoga from my own teacher several years ago, I remember saying to myself, “What a gorgeous space. I would love to teach yoga in this room.”

Yogi Bhajan, the man who taught my yoga teachers Kundalini yoga has a saying, “Start and the pressure will be off.” That’s basically how my teaching started: I was trapped.

My first adult class came on the heels of serendipitous and universe-at-work, power of attraction, power of intention woo-woo: I set the intention, I got the room. I got the students. They came with the deal. They have stayed and re-upped and brought friends. It’s all a little too magical to believe, so I just accept it. I don’t try to figure it out.

Practicing Vs. Teaching — Oy.

Teaching yoga is quite different from taking yoga.

When you join a class, you go, you practice and you can leave. When you teach, you teach, you demonstrate and you don’t leave until the last person leaves. I get to lock up the beautiful space.

Last month, I wrapped up an eight-week session teaching children for pay and this coming Monday will mark the end of my first 12-week two-class session of being an actual paid yoga instructor to adults. I pinch myself from time to time. The earnings are very modest, but it lets me take the kids to Starbucks or pay for haircuts, or low-grade car maintenance.

Kids are honest, funny, physically adventuresome, openly competitive and curious. It was a blast to teach them; they were game for anything. The hardest thing I had to do with them was rein them in. Adults are not always like kids: they don’t tell you when it hurts, they keep their expressions to themselves and so it’s largely a mystery how things are going unless they offer a comment. I have learned to accept that if they keep coming back it’s because they like it. I can’t go looking to them for my happiness or fulfillment as that would be completely unhealthy; so I need to grow-up and see the data for what it is: proof.

Part of the Work of teaching yoga is practicing care for our students while also practicing detachment. All of my teachers have privately spoken to me about the varying personalities in a yoga class. I remember myself when I started: I was a super-pissed people pleaser. Somehow it worked out.

For Students: Respect the Space.

I encourage my students to be self-aware too.

The yoga room is a sacred space. When joining a yoga class — whether it be the first time or the 1,000th time — it’s crucial for the success of your own practice as well as your classmates’ that you leave your “day” at the door or at least with your shoes. Why? Because not everyone just got engaged. Not everyone just got fired. Not everyone just lost a friend or dropped the roasted chicken on the floor (guilty as charged). It’s because not everyone lives the same life. I try to do my best to allow everyone’s humanity while at the same time protecting everyone from everyone’s humanity… it’s a delicate balance.

I love that the students mostly know one another — after all, I was the new kid. They were already assembled, I took over the classes. That said, whether the students are adults, children or families: we are there to practice yoga, not share and have coffee — that can happen after or before class. I respect my students enough to begin and end on time, which I think is a rational expectation; everyone pays the same price to be in the room for the same amount of time.

you, your mat and your strap.

no matter where you practice, at the end of it all it’s just you, your mat and your strap.

The thing is — while these 90 minutes are all we have, everyone’s 2′ x 6′ rubber rectangle mat is all anyone needs to come to terms with themselves. They don’t need me to do it for them, in fact I can’t do it FOR them. They might need me to keep them in alignment, to help them not hurt themselves, to inspire or encourage them to go to their edge, but in the final analysis: it’s all them. I’m just there to hold the door open. They are the ones who step over the threshold.

Get Lost to Find YourSelf.

Many people look to find friends or a Teacher (not just of yoga) at a yoga class or session. That’s not what this is about.

Some of these yoga teachers out there are like rock stars to their students followers. I do not have that ambition. I’m not there to want you to love me. I’m not there to get you to trust me — either you do or you don’t. I’m not there to get you to hold that adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) for three minutes. It might be a goal, but it’s about YOU being willing to Listen to YOU and not try to impress anyone. ‘Get lost and find yourself,’ I say to myself when I get on my mat. That mat above is my fourth mat. I’m still looking, apparently.

When I first started this teaching gig, 14 weeks ago, I wanted to be liked. I’ll totally admit that. I also wanted to be The Best Teacher Ever and reinvent yoga and create lasting memories in peoples’ lives about how amazing and revolutionary my yoga classes are… now that I’ve exhausted myself trying to live to that standard, and have realized that people just want to be guided in movement, stretched out and relaxed, I have given myself the gift of my own perspective and have released myself from the crazy expectations I placed on myself. Why? Because I never expected that from ANY of my teachers. I just wanted them to tell me how to move.

Practicing yoga is truly about you giving yourself and your mat the time of day. It’s about you trapping whatever you are dealing with on that mat and then working through it so that you can release it and come off the mat that much kinder to yourSelf.

The best gift I can give people is a moment to help them to find themSelves.

Thank you.

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