That the Heat would teach me about Accepting the Things you Can’t Control…
Early in my Bikram practice I was obsessed with the heat. Constantly.
“OH MY GOD! How hot is it?!”
“Is the teacher going to open the door and let some air in??? Why aren’t they opening the door yet?!”
“@*#! Is the teacher trying to kill us?!”
Generally, there would be a lot of internal Tourettes going on. If my brain was one of those TV shows where the expletives all get blanked out, it would have been broadcasting one big, long, continuous ‘bleep’. Even Chris Rock would be blushing.
And all this would usually be geared towards blaming the teacher for how hot the room was. Because surely it was their fault, right? I never took into account that the heat in the studio could vary for all sorts of reasons, from the number of bodies in the room, to the weather outside, to how I was feeling on any given day, to yes, maybe even the heating system genuinely being temperamental once in a while. Then, there was the rather obvious question – if I had a problem with the heat then why practice in it? I always came back, so I realised that my problem wasn’t the heat but my attitude towards it.
Fast forward a few years and I do feel very differently about the heat. Hot Yoga at my yoga home is the basis of my practice, mixed with Astanga and Jivamukti when I can, so on average I tend to do about 5 hot classes a week at the moment and every day is different.
Now, if I’m in a particularly hot class, yes I do acknowledge it. If someone comments on how hot it was, I’ll say, “Yeah, it was hot today”. But I don’t have that internal Tourettes anymore. Instead, I see the heat as a bit of a metaphor for accepting things I can’t change on and, especially off the mat. That doesn’t mean I always manage it, but I try. In a particularly hot, humid class, I naturally sweat even more (if that were possible!), my ability to balance is usually off, I might need to take child’s pose more often, be even more conscious of my breath… A particularly hot, humid class certainly does present more challenges. But it’s a reminder to me to be kinder to myself as I move through those challenges. How apt that I would have a particularly challenging class last week to remind me of this, just as I’d been berating myself earlier that day over something that ultimately, I could not change or control.
It was one of those really tough classes, physically and emotionally. (Ever had one of those classes where stuff comes up and you feel like you don’t really want to speak to anyone afterwards for fear that they’ll ask if you’re okay and you’ll burst into tears on the spot? Yep, one of those.) But instead of trying to push those feelings down I decided to accept where I was and just sit with those feelings until they passed. I’m so glad I did that. Because my natural disposition is pretty positive I have a tendency to expect that I should be cheerful all of the time and feel guilty if I’m not, but that’s ridiculous. It’s not real.
There is nothing wrong with accepting how you feel. That doesn’t mean wallowing in sadness if I feel sad, but I’ve finally learned that it’s healthier to acknowledge how you feel rather than fight against it, just as it is healthier to find a way to accept those things in your life that you truly cannot change than to resist and push and struggle. I look back and realise that health issues I’ve had in the past were probably linked to me doing just that. If you push those things down, I think they find a way to come out somehow in the end. In my case, it’s been physically.
Yes, that sounds obvious but it’s taken me a long while to get this lesson. And what a great lesson. Better late than never.
“Be present in all things and thankful in all things” – Maya Angelou
It’s interesting how what you focus on can show up, not just once, but again and again.
In class the other day our teacher talked about the ability to see our challenges as gifts. Earlier that same day I’d been reading Jivamukti Yoga where Sharon Gannon and David Life explain the meaning behind this chant:
“Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshvara, Guru Sakshat, Param Brahma, Tasmai Shri Guruvey Namaha.”
I remember chanting this in my first ever Jivamukti class, call and response. I mumbled it under my breath with no clue of what it all meant or how to pronounce the words, but it sparked a desire to learn more. Of Devo Maheshvara (another name for Shiva, the Destroyer) Sharon Gannon and David Life write:
“If you can accept Devo Maheshvara as Guru, then you are a very evolved soul. It takes spiritual maturity to embrace difficulties and to see within them the potential for enlightenment. The greatest spiritual growth can come from appreciating difficult times in your life and facing them fully with an open heart.”
This notion is something I seem to have been hearing and reading a lot lately. I know I find this tough to accept – I am far, far, far from evolved – but I do understand the truth in it. In my experience, it is the challenges that make you grow. However, that can be much easier to see in hindsight than when you’re in the eye of the storm and scrabbling for a piece of driftwood to cling to.
As mentioned in previous posts, the past few months turned out to be more challenging than I expected. Yet, during and since then I’ve noticed that I say ‘Thank You’ a lot more. And every time I say it I mean it.
I am so especially grateful to my fantastic family and friends and the wonderful folks at my yoga home. Between them they’ve helped me through this time more than they probably realise. Somehow, ‘Thank You’ doesn’t seem enough.
I have no idea what the future holds but I do know that a bit of gratitude really puts things into perspective. It’s as though the more grateful I become the more there is to be grateful for. One door has closed for me but as a result there are other doors and windows opening up. It’s making me look at the past few months differently – I learned some things about myself and I genuinely see it all as a gift. The challenge is, when the next set of challenges appear (as they invariably will) can I find the ability to see them as gifts at the time? Will I be able to honestly embrace the difficulties? I’m pretty certain it will take me some time to get to that point. But that’s okay. I can accept that. And I can keep working on it. And who knows? Maybe one day I will be able to chant Guru Devo Maheshvara from a place of true appreciation.
In the meantime, I’m sticking with Gratitude for all the gifts in my life right now.
Do you sometimes forget the things you know you know?
At the end of Flow class one day my teacher pointed out to me that in Savasana I was scrunching my up forehead. “Really?!” I looked at him, perplexed, “I had no idea”. Whatever was on my mind was etched across my forehead. “Why don’t you have a think about that?” he said. I sat on my mat, still a bit bemused as my teacher got up and left the room.
But think about it I did.
My brain has felt so full recently. I’ve been physically and mentally racing around non-stop, re-organising my life and making some big decisions about what I really want. Amidst all this trying to do and control everything I found myself feeling tired all the time. Not eating properly. Feeling less like myself. Being even quieter than normal. My smile fading… The only time I ‘stopped’ and left all that behind was during my yoga practice. Or so I thought.
I’ve been here before.
In times of stress and big change this has been my default. Taking proper care of myself is the first thing to go then after that it’s a slippery slope. Yet, yoga is mostly off the mat really, and being kind to myself is a part of that. How could I not have noticed?
I’ve been holding on so tightly to ‘stuff’. To stuff that has happened. To stuff that hasn’t happened yet – that I’m afraid might happen or that I want to happen that might not happen… A zillion ‘what if’s?’ have raced around my head as I’ve tried to plan for worst case scenarios and every possible eventuality my mind has woken me up in the middle of the night with. My Girl Scout head likes routine and structure and being prepared at all times. Being in control.
Even in my practice I noticed more tightness and discomfort in my lower body than usual, my pesky piriformis being joined by new guests – unhappy hamstrings and sensitive knees. At other times I’ve been feeling fine during a class one minute then literally felt my energy evaporate the next. Consequently, I’ve sensed a growing frustration at feeling limited in my postures, and because I hate the idea of being a quitter I’ve struggled to power through (despite my body wanting me to slow down before I fall down). Because anything less would be giving up. Right? I know better so why have I been doing this?
After some thought I worked out what the problem was:
I got caught up in the ‘stuff’.
Mostly, my mind rushing ahead and worrying about all those ‘what if’s?’ rather than focusing on the present. But the truth is I can only focus on the ‘now’ and the things I can do in the moment. Worrying about the things I can’t control or what may or may not happen tomorrow, next month, next year… is pointless. That way lies misery. My life is transforming and I’m adapting to the fact that I need to not hold on so tight. That I need to Let Go and be more open.
A funny thing is I noticed that when I made the decision to ‘let go’ I did feel more open, literally and metaphorically. In that particular moment I found I was able to do something I never do in class. I kicked out during the balancing sequence. That’s not to say that I’ve been able to kick out in every class since because I haven’t, but that’s not what the issue is for me here. I wasn’t ‘woo-hooing’ at the fact that I kicked out. It was the observation that something significant seemed to happen in that moment where my mind shifted. It was a great reminder for me of the importance of letting go, and also the importance of what you decide to think.
If it hadn’t been for my teacher pointing out my scrunched up forehead to me I might not have even noticed where I was going. I don’t know if he saw what the problem was when he mentioned it. Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m glad that I got to work it out for myself. Some of the best lessons stick that way, I find. It turns out that quiet word from my teacher was just what I needed at the time and for that, I am truly grateful.