Monday night for a really long time I sat on the couch breathing deeply. I didn’t want to respond to the fairly innocuous texts waiting on my phone, I didn’t care enough about Netflix to pay attention, I couldn’t get on the mat because of an injury and I could feel that I was about to burst, so I just sat on the couch breathing. Breathe in, try to wrap my mind around the anxiety that was forming as anger in my core; breathe out and let it all go. It took a while but I finally calmed down, enough to pick up my phone and respond, press play on Arrested Development and wind down from the spike of emotions before going to sleep. Yesterday morning I went to meditate, as I do most mornings these days, and found I couldn’t sit still for anything, still agitated from the happenings of the previous day. What exactly set me off so much that I’m working through these cycles of quick anger and slow calm, even now at my desk? Nothing, really. This week I just snapped.

Anxiety is a bitch of an emotion with a lot of unpleasant physical symptoms to boot, as many people know and some know much better than others. I suffered from at-times crippling anxiety for many years; not that I couldn’t leave my apartment or had to leave my job crippling, but yelling at my friends and family for imagined indiscretions and hiding in an office bathroom crying kind of crippling. It’s one the reasons I love yoga so much. Yoga has made it really possible to calm myself down, to separate my Self from my anxiety, looking at it almost like a separate part of myself that I can subdue by not giving into its cries for attention. 9 times out of 10, that approach works for me. But sometimes all of that anxious energy builds up in me and I can’t find a way to get rid of it, and something tiny will set me off and it bursts out of me like  a firework, generally in the form of anger. Recently it’s been this vicious cycle; I can stay calm in moments that used to feed into anxious energy and instead the energy stores, until I get an unwanted text or Snapchat and it explodes in rage out of my body. It’s like I’ve finally learned how to calm down my anxiety but now I’ve created a whole new beast I need to face.

Anger is a scary emotion. It’s unpredictable and empowering at the same time; it feels good to release the anger on someone or something else, whether they deserve it or not. Anger is intoxicating in its own way; where Anxiety makes you want to crawl in a hole reliving that one embarrassing moment from middle school over and over, Anger gives you the power to yell, to assert yourself and your opinion. It gives you ammunition to fight for yourself in one way other, your views or your free time or whatever else may be offended. Anger is power; Anxiety is fear. Neither one of those matter when one is in a yogic state of mind, and yet even with all my Zen AF yogi training, I still have too many moments where I’m chasing that anger high, even though I know the come down can be just as bad as the original offending emotion.

Yesterday I felt it snap again, after trying to focus on the good things like how today is my Friday and and I have family to look forward to this weekend, but a text set me off and I spent the next three hours breathing myself through a fit of anger. I left the office in a huff, walked 20 blocks up to the subway stop up from the one I normally take to blow off some steam and proceeded to wait over 20 minutes for a train. After about minute fifteen I could feel the anger I’d been suppressing percolating like mad: fucking MTA. I just want to go home. Who are all these people trying to push me to look down an empty tunnel. The train is going to be uncomfortably crowded. I could feel my frustration wanting to emerge in tears, in yelling, in cursing, in something, just something to get it out of me and release that energy onto someone else who could handle it better.

But instead I took another deep breath and paid attention to my heartbeat and my thoughts. I appreciated the moment where I was just then: I wasn’t about to leave to take a cab home so I just had to wait, knowing eventually there would be a train and eventually I would be home. I stood, leaning against the painted metal of the station, and counted every inhale, and every exhale. The anger subsided just as the train rolled in and I leaned against the doors I knew wouldn’t open till the end of my trip and I kept breathing. At that moment a large group of loud tourists packed into the train and started yelling at each other across the car, but I just turned up my headphones and focused on the song in my ears. And as I poured all my attention into the melody flowing through each ear and through me, the song crooned “Life is in love. Life is in love. Life is in love.” I smiled, and replayed the song. I may have snapped the past week, finally breaking from Zen-yogi LB who has been running the show for weeks now, but she’ll come back always if I can remember those words: life isn’t in the intoxicating pull of yelling at strangers or hiding in a corner. Life is in love. Love is life is love. I think I can breathe into that.


Look Up

In the past month or so, I’ve spent a lot of time in my partner-in-crime R and her Scot H’s apartment, such as the infamous jumpsuit weekend and last week’s trip back in time. Since I live approximately a thousand miles away (approximately) from their beautiful FiDi building, I try to travel there in the afternoons with everything I might need for the evenings, like extra clothes and accessories. Unfortunately, as a highly responsible person, I have a tendency to leave said extras there, so by this time last week I had quite a lot of stuff in their guest room, ranging from sunglasses to a bathing suit to my entire gift bag from Jazz Age. Most of the things left there weren’t immediately necessary for me to have, but eventually, I reached a point where I did the unthinkable: I left my headphones there.

Headphones, for most people, are a nice tool for distraction during a workout, or maybe something to use while laying on the beach. For a New Yorker, and me especially, they are pretty much everything. EVERYTHING. If I’m not having a direct, face-to-face conversation with someone, my headphones are in: on the subway, walking to and from the subway, office, apartment, talking on the phone while cleaning and cooking, while working, while working out and more. And I’m not the only one, especially not in New York. If you look around the streets or the subway, inevitably you’ll see more people with headphones than without, using them to watch a movie, listen to a song or sometimes just to block out the rabble around us. The way I see it, we use them as a way to space out while surrounded by strangers, getting lost in our own world.

There’s something to be said about looking up from such a distraction, to be sure. In the week without my headphones, I’ve seen some really amazing things on the subway, like an old woman thanking a soldier in uniform and offering him her seat, teenagers giggling to each other and talking about who’s in what class for the upcoming school year, and couples silently leaning into each other after a long day at work.  In the streets, I’ve heard and seen more performers, noticed stores I haven’t in the past and managed not to plow into the paparazzi waiting outside an Equinox to grab a sweaty photo of whoever exciting was in there. And back in the spring, I had a brush with what could have been love after taking a chance on taking out my headphones on the subway in the mornings. So I can agree that sometimes it’s good to disconnect from certain distractions, since you never know who might be distracted by you.

Thing is, though, much as I enjoy wrapping myself in the interesting lives of strangers around me, I think having time to yourself is key. While I’m fortunate enough to live alone and spend a good majority of my days talking to myself and my cat, the silent subway contemplation and walking around the city alone, lost in the same Spotify playlist, are some of my favorite times of the day. I like getting lost in my own thoughts and watching the people around me do the same. I’m not worried about whether I should get off the couch and clean the stack of mail that’s steadily growing next to the flowers I should probably throw out; I’m not mentally running through what needs to get done at the office the next day as busy season rears its ugly head again. I’m just enjoying the music, alone with my thoughts, blocking everyone else out around me, relishing that small piece of my day, whether it’s the forty minutes it takes to get from the Heights to the West Village, or the ten minute walk from my apartment to my lovely friend M’s place.

I managed to get to R and H’s place by Friday last week, as I enjoyed the day off, and practically ripped through the bag with all my other missing possessions until I found my precious headphones, immediately putting them on and turning on my favorite Spotify list. I had just about six blissful, wonderful hours with my headphones before promptly forgetting them on New Jersey Transit as a friend and I made our way to East Rutherford for the Jets/Giants preseason game. Spending an early morning train ride to Connecticut the next day with no distractions put me in a mood, draining positivity and excitement as I realized the girl next to me was not turning her own music down and I’d be listening to her blurry beats for the entirety of the trip. I looked up in frustration briefly and saw a toddler and her dad playing some kind of game on the iPhone, her delighted squeals making him smile, making me smile in turn. I suppose at the end of the day in all things, it’s nice to be distracted and insulated by your own thoughts and music, blocking out the world with small white earbuds. But every once in a while, whether on a crowded morning subway or imagining the future, it doesn’t hurt to look up.