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.


Wring it Out

The past seven days have been trying, to say the very least. Between anticipated Whole30 crankiness, a family member in the hospital, then a nursing/rehab facility, plus the general drama that comes with extended time with my family, as well as a slowly-exploding workload, I haven’t had a ton of downtime for anything. Sunday was the first day I had a few hours to myself, waking up leisurely around 7:30, and spending the morning cleaning and warming up for a yoga class at noon. I knew the instructor, and knew to prepare because his classes are a little intense, but the one on Sunday was beyond what I was expecting – and not just from an asana perspective. Like, we started out by singing a mantra while he played along on a weird instrument? I’m sure it was supposed to be moving and spiritual and all that, and don’t get me wrong, I like some hippie granola with my yoga, but this was a little out there, even for me. My thoughts were racing through the whole song: this is dumb, my arms are sore (they were lifted the whole time), why won’t the hungover Australians behind me stop talking, until we started the actual sequences for the class, and all thoughts shut down so I could focus on breathing and praying I would make it through. The class was IN-TENSE – twists on twists on lunges, balancing one two limbs, one limb, planks to handstand prep to planks to backbends. When we made it to the final rest, I could feel my whole body sigh with relief at a few moments to reflect and steady my breath. As I lay there, listening to my slowing heartbeat and counting, four beats inhale, four beats exhale, I could feel all the negativity float out of my body back into the funny limbo where that energy stays,

Something people don’t think about in yoga is that the movements go way beyond… well, the movements. The poses, sequences, flows are all wonderful for toning the body and all, but each movement also has a very specific intention that helps you physically and mentally: negative emotions are stored in the hips, twists detoxify everything, standing postures keep you balanced, i could go on. I’d been focusing on more strength postures in daily practice the past week, still tirelessly working towards a free-standing forearm stand, but in that class on Sunday, my first one since before all the Easter mayhem, the instructor had us focusing on twists: seated, standing, balanced, on our backs, on our stomachs. We twisted in Chair Pose, we twisted in Cow Face, we twisted in headstands and everyone twisted in lunges, massaging the internal organs and sweating profusely as we worked through some emotional and physical build-up in the body. “Wring it out!” the instructor kept telling us, as we went left on the inhale, right on the exhale. “Wring out the negativity and the bad thoughts. Don’t focus on when this will be over. Focus on what’s happening to you right now – the burning, the twisting, the squeezing of toxins out of your body and mind.”

Yoga has this way of getting into my head and helping me realize other moments in life where I may be holding on to needless bad energy. The past week, it’s been difficult to focus on anything with everything happening around me, and it was enough just to try and keep all the Whole30 planning, family time, and work tasks straight. Everything combined meant I was holding on to a lot of crappy emotions, and it started coming out in nasty ways: snapping at my mother after a long day in the nursing center, yelling at the cat for trying to snuggle with me by kneading her claws into my neck, and finally beating myself up over not being “far enough along” in yoga practice, as though there’s a magical endpoint where I should be right now. Much as I can take deep breaths and apologize to the people on the receiving end of my snippy remarks, yoga isn’t so forgiving. If I’m angry, or annoyed, or frustrated, and I focus on that anger and frustration instead of the positive progress I’ve made, I won’t get into things that usually come easily to me, and I won’t move forward, a lesson I’ve carried into many aspects of my life.

I’ve been beating myself up quite a lot lately that I haven’t had as much time to write as I’d like. And even now, this post has taken me four days to put together, and I’m throwing the end of this together in a rare five minutes of peace before back-to-back meetings till five. I can also go into how I’ll probably beat myself up about taking the time to write this now, instead of handling one of the many, many outstanding tasks that need to get done this week, both professionally and personally. But I’m doing my best to stay on the positive side of things for now. I’ll get back to blogging like normal; I’ll get to the level I want to be in yoga. I’ll get to a place where it doesn’t feel like I’m drowning every time I open my eyes, and hey, there’s only two more weeks till I can drink wine again. Everything will happen, and things will feel better. And until that all comes into place, I’ll be twisting left and right and sideways, staying on the right side of a positive energy and wringing out what is keeping me back.

“I will do well.”

“Let everything go. Don’t focus on the moment when you fell, or how your neighbor did ‘more’ or did ‘better’ than you. Think about all the love you put into your practice today, and then send that love to the people in your life that need it, the people that support you and share their love with you with no expectations.”

On Valentine’s Day, rather than doing the typical single-girl stereotype of watching chick flicks and/or slasher films on Netflix, surrounded by chocolates, wine and my cat, I decided to treat myself to a workshop with my VERY FAVORITE YOGI, who had traveled up from Florida for the weekend to share her fantastic skills in Core (abs) and Inversion (upside-down) work. I spent two hours in the afternoon stretching every which direction, working my core in ways I never have before and spending more time upside down than if I’d spent a full day on the same roller coaster, over and over and upside down again. It was rewarding and fulfilling in a way that I’ve never experienced in a yoga class, but also FREAKING EXHAUSTING. I was so relieved to sit in savasana (non-yoga people: that’s when you basically take a mini-nap at the end), and the yogi started guiding us through meditation with the lines above. Intense practice like we’d done those two hours can bring up a lot, and as she spoke I felt tears bubble up and start to trickle down my cheek, one after another. It was as powerful laying there, absolutely still, a clear head filled with love, as it was in the moment ten minutes prior, where I held a handstand (if briefly!) for the very first time.

Before I really started with yoga, I had this image in my head that yoga people were these granola hippies, talking about negative energy and chanting mantras, crowing about how we carry bad feelings in different parts of the body, making this huge deal out of arm movements that “opened your heart” and all other sorts of corny statements. My first experience in a yoga studio a few months into my practice was mostly a series of me rolling my eyes at the instructor, not focusing on breath, just trying to do “better” than the girl next to me, and go deeper into postures to impress the instructor. I mean, I started yoga because yoga people are in really great shape, and I wanted to be in really great shape. Not a joke. I wanted the yoga butt, and the yoga arms, and so what if I had to listen to someone say corny things about “listening to your body” and taking “healing breaths” (which FYI is basically normal breathing), so long as I got those things. As my practice started improving, I started following yogis on Instagram to get “ideas for cool pictures,” looking at yoga as a series of “impressive moves” to show off what I’d learned, rather than taking the time to understand how to move my body properly into the postures. Mantras were foreign, as were terms like “pranayama breaths” and “releasing energy,” and it wasn’t until I injured myself pretty seriously in September trying something I wasn’t ready to do (anything for dat Instagram!) that I had to take a step back and look at yoga as more than a means to a great ass.

February has been a really trying month. Between leaving a job, two trips to Connecticut, the Atlantic City weekend and of course, adjusting to the long hours of the new job, I’ve tried so hard to push through emotionally, staying as positive as I can and telling myself it won’t be like this forever. But last night, for whatever reason, I couldn’t. I stared at my yoga mat and tried a few stretches, but I eventually just sat on the mat and started taking deep breaths. I’m exhausted. I’m physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, and February isn’t even my busy month this season. I was trying to quiet my thoughts in the mini-savasana (reminder: yoga nap), counting breaths, but my mind kept racing; first I was berating myself for not making it through a full flow, then encouraging myself that if this were a year ago I’d be half into a bottle of wine and waiting for pizza delivery. I finally had to resort to the ultra-yoga-hippie nerd move, and started focusing on a mantra that I’ve used in the past when I can’t get my thoughts to turn off: as my mind continued running faster and faster, I started taking a deep inhale, deep exhale, deep inhale, and simply telling myself between each breath: “I will do well.”

Mantras are whatever you want them to be. They can be long, short, complicated, simple, whatever helps you focus and set the intention for a practice. As I sat on the mat last night, exhausted by my life and the general state of being, it was hard to tell myself those four little words. It’s hard to stop moving at lightspeed for a minute and just tell yourself that the best you can do is to do your best. Despite having not done an intense practice, like I had last Saturday, as I took those deep inhales, exhales, and told myself “I will do well,” I felt the same emotions start to percolate deep inside me, spilling over the tip of my eyelids like the slow crawl of a frothy fountain soda. I stayed there for a long time, quieting everything down in my marathon mind, and finally rose from the mat feeling as mentally refreshed as if I’d practiced for hours. I started laughing almost immediately upon standing – look who’s turning into the total granola hippie stereotype she scoffed at less than a year ago.

While I’m so proud of myself for the advances I’ve made across my entire practice, from new arm balances to finally getting into a full split, It feels good to know that instead of focusing on how great my ass looks in a pair of leggings (*which it totally does, but not the point), I’m just focusing on doing my best. It’s a simple goal, certainly not as lofty as “I’m going to get into that great pose for Instagram,” but in that simplicity, it’s the most powerful thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. There will be plenty more weeks of nonstop travel, long nights at work and a whole host of confusing situations that get my mind running, and I’ll definitely be this exhausted and more in the coming year. So I’m glad I have the granola-hippie,  yoga-nut, crazy stereotype in me to remind me in the worst of times that “I will do well.”