Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Examining the Narrative

"Sometimes, you gotta break out of your own narrative," said Bruce Springsteen when he left the E-Street band years ago.

This Saturday will mark three years since returning to Bikram yoga. Reflective anniversary posts may not be the most thrilling, but I think pausing to "take stock" and observe the unfolding of the years is worth doing, so long as it doesn't descend into rumination ;-) What narrative are we in now? How has this story come to be? In what was do we hope it will evolve?

First, what hasn't happened in three years. I still have high blood pressure, which kinda sucks. I'm also tempted to be frustrated by what appears to be stagnation in the postures and in my stamina. In today's class, I lay on my mat, exhausted, dehydrated, as I sat out the second set of the final four postures. Y'know, come to think of it, I skip postures often. I even leave the room occasionally. If you'd asked me during the first year of practice where I hoped I'd be by year three, I might have said something like, "I'd like to pretty much always do the entire class, no sitting out poses, and never leave the room."

It's easy to focus on what hasn't happened. But predicting what benefits we'll receive out of any discipline is probably not the best place to put our energy. As Pema Chodron says in the recent issue of Shambala Sun, "to look for progress is a setup--a guarantee that we won't measure up to some arbitrary goal we've established."

Pema's words ring true to me. At the same time, I recognize that goals are what drive many people into any discipline. We feel a need to get fitter, to calm down, or to feel more energized, so we join a gym/cleanse/diet/juice/meditate/pray/etc. Some of us have serious health issues that we hope will improve with a disciplined practice. The downside of clinging to this list, though, is that we can get frustrated when we don't check those goals off the list. More importantly, we can fail to notice other, equally important changes simply because they fail to fit our chosen narrative.

Dart Board
In some ways, I guess I've been lucky all around here. I actually have met some of my self-prescribed "goals." These are some of the "measurable outcomes" (oh God, did I actually just write that?): A minor thyroid issue no longer afflicts me. I can enjoy a glass or two of wine without getting a migraine. As a matter of fact, I no longer live in fear of getting a migraine--they've reduced in frequency so dramatically that I'm surprised when I get one. As the end of the semester nears and the piles of grading mount, I no longer get the throbbing tension in my upper back and shoulders, and I can concentrate more deeply and for longer periods of time. I still have difficulty sleeping, but when I lie awake at night the dread that used to fill my body and mind is now nothing more a quiet whir in the background. I appreciate my strength, flexibility, and a pretty forgiving metabolism.

More impressive but less quantifiable are the emotional and mental benefits of yoga. When I started, I had moderate social anxiety and would not go out more than once or twice a week--doing so was so taxing I needed a day to recover, to build the stamina for another go-around. Having people in my home left me fraught with anxiety. There is something in this practice, though, that encourages you, bit by bit, to be OK with who we really are, and now I find social engagements energizing instead of enervating. As I write this post, a man is readying his things to move in, something I would not have thought possible even two years ago. I look forward to this move, to both the joys and challenges it will bring us.

These are the changes I really didn't anticipate. I could almost say that there's been a personality shift in the last seven months or so. This is what can occur when we "allow it to happen," as my yoga teacher often says. Goals are fine if you need 'em to get you in the door, but what ultimately happens can be so much more. "We practice letting go of our idea of a 'goal' and letting go of our concept of 'progress,'" writes Chodron, "because right there, in that process of letting go, is where our hearts open and soften--over and over again."

I understand that as we age we evolve (hopefully). I can't contribute all changes on this list solely to Bikram yoga. But it does deserve a big chunk of the credit. There is something about a regular, mindful practice that encourages expansiveness in one's mind. Increased awareness of the body's and the mind's doings urges us to shift our perception and to make wiser, more compassionate decisions--from the mundane to the life-altering. Talk about breaking out of one's narrative!


Unknown said...

WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!WHAT WHAT WHAT did you say?????????!!!!!!!!!! WWWWEEEEEHEEEHEEE! Did you say moving in, moving in, moving in??????!!!!!!!! Oh am I so excited, I could barely finish your beautiful post I was so giddy I wanted to jump up and down and leave a comment about this new gossip I just heard. We need to get a bite, we need to get a bite right now!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so happy for you, and really great post!

Martina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martina said...

I do not understand the comment issue I am having here, I was me who wrote the above, because I am really excited and things do not work properly when I get real excited.