The Opposite of Distraction
Yesterday, I made the mistake of engaging with my phone early morning before yoga class. It probably wouldn’t have been an issue, except I was in the middle of a mild disagreement with a friend. Something I saw from her that morning in regards to the disagreement really rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe because it was early and I didn’t have all my faculties yet… but I carried this bothered feeling into class. It was extremely hard for me to focus on my postures with my preoccupied brain. It felt like a struggle, and it completely exhausted me. It wasn't pleasant.
I was hoping to use yoga to clear my mind, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I was still thinking about why I was so bothered for a few hours after class. I didn’t try to bury it, and eventually I found some resolution—which was a good thing.
The experience helped me recognize a few things. One, that I am often searching for distractions from difficult thoughts in my day-to-day life. I think this is not uncommon in our modern day—from tv shows to smartphones to podcasts to youtube, the mind-numbing diversions abound—not to mention things like drugs and alcohol. A good example for me is when I am in my house doing chores or cooking, even brushing my teeth before bed, I will always have a podcast playing. That’s all fine and good, but when I finally lay my head on my pillow at night, I am suddenly bombarded with all the thoughts I was avoiding—issues in my marriage or my friendships or my personal growth, for instance. Similarly, when I’m doing solo travel for yoga, as I have been doing often over the last several months, I find myself with quiet time devoid of the usual distractions of home. My thoughts rush in to fill the void, and there’s only so much I can do to distract myself.
Yoga is the same. Instead of distracting you, it creates a quiet space in which you cannot hide. You must meet your thoughts and emotions head on, and then find a way to deal with them in the moment. I mean, some days I might be pretty care-free and finding focus (or Isvara) isn’t as hard. But if I do come to practice with troubled thoughts, I then have to try out several strategies to deal with it. Ok, now I will focus only on my breath. Ehh, ok, now I will focus only on engaging my bandhas. How about feeling sorry for myself? No? How about some soothing self-talk? Or maybe some acceptance and letting go of the need to have a good practice? Some strategies work some days and not others, and some don’t work at all. But the cool thing is, yoga acts as a microcosm where we can practice these coping strategies that can be used in day-to-day life.
What if I was having an irritable day where I was impatient with my husband and I remembered I could use the strategy of “acceptance and letting go of the need for things to be good?” That would remove the added road block of me beating up on myself for not being a perfect wife, and would probably make our interaction easier to navigate. What if I could employ that strategy when he’s in a bad mood, too? Now we’re seeing the real lessons of yoga at work…and occasionally, in my actual life, this is how it goes down! Maybe it will happen even more as I do more yoga!
It may not always seem like it, but the quiet space of yoga is a gift. When we bury troubling thoughts or emotions, they don’t go away. They fester. They cause us to be reactionary and defensive, because we have something boiling under the surface. It’s not easy work, but when we’re brave enough to meet ourselves head-on like that, we periodically flush out the festering troubles. We cleanse our emotional body, and gain a little more freedom and peace.