I had an argument with my husband, Evan, the other night. We were out, and I wanted to head home on the early side to make sure the kids were done with homework and on their way to bed at a reasonable hour. He wanted to stay out later.
Evan prevailed. We stayed out later, and all the consequences that I'd predicted unfolded. Homework went really late, and bedtime was really, really late. That meant that nobody wanted to wake up the next morning, and everything was a big, messy rush.
My daughter didn't eat her breakfast. My son forgot his lunch and his gym bag.
I'm not proud of this, but as I dealt with the "fallout," I got stuck in an inner monologue about how right I'd been and how wrong Evan had been. I allowed my agitation to distract me, and I made some mistakes, forgot some important things, and ran late.
I rushed to get to work. I barely made it to the yoga studio in time to let the first student in. And when I did arrive, I realized that I didn't have my computer which has my music. That's okay, I told myself, I can use my phone. I looked at my phone, and it only had 7% charge. I was in a stressful state. I was consumed with my "victimhood." Everything was my husband's fault. Negativity swirled and spiraled within me.
It sounds melodramatic. But this is how stress is for most of us. Little things feel big. Stress distorts and amplifies minor inconveniences.
I started to set up for class. I rolled out a mat. And suddenly, I began to shift. The rolling out of the yoga mat created a kind of Pavlovian response in me. The sound of it thwacking against the floor signaled my brain and my heart: you're going to get some relief now. And I did.
I began to return to balance and perspective. I could see (what all of you reading this can already see) that the events of my morning were no big deal. As the stress dissolved, I began to see through the lens of hindsight. Maybe it was nice that Evan wanted to extend our date. Maybe I was being uptight. Maybe.
Yoga and even just the anticipation of yoga brings me back to the here and now. When I'm pulled away from the present moment into a drama of the mind, that's when I stub my toe, lose my keys, drop the water bottle, drive to the wrong place, forget to charge my phone, etc. That's when I feel out of control. That's when I forget that I have the tools to access tranquility.
If we want to avoid the mistakes and mishaps and -- most importantly -- the nauseating twist of sour rumination, we have to choose presence again and again. Not just on the mat.
I have little reminders around my house of my practice -- my malas on my nightstand, my sheepskin draped over a chair, beautiful crystals on my desk, a ceramic owl on the entryway table (all pictured above). That owl is very special because it symbolizes that even in the darkest of times I can see the way. If I catch a glimpse of my reminders when I'm tense, they can give me the same experience that the thwack of the mat gives me: my shoulders relax, my jaw softens, my breath slows down, and I can remember that I have the capacity for peace and shift into that peace pretty quickly -- if I choose to.
I have to choose to, that's the key. These items were around the same messy morning that I was dwelling in the past and creating stress, but I didn't focus on them; I didn't use them. I just stormed and stomped by them. Next time, I hope to do better.
What reminds you of your practice? Could you put it some place where you need to see it, some place where you could really use a nudge toward serenity? Your car? Your kitchen? Your office?
May the Truth in you guide you. Sat Nam.
Blog by Cate Baily
Cate discovered Kundalini Yoga by accident over 20 years ago and was surprised and thrilled by how engaged, energized, and inspired it made her feel. She's been practicing ever since. Click here for more complete bio.