I remember the first yoga class I ever took with vivid memories. It was a Hatha class and one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Actually, I hated it. I remember glaring at the instructor with a gaze hot enough to burn holes into her skull while being overtaken by an unrelenting want to get out of the pose we were holding. It was Warrior II and I was in a full-on battle. My mind was hurling into the future in an incessant stream of thought, my body was a burning inferno of intolerable sensation and my ego was getting bitched slapped with the reality of my strength or lack thereof. Nevertheless, I refused to be defeated by simple stagnate holds. I was more powerful than yoga, I was in control or so I thought. I stayed the course and completed the class including Savasana, which felt like a huge waste of time. I left in a huff and despite the sheer anger that I was feeling I couldn’t deny that I felt better. This only deepened my anger. I fought that experience with every cell in my being but afterwards something told me to go back and try again.
Almost two decades later, I find my way to the mat as often as possible. Over the years, I’ve found a protection and peace on that rubber rectangle more than anywhere else in my life. I love Warrior II and Savasana is by far, my favorite pose. So what changed and when did it happen? Why don’t I hate the poses, the teacher or the quiet anymore? My hamstrings and hips are still tight but there is an undeniable difference in me and the way I live my life. Frankly, I’m just not such a bitch anymore. I’m not so tightly scheduled and stressed. My humor comes from joy and not at the expense of others. I trust in outcomes and keep my finger off the control button. How did this happen?
This is a question that I recently dove into deeply. As my drill spiraled down into my yogic experiences I came to realize that this practice was the only place in my life that taught me to pause. Sure, I learned a lot about slowing down and breathing in my massage training but never did I learn to pause and watch my impulses, my egoic thoughts. In the past my impulses got me into and out of a lot of heated situations. I was a loose cannon of impulses gone wild, many times hurting others in my line of fire. Yoga changed these patterns by teaching me to notice the impulse first then make a choice to act on it or not. A practice that has saved me many regretful moments. This pause to witness the impulse and chose again has helped me remain at peace and in presence despite what I am facing in my life. It keeps me in line with what is real and truthful.
When I look back at that first yoga class, I see a girl overloaded with egoic impulses and acting on those without any inquiry to their validity. When I practice now, I try to remain 100% aware of breath throughout but this is quite difficult and truth be told, I drift. I am better these days at catching myself and coming back to my breath but when I’m in a particularly difficult pose or long hold I notice that my ego butts in every chance it gets. As soon as I become aware of this devious faculty at work I choose to bring my awareness back to my breath. It’s the awareness of choice that is now the difference. A single moment of witness, a pause and a chance to make another choice. This has been the life changing element for me but like everything worthwhile I must stay in practice….all the time.
The good thing is life gives us constant opportunities to witness, pause and make different choices. Here are some of my favorite places to practice the pause. Try it out and see what happens but beware, your ego is not going to like this at all. It will, at all costs, try to prevent you from living in presence and truth. Remember, you always have a choice.
Endless possibilities here! Whether its a quick drive to the market, your morning commute or family road trip there never seems to be a scarcity of driving situations that don’t warrant a pause. Driving scenarios happen fast and the ego thrives on quick reaction so be on high alert when at the wheel. When a pausable moment arises, notice the impulse to throw up a violent gesture or yell and make another choice that is more loving.
Classic power of the pause opportunities. Here’s how it can go down for me. A family member is explaining a current situation in their life. As they are talking I’m thinking about everything that they need to do to make it right that they are not already doing. I pause and instead of shoving my agenda down my loved one’s throat I notice my impulse to shove and make another choice to simply listen and support. When asked to weigh in, I will and when not asked, I remind myself to simply listen without ego involvement.
It’s 95 degrees in the room with 50% plus humidity and I’ve already been holding Warrior II for 2 minutes. My shoulders are a burning inferno of sensation and my mind is screaming at me to get out of the pose, I’m angry with the teacher for he surely has forgotten that we are standing here holding up our arms. I pause, notice my egoic impulses to create drama and make another choice to return 100% of my awareness to my breath, a place my ego cannot exist.
You may have 2-legged kids, I have 4-legged kids and one, no, make that two of them are quite demanding when it comes to feeding time. One of them is especially large and has a ridiculously loud bark that permeates my bones. At 5:45am that bark can be as jarring as it is impossible to control. This can push me to the edge sometimes. In the past I have yelled at the dog which leaves me feeling bad and the dog still barking. This is a more violent choice of communication and not one aligned with how I want to live my life. Instead I pause, notice the impulse to lose my cool and make another choice to meet the situation with calm.