Sometimes life is like a difficult yoga move and you just have to breathe your way through the pose.
Twisting. Wrapping. Forcing.
Freaking out while trying to get somewhere stupid, like touching your nose to your shin, never made anything better. The idea of yoga, as I’ve experienced it, is to simply breathe deeply and be aware of what’s going on. Having anxiety that I will tumble over while balancing on one leg, with arms flailed out to the sides like wings, isn’t going to help me with my balance. Thinking about the next pose while being off-balance in the current pose isn’t going to make me more balanced in the next pose, either. Anxiety and getting lost in the thought of the next move causes more anxiety and imbalance in the present pose. By the way, making a face and having an attitude…also not helpful.
Same holds true when we approach stressful situations in our lives. Sometimes, all that’s required is backing off a little. Getting focused and having some grit to move further into tough situations with grace is a better option.
Why is it so hard sometimes to calmly deal with what’s in front of us?
Habit, what we’ve been taught or experienced, fear, shame, self-doubt, or ego. Defense mechanisms.
I’ve never seen a situation improved by overdoing anything, forcefully trying to get ahead, showing off or getting aggressive. But we all do it and see others doing this every day. Everything is pretty awesome but we’re bent out of shape because of our own twistedness.
One of my favorite things about yoga is drishti, or “focused gaze.” Throughout the poses it isn’t necessary to glance around and see what other people are doing for comparison because the focused gaze is generally off the tip of the nose. All you need is awareness of the poses and then try to land somewhere between giving up and over-doing. When someone brings ego into yoga class, she may think others are watching and that her classmates care how skilled she is. (We don’t).These are the people doing a random backbend while the rest of us are in downward dog with brittle shaking arms. It’s nice to be in your own space and breathe. It’s a space of minding our own business with awareness and a side effect of strength building.
Something to try: The next time a difficult emotion shows up, try letting the emotion show up and simply be curious about it. Most of us immediately react when an unpleasant emotion shows up. We label the emotion “unpleasant.” Notice what fear (or anger or sadness) feel like in your physical body. What color and shape is the emotion? What’s it like to just sit with the emotion without taking it, or letting it take you, on a ride?
“I feel sad.” “I feel angry.” “I feel scared…” “This is what it’s like to feel _____________.” Sit with this for at least 5 minutes without blaming others or outside events for your feelings and without having self-judgment. Notice what happens.
My mother and I were sitting at a table in an Italian restaurant waiting for our order. I noticed the plant sitting up just inches to the left of my head. Perched in a nook in the wall. Dividing our table from the one on the opposite side from us.
“Is that plant real?” I asked my mother. “Not sure,” she replied.
I touched the leaf to see if there was any indication of life. The leaf felt waxy. The plant looked vibrant. Bright green leaves. Symmetrical. Cheerful. Friendly.
There was my answer. No tiny little brown edges on the green leaves. No drooping or discolorations. No signs of new life or tiny buds. No shriveled blooms on their way out. No dirt. No fallen pieces surrounding the pot. No stains on the wooden wall from the occasional over-watering. It was a fake.
Natural things aren’t supposed to be perfect. People aren’t supposed to be perfect.
Have you ever noticed that the most interesting people have some quality of depth about them? A depth that stems from some type of imperfection? Stories they share are interesting because there is always something to learn. Something to take from the conversations about past mistakes, unexpected mishaps, an adventure gone awry, a left turn when it should have been a right, a figuring out of things when all was stacked against them.
The world can be superficial. Full of people trying to capture a feeling by buying things. Full of confused middle-aged people relentlessly trying to smooth and correct. Neighbors who spend thousands to convert their patio into a mini-Tuscany. Conversations feel more like a networking event leaving me wondering who this or that person really is? Shallow. Boring.
I recently found some childhood photos of my grandparents’ property. I was taken with how beautiful it was. Unspoiled. Cows roaming in the background. Barbed-wire fence behind the house. Green grass and dirt patches mowed without any fancy borders or edging. Watered by rain. An enormous sweet gum tree where we’d painfully find the “fruit” with our bare feet in the front yard. Sticker-burs. Painful and imperfect.
There is such beauty in natural surroundings. Strength, wisdom, empathy and understanding are the rewards of accepting thorny imperfections. More beauty in the perceived defects than in the contrived.
Having depth requires leaving the surface of the water. Maybe leaving those points near the surface is too frightening for some. But all of the good stuff happens deep beneath. The most profound experiences happen after diving in.
I was in the dressing room at Macy’s where I had the very entertaining opportunity to listen to my “neighbors” trying on clothing in the dressing room next to me: Mom and her pre-teen daughter.
It was a busy day so the mom-daughter duo were sharing a dressing room. The mother was quickly approving and veto-ing clothing that her daughter was trying on. At one point, the mother tells her daughter, “Uhm. No. It looks like your selling something you don’t have.” The daughter didn’t respond.
I’m not sure she comprehended what her mother was saying, exactly. But mom definitely had a point. It must be a challenge to find clothing for pre-teen girls, little girls or adolescent girls these days. Especially, if mothers are developmentally confused, themselves. The boundaries are blurred between clothing for women and girls. I see mothers dressing like their five year old daughters and 5 year old daughters being dressed like much older women.
Sexualization of women occurs on a spectrum from sexual violence to sexualized evaluation. Sexualized evaluation is often subtle and gets played out through, “gaze.” One of my friends calls it, “the scan.” What’s fascinating about “gaze” is that women have no control over being gazed at, yet, as many feminist theorists have argued, the majority of women take on the view point of the “gazer” about themselves! Over time, girls and women internalize the observer’s perspective and begin to view themselves as objects. This is self-objectification.
What are the consequences of self-objectification?
Shame: having a negative opinion of yourself while also fearing being judged in a social context. Shame is a moral or social emotion. It’s the feeling that one doesn’t measure up to some social ideal. It’s the belief that you are responsible for someone else’s opinions or feelings.
It’s quite confusing for women because success in relationships and work have been shown to be evaluated by physical appearance. Research tells us that “beautiful” women have more power in our society. Women are caught in this push-pull of needing to be attractive in order to achieve, yet feel shame when not meeting the over-idealized images we’re exposed to in the media, day after day.
Anxiety: Appearance anxiety. Studies show that women experience more appearance anxiety than men. Women have anxiety about their appearances because they don’t know when their bodies will be judged and evaluated. Then, in a very subtle way, we internalize those judgments of others.
Eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Women make up about 90% of this population.
Not to mention, every time a sexualized woman is viewed by others, the perception of all women are unfavorable by the viewers. This is called the spillover effect. Even when the non-sexualized woman is modestly dressed. Great! : (
There is no arguing that there is a pre-occupation with the appearance of women in American culture. This is a form of outside validation or relying on someone else’s opinion of your appearance in order to gain self-worth. Our society is so far into this mode of validation that it’s doubtful that we’ll turn it around; but, we can still be aware of what we teach young girls (and boys)!
Some mothers confuse letting their daughters wear skimpy clothes with power, freedom and women’s lib. It’s none of those things if you look at any piece of research. Many have to learn the hard way, though. Girls are becoming depressed, have no sense of self-worth beyond the next cute outfit and fall behind in academics. Does this sound like a good start to having a healthy, successful satisfying life?
Sometimes, I get frustrated because our critical thinking skills are quickly being replaced with cleavage. Then parents want to bring their young daughters in for therapy sessions because they are depressed, anxious, have eating disorders and are generally lost.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I’d prefer parents come in for therapy (instead of their children). We have an enormous opportunity to help boys and girls develop healthy self-concepts and respectful, healthy views of one another. When men and women don’t have healthy self-concepts or healthy, respectful views of others, we can’t expect that our children will either. At the very least, we need to teach our children how to have conversations about healthy sexuality. This won’t make sense to them without parents placing a focus on helping children develop a solid sense of self.