Sunday, November 2, 2014

Integrity: And Other Stuff Your Yoga Will Ask of You

And Other Stuff Your Yoga Will Ask of You

If you do yoga long enough, your practice will ask things of you. It is ironic really. We often go to yoga for things. For example, I began to practice yoga in search for inner peace-- substance-free, self-destruction-free, self-actualized-- inner peace. I wanted something, actually I wanted a lot from yoga.

However, the more I practiced the more yoga asked of me.

The first few things that yoga asked of me were to eat right, hydrate, and drink less. Whenever I tried to practice half starved, dehydrated, and with a touch of a hang over, it affected my yoga practice. I didn’t like it. I looked forward to the experience of the practice and the integrated feeling during savasana. Yoga said to me, “Catherine, please, eat well, drink water, and don’t drink the night before you practice.” Yoga asked me this during sun salutations. Yoga asked me this when I worked on headstand. Yoga practically screamed this at me during planks. Yoga whispered this to me during savasana. After many requests, I gave in. I said, “Okay. You are right. Okay.” And, so it was.

Next, Yoga asked me to be truthful. It asked my to be utterly and completely truthful. Whenever, I had layers of truths, the layers floated through my head and haunted my practice. The layers were thick- things I had said I would do and misperceptions I had allowed to persist. Mostly, the distracting layers of thought were filled with the little and bigger lies I was telling myself. Yoga calls truth-telling, satya. Yoga asked me for truth during my sun salutations, my side planks, warriors, and especially during half pigeons and frogs, especially then.

I tried to figure out where yoga was going with all of these requests of me. I asked yoga, “Okay, so I eat better, drink more water, and drink less wine. I am truthful. For years now I have been in a practice of truth seeking and telling. Where are you going with this? Why are you asking all of this of me? And why do I feel so much better when I answer your requests?” I asked, “Why yoga, why?”

Through my studies and practice, I think I am getting closer to an answer. Ultimately, you will find that yoga asks you to be in integrity.

In my quest I asked, “What is integrity?” Let's break it down.

(root- Latin)
intact- a thing complete in itself

(root- English)
combine (one thing) with another so that they become a whole

(late Middle English)
the state of being whole and undivided
                 the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles                 

As I looked for the meaning, the root, the “from-where” of integrity I found yoga.

(root- Sanskrit)
a yoking, union (we could say- integration)

A River of Integration

            William James ( called consciousness a river in which all things streamed together into one aggregate of consciousness. Getting specific, in Daniel Siegel’s Book “Mindsight” (click here, he explains that neurological integration looks and feels like a river with two banks. In the center, your awareness, consciousness and way of being are in integration and this feels good, you flow forward in your life with relative ease and adaptability. On either side of the river, you can get caught up. On one side is chaos and the other is rigidity. 


When you are well integrated you feel like this: Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized and Stable- Siegel calls this FACES.

Black River, Brantingham Lake

On the Banks: Out of Integration

When you are not in integration, you can feel chaotic or overly rigid. There are ways we rationalize both.

The Chaotic Side

Sometimes when we are veering toward the chaotic side- or living there- we might tell people, “I am a free spirit” or “I don’t believe in constraints or boundaries.” Some individuals are this way and do so in complete integration. For others, it is different. You can recognize this as a cover story when you say these things when you are late to meet someone you love or you are refusing to take responsibility for life concerns like rent, 10,000 unanswered emails, or credit card bills. In these cases, there is no “free spirit” and you are clearly out of integration and using the cover story of free, light living as a defense. Those around you can feel the disconnection and the loss of integration. Those around you can feel- the lack of integrity. People don’t like that feeling. It does not feel safe or secure to be around someone out of integration in this way. It does not feel light or easy. 

The Rigid Side

Rigidity is no better. Although there are many cover stories for this, one that is an old favorite of mine is “perfectionism.” Under the guise of trying to be perfect, many of us are really just locked into rigidity. In rigidity, you are not flexible, adaptive, or energized. You are not fully integrated as you hold on tight to rigid behavioral patterns, rules, or ineffective ideals. Some use it as an excuse for poor health behavior like restricting foods or poor relational patterns like controlling others in relationships.

I call perfectionism “romanticized rigidity.” I have explained it in my forthcoming book- Mindfulness and Yoga for Embodied Self Regulation (you can also cite this blog- [note, citing sources is also part of living in integrity]). Sure, it sounds pretty, “perfectionism,” but it is nothing more than romanticized rigidity. Trust me, this way of being does not feel safe and secure to be around either- like chaos- it is marked with a lack of integration- a lack of integrity.

Why? Because all of your fails, your hard tries, you fears, your challenges are hidden, stuffed down and not processed. You are presenting a veil or illusion of constructed perfection with a big hidden mess underneath. Others feel pressured to be a “fakely” perfect as you are, somehow believing in the illusion. You create toxic environment condoning rigidity and lack of integration- worse- you try to make it look good. Your room is clean but your closet is stuffed with clothes and your dirty laundry and coffee mugs are shoved under your bed. Your room looks fantastic- you might even post a photo for all to see how pretty the surface looks. Even if it looks good on the outside, you are out of integrity.

Now- it is important to say that being in either chaos or rigidity is not bad. It just is. Yoga asks you to notice and then bring yourself to center. No need to deny the struggle, in fact OWN IT. Yeah- I shoved dirty laundry under my bed to make things look better than they are- okay- and so- let me grab that laundry, put it in the hamper (better yet the washer) and get on my yoga mat.

Then you look at your life and ask- what do I need to change to be in integrity? What will bring me more integration? Yoga will ask you- Were you too tired to bring the clothes downstairs because you are overbooked everyday? Do you do too much for others and not enough for yourself, so that there is nothing left at the end of the day? Are you spending so much time on the appearance of being okay that you have no time for actually being okay? Are you stuck in a slump struggling to get anything, even one thing, done? Do you need more structure?

You will know when you find integrity. You can feel it when you are there. You can feel it when those are around you are there.

Integrity is – well it is attractive. Not in a pretty way- it is attractive in this I-want-what-you-have way. 

You want to be around it.

You want it.

This wanting, this calling-- is your soul, your brain, your heart, and your body asking you to let them live as one. To live in integrity.

So, get on your mat and listen. Listen to what your yoga is asking of you. You might need to cut back on the wine. I did. You might need to hydrate more. I had to do that too. You might need to be more honest with yourself. Ugh- me too.

Yoga will also give you something back- your integrity.


The Yoga Bag

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