Sunday, February 9, 2014

What Does Trying Look Like? Responsible Action

What Does Trying Look Like?
Responsible Action

After I finished teaching yoga this morning, I had a talk over breakfast and coffee with my husband. He said that it seems like there are these conflicting messages in yoga: (a) push yourself to be something more, try hard, and strive, and (b) be gentle with yourself, rest, and take child’s pose. He was trying to understand how both messages serve the same intention in one class.

In the Sutras it is described, much like I speak to in class, we practice with both (a) sthira and (b) sukham (see See sutra 2.46.

Sutra 2.46 The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable, and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga (sthira sukham asanam).
   sthira = steady, stable, motionless
   sukham = comfortable, ease filled
   asanam = posture (from the root ~as, which means "to sit")

I explained to my husband that taking a rest, being gentle with an injury, and intentionally taking a restful and restorative practice is just as important as the strength building, challenging practices that take you to your edge. He said that I should share this. So, here it goes.

When we practice yoga, we discern (Sutra 1.42). It is a practice of knowing the edges of things and when something is-- both what it is and what it is not – knowing when it is something more and knowing when it is something else.

One of the things that we discern is whether or not we are still in the game. We need to know when we are we taking ourselves out because we have given up or checked out. We also need to know when are we still trying; when we are in the game and being gentle, resting, and healing; when we are working, gently working, to stay in our practice, to keep our growth trajectory positive and healthy.

These two ways of being (the checking out and the taking good care) might both look like child’s pose, not going to yoga class, or not practicing—on the outside. Only we know the difference in our own hearts (yet another reason why our judgment on the outside is useless- but that is for a blog for another day).

I looked up recovery and relapse-- areas in which it is very important to stay in the game. In my searching, I found a wonderful chapter written by a woman who was struggling with psychiatric illness- Patricia Deegan (Patricia Deegan: Recovery: The lived Experience of Rehabilitation;

Dr. Patricia Deegan, now a clinical psychologist,  talks about her own recovery as a journey of success despite the context of rugged individualism in which competitiveness and tireless striving is emphasized and linear progress required (i.e., point A to Point B progress with no set backs).

She argues that this context is not supportive of recovery. Rather, to recover an individual needs to practice…..

Three Cornerstones of Recovery: 1. Willingness, 2. Hope, and 3. Responsible Action.

Ah- there it is Sthira and Sukham in number 3 Responsible Action- Dr. Deegan did not say action, just action. She said responsible action.

So, if you are injured, sick, tired, and in need of restoration and recovery - responsible action is one thing. To be sure, it is quite different from the responsible action that is absolutely 100% correct for someone who has spent the day on the computer and needs vigor and challenge. For each person, responsible action takes its own form, it has its own special recipe of measured proportions of structure and ease.

Responsible Action in Two Yogis:

1.     Yogi A would show responsible action if she held her side plank a few breaths longer today because she can and because she has a pattern of giving up right before her breakthroughs. Yogi A would show responsible action if she wrote the three papers she needs to write to get her certification done. Yogi A would show responsible action by breathing through the discomfort of challenge. For her, the responsible action of breathing through the discomfort and pushing herself is exactly what needs to happen in side plank and in her life.

2.     Yogi B would show responsible action if she sought out a yin class, gently stretched, and opened her hips (and heart) with supports and soft, gentle instruction. Yogi B would be in responsible action is she acknowledged her need for softness and acceptance in her driven and powerful life. For her, responsible action means equanimity and giving herself permission to take a break and heal. It is exactly in the NOT doing that she will be in her strength. For Yogi B, the responsible action of resting and healing is exactly what needs to happen in her child’s pose and in her life.

Zuri’s Story of Responsible Action

Zuri is at her Aunt Jasmine’s. It has been a few weeks and her mom is not doing any better. In fact, they haven’t been able to reach her, which is very scary for Zuri.

Zuri pushes hard. She does this on purpose. She thinks the universe functions like a big math problem. In this math problem, if she just tries hard, hard enough, her mom will get better. Things will be okay with her mom if she drills down in her studies, takes care of Jasmine and Rashan (she is always taking care of someone), and pushes it really hard in her yoga. In fact, she knows that she has made more progress than any of the other girls in the after school yoga program. She can do crow and three different arm balances. She can stand on her hands in the center of the room and when she is having a good day she can catch her foot with both hands in king dancer pose. Each class, she works so hard she is left in a pile of sweat. After wheels, she lies with her feet together one hand on heart heart and one on her belly feeling her heart pound so hard it feels like it might burst out of her chest. “Ah,” she thinks. “I worked hard enough.” It is like a measure for her. It goes into the big math problem.

Miss Amanda, the yoga teacher sees her strive and she worries. Amanda works to push the kids to get out of their comfort zones and to get into their bodies and their breath. She loves Zuri’s drive, her heart, and her passion. Lately, it seems Zuri’s yoga is too intense. It seems as if Zuri is not actually doing yoga (i.e., a turning inward and connecting with the self). Lately, Zuri seems like she is running away from something, fleeing out of herself, escaping from her-self in her postures.

After class, Miss Amanda asked Zuri to wait. Zuri was so happy. She loves Miss Amanda.

“Zuri, everything okay?”

“Yes, Miss Amanda. Everything is good,” she lied.

“Oh, okay. Are you sure? You don’t seem okay?”

Zuri’s cheeks felt warm. She hates to be seen like this. She wanted to hide.

“No. Miss Amanda. Everything is good.”

“Okay, honey. I am here if you need me.”

“Thanks! Miss Amanda!” To Zuri’s relief, Aunt Jasmine drove up and beeped the horn. She grabbed her backpack and waved goodbye to Miss Amanda.

Zuri stared out the window and cried a silent cry. It wasn’t working. The math wasn’t working. All of her striving wasn’t making her mom better. And all her hard work and beautiful postures…. What the heck? Why was Miss Amanda worried about her and not proud of her? This wasn’t fair. Why is everything bad? Even the trying. Lucky for Zuri, Jasmine was feeling too nauseous to notice Zuri's tears.

When Zuri got home, she ran upstairs and crashed on her bed. She sobbed. After a while she was done. She had no more crying left. She dragged The Yoga Bag out from under the bed and flipped through my notes, like she does. She found my journal entry about self-care and balance. I was struggling like Zuri, working so very hard and hoping that if I could just work hard enough the rest of my life would fall into place. Only, the harder that I pushed, the more the things I wanted were out of my reach. I was the fist grasping the elusive sand, left with nothing but a few grains in the creases of my palm, and a fist.

Zuri, squeezed her hand into a fist as she read my words. She stopped reading and slowly opened her hand. She spread her fingers wide and flipped onto her back. She placed her hands, one on top of the other, and both on top of her heart. She knew she had to talk to Miss Amanda after school and tell her the truth. She knew it right then. She needed softness in her life. She needed someone to take care of her and to support her.

Her shoulders softened.

The next day after school, Zuri did her yoga with steady, even breath and a new softness. She wasn’t doing the big math problem in the sky that maybe, just maybe would make her mom better. No. She was just doing her yoga, which she needed. Yoga, real yoga, that she needed for her own self. She didn’t need math, she needed yoga.

“Hey Miss Amanda, can I talk to you?”

“Yes. Zuri, what is it?”

“Well, when I told you I was okay, I wasn’t being honest. Things are hard at home. My mom is sort of missing and I am at my Aunt Jasmine’s. She is trying to get us as foster kids, Rashan and me. Eric is sort of missing too. And Aunt Jasmine is sick. I am helping her a lot and we are praying for my Mom and Eric. But, it is not okay. I should not have said that.”

Miss Amanda reached out and Zuri fell into her arms. Miss Amanda held Zuri and Zuri leaned into her shoulder and felt a great relief.

Yes. Zuri could do handstands and perfect dancer poses. She could pretend everything was okay at home and keep driving herself to exhaustion. She could do that. However, in this moment, she was thankful she was choosing not to. She wondered as she held Miss Amanda if I had found a soft place like this. She wished she knew who wrote all those notes in the yoga bag. She sent a prayer to God that someone was taking care of me too. And she thanked God for The Yoga Bag.

Zuri heard her Aunt Jasmine beep her horn. She squeezed Miss Amanda and said thank you. She ran to the car. She smiled all the way home.

The Process

Zuri can rest assured that I do have wonderful people in my life that give me support and love. I have learned, and I keep remembering, and practicing, that the math problem is not about one person pushing himself or herself to the breaking point so others can be okay. I have learned that you must balance steady effort and rest. I have learned that you will have days of great progress and days that are holding places for the days that have been and days yet to come. I have learned that we are all on our own paths and Yogi A and Yogi B are both in my classes, and in me, all of the time.

It is a long journey, this life. To stay in the game and in the trying, you must have responsible action-- a steady practice marked with times of great effort and times of great rest, both. 

Responsible action means that you must always discern the difference between when you are: (a) resting and restoring and (b) taking yourself out, letting yourself give up when you know in your heart-of-hearts that you should push. 

Responsible action means you must always be willing to acknowledge when should rest and not push, because pushing might just break you. 

Responsible action is being in careful, thoughtful balance.

Be in your own form of responsible action

Be in your discipline when it serves you and be disciplined in your self-care and rest when you must.


The Yoga Bag

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