Becoming less reactive and more responsive is a huge part of the yoga practice. Learning to sit with intense sensation calmly can really be a life-changer; so many people move through the world as victims of circumstance. If things are going well, they’re happy, if things are not going as planned, they’re miserable. If someone says something or does something thoughtless, they’re sent into a tailspin. Life can, and probably will be an up-and-down experience if you don’t find a way to open to both those things that feel good, and those things that are disappointing, enraging, heartbreaking, or unexpected.
You cannot control what another person will do or say or want or need. You can’t control what life will put in your path, but you can choose the way you’ll respond to what it is you’re given and there’s so much power in that. A lot of it has to do with creating space between an event, and your response to it. A reaction is generally coming out of our past. You’ll know you’re reacting if things feel charged and out of control. A response is coming out of our present. Something is happening, and we’re responding to the thing itself, in present time, without dragging history into the mix. When we feel “triggered” and exceedingly vulnerable, the tendency is to act defensively, to fight for ourselves, but if a loved one has upset you inadvertently, wouldn’t it be nice to have the space to give them the benefit of the doubt? To pause and consider the source? To examine your own feelings and see what’s come up for you, before you lash out and say or do something you’ll regret? If a stranger cuts you off on the freeway, do you really want to give that person the power to raise your blood pressure? If your boss says something thoughtless, do you want to allow that to ruin your afternoon, robbing you of hours you can never have back again?
There’s a beautiful concept at the heart of Imago Therapy. The idea is that a relationship happens in the space between you and another person. Not just romantic relationships, but also the space between you and your children, your siblings, your parents, friends and colleagues, and the person who brings the mail to your house. The space between you and anyone else. The idea is that you get to choose what you put into that space. You can decide to fill it with your frustrations, disappointments, anger, resentment, boredom, or you can fill it with your kind attention, your love, compassion, patience and willingness to truly listen and see.
In order to make choices we’ll feel good about, we have to create a little breathing room between what has happened, and what it is we’re going to do (or not do) about it. If you’re in a “fight or flight” state, there’s no choice, you’re fighting, or you’re fleeing, but if you have a practice where you breathe when you feel challenged, the breath creates the space. Your ability to notice sensations in your body as they’re occurring, for example, can be enough to slow you down, so that instead of hurling something hurtful at your partner, or yelling in frustration at your child, you turn your attention to your shortness of breath, your racing heart, the feeling of the blood rushing to your head, and maybe you even get to the place where you can speak out about this stuff as it’s happening. You might say, “My heart is racing and I’m having a hard time breathing, this is probably not the right moment for us to continue this conversation, I need a few minutes.” (If you’re talking to your kids, a simple, “I need a time out” will do ;)). Just like that, you have some space and time to observe what’s happening within you.
Maybe you’ll realize this present-day event is reminding you of something very old, maybe it’s hit a nerve. It could be that something in the interaction made you feel disrespected or unseen or unheard. Even the best people say or do thoughtless things sometimes, no one operates from her highest self in every moment. If someone truly loves you, they’re not going to hurt you intentionally, but when we feel disappointed or attacked, there can be a tendency to ascribe blame, or to assume intent. Space gives you the chance to recognize what’s happening within you.
It might not seem intuitive that twelve deep breaths in standing frog would set you up to breathe more deeply when you feel enraged, but it does translate. An intense sensation in your quadriceps is not so different from an intense sensation in your chest. Rage creates sensations all over the body, right? The shoulders tighten, the jaw clenches, the heart races, the blood boils. These are all sensations. If you have a mind and a nervous system trained to deal with this kind of experience calmly, you also have the power to stay centered, to be aware of yourself, to know yourself, and to be accountable for what’s happening within you. Then you can decide what to do about it.
Sending you love,
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