Monday, February 25, 2013

Most Difficult for Us

I told someone the other day that prior to going to New Zealand, I used to teach Stress Management for Lawyers (and other professionals) workshops. I sort of laughed considering how difficult stress management has been for me recently. He very kindly said, “we are often drawn to that which is most difficult for us.” How right he is. My response to him was, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

There is no question that growing up I was full of stress. I first went to a chiropractor for intense neck pain when I was 15. I could barely move my neck at the time. College was sort of ridiculous for me when it came to stress, but that is also when I discovered yoga.

But my yoga bucket takes a lot to fill. The summer I was studying for the bar exam, I did two things – study and yoga. I was at yoga classes 4-5 times per week. It helped, and I think yoga was the only thing that got me through three days of the California bar exam, which feels like more of a marathon exercise than an actual examination of your understanding of legal material. But it required that amount of yoga just to keep me somewhat sane, and I am sure if you ask the people around me, they thought I was still a stress bucket. (Of course, they did not see everyone else studying with me.)

But some of us are patterned to be high anxiety. We could argue ad nauseam about whether it is our biology or our environment, but whichever it is, it goes deep into our bones. I think the legal profession attracts these types of people. We thrive on stress, and we understand it. But it takes its toll, and as a society we are learning that we have to counteract it, or we are going to kill ourselves. 

This blog is full of tools to do at the desk and more reminders to breathe than we know what to do with. But all of that is for naught if we do not actually do it. It is easy to know what we have to do. It is quite another story to step up and actually do it, especially when society tells us we should be “working” not managing stress. Even with the societal changes happening toward more understanding and acceptance of yoga and other stress management techniques, there is still the underlying assumption that those activities are not work, regardless of how good, and necessary, they are for us.

I found yoga because I needed it. I was at a point in my life where I knew I had to make some changes. Luckily for me, this realization happened when I was 19 years old. It was many more years, however, before yoga became an everyday part of my life. But when push comes to shove, the underlying patterns of stress return, and the yoga bucket empties fast.

But that is exactly what drew me to yoga in the first place. That is exactly what drew me to teaching yoga and teaching workshops. Staying in the yoga zone is difficult. I know what it is like to revert to the stress and all its underlying issues. Getting out of that mindset is never easy; it exists in our cells and our samskaras (patterns). It becomes our default even when we know how harmful it can be.

Teaching yoga forced me to do more yoga. It allowed me to start this blog and put my yoga practice front and center in my life. It allowed me to be honst about yoga even within the legal profession, something I was nervous about doing until I realized I am not, by any means, the only one. Plus, knowing how hard it was for me for years to reduce my stress, I knew I needed to do something drastic to ensure I would actually follow through.

But even that was not a panacea. There were moments, days, and even weeks of stress. I knew I had missed the mark when I told someone to breathe, and my colleague said, “look who’s talking” with a wee tone of sarcasm in her voice. But I may be the perfect proof of what happens when we ignore those lessons we know we need to learn. There could be any number of reasons I had a herniated disc, including the many times I have fallen down. But there is no question stress had something to do with it, and that stress is internal (a post for another day).

I know how powerful yoga, in all its forms, can be. But I also know that we have to follow through. And that can be extremely difficult at times. But perhaps the greatest lesson of these past few months is that there is no end point. Yoga is not something with a pass or fail. You are not graded on it. No one except you is keeping score. So even when it is extremely difficult, you can set the intention to start anew tomorrow. Better yet, you can set the intention to start anew right now. Yoga is about presence, no matter how difficult, and being present is one antidote to all the stress, anxiety, etc. that permeates so much of our lives today.

So, why was I drawn to yoga all those years ago? It was the answer to something that has always been extremely difficult for me. But with anything in life, that relief ebbs and flows. And so I share this post as a way to reach out and say that the best way to learn is to teach someone else. And sometimes the most important lessons are the ones most difficult for us to learn.

Do you have moments when you feel like you walk the yoga path? Do you have moments when you take a step to the side? Do you have moments where you feel like you cannot even see the path anymore? What do you do?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

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