[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”18″ align=”left”]If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti[/mk_blockquote]
When I found yoga I had three little children ages 1, 3 and 5. I also had a brand new puppy (a crazy decision, I know). The extreme levels of chaos in my home combined with my natural tendency to be a control-freak ensured that my nerves felt frayed nearly all the time. To make matters worse, each time I lost it, I found myself yelling at a tiny child or a little puppy. Truly, I couldn’t have felt more horrible if I’d tried. It’s not surprising at all, looking back, that the aspect of myself that I disliked the most was my temper.
It’s also not surprising that, when I figured out that yoga made me feel calm and centered while I practiced, I became determined to be calm and centered at home, too. In fact, the more I went to class, the more hell-bent I was to change into the person I felt like on my yoga mat. Honestly (and sadly), rather than helping to reduce my tantrums, all this determination accomplished was more dismay and self-loathing every time I did lose my temper.
Luckily for me, yoga was working its magic in ways I didn’t yet sense or understand.
As I practiced, I had no choice but to witness my mental and emotional reactions to the postures. I came face to face with how I handled success and failure. I noticed when I was complacent and when I worked hard. I paid attention to patterns – I was hard on myself when I was tired, I was pleased with myself when I saw glimpses of change, I was really good at focusing, I didn’t get tripped up comparing myself to others.
Interestingly, I noticed that I was surprisingly willing to laugh at myself when I fell out of standing balancing postures. Failure in these poses was “no biggie.” I would easily smile and try again. Put me upside down and ask me to balance, however, and I was a mess. There was no easy attitude. There was no humor. There were absolutely no smiles. There was mostly a towering wall of angst and fear and frustration.
Each time I tried and failed, I would feel a surge of anger. “Why can’t you do this?” I’d growl to myself in an unkind, awful tone that reminded me of the way I scolded the kids or the dog. Then, I’d berate myself for thinking mean, negative thoughts.
These little emotional explosions were so out of place in the centered serenity of my practice, that they called for more reflection. Because my practice put me in the same situation (a.k.a. postures) several times a week, I had many chances to observe and reflect. One day, all of this attention paid off. I realized in a flash that I felt out of control when I was upside down in ways that I didn’t in any of the other postures. I understood immediately that being out of control like that absolutely terrified me.
In a bright burst of insight, that lesson from my mat revealed a truth about myself that had been hiding deep within me. Feeling out of control scared me. My knee-jerk reaction to being scared was to explode by yelling or growling or otherwise losing my temper. In that instant, my whole perspective on myself shifted and softened. My temper was no longer a character flaw to be loathed. My temper was just a wild attempt to regain control so I didn’t have to be scared anymore.
As a mother of small children and a puppy, I knew exactly how to handle someone when they were scared. When someone is scared, you’re gentle with them. You soothe them. You reassure them. You help them see that they don’t need to be scared, and that, over time, everything will be OK. All of a sudden, when I lost my temper (or, on good days, right before I lost it) I’d notice that my inner dialogue no longer sounded disdainful. Instead, it sounded like I was soothing a startled puppy or a terrified child awoken from a nightmare.
This soothing worked. Just as my puppy learned over time not to panic at loud noises and my children learned to calm themselves from bad dreams, I learned to be OK when feeling out of control. While I wouldn’t necessarily choose chaotic situations for myself, I got better and better at handling them in the same calm, focused and centered manner that I eventually learned to be upside down.
With this new understanding of who and what I was, who and what I was underwent a major transformation. Not only did my temper fade away, but I became a kinder gentler person — not just to my children and my puppy, but to myself, too.