Saturday, October 15, 2011

emotional buttons and vulnerability

I began audibly sobbing in Mysore class on Wednesday evening. 

This confusing event may have been the thing that drove me into the blogosphere. Emotionally and physically exhausted and embarrassed as all hell, I ran to Google to search, "crying in yoga", "sobbing in yoga," but the results didn't resonate much with what I was feeling.

The buildup.
Nothing catastrophic has happened to me this week, just many little things. I've been working quite obsessively on a grant proposal so much that it permeates my dreams and my time on the mat. As a result, my sleeping schedule has been skewed, and my bandaid solution has been to drink massive quantities of coffee, which fills me with anxious, edgy energy instead of rested, calm energy. I received word that nothing more can be done for my uncle's cancer and he is to move onto hospice, the latest casualty of my family's BRCA1 mutation. I feel guilty that I never return home to visit my family. Things continue to break on my car, and I suspect I pulled something in my back during Tuesday's practice when I wasn't paying attention. Thus, my body ached all day on Wednesday and I was tempted to skip class altogether. My compromise with myself was that I would go, but that I was going to give myself permission to take it easy. 

The incident.
I did not communicate any of these things with my teacher (at least not until after kukkutasana), but felt irritation when she would catch this slacking off. "Palms to the floor, mb," I would be reminded. Practice was stiff and sluggish, and the whatever-it-was in my back was hindering binding and backbends. I hated it. Frustration. My teacher was not going to let me out of dropbacks, though, something I struggle with even on the "best" of days. Complete and utter hesitation and damn it was painful. "Breath," I was reminded, but nothing would come. We came to the last one, "just one more," she would say. I would raise my arms and begin, but kept coming out of it, agitated and shaking. FAIL. This happened a few times, and with tense chuckling, she would say "you're going to do this. One more." My arms up, she tilted me and back I went, whimpering the whole way and without breath. I erupted into a sob upon being brought to standing. It think it surprised me as much as everyone else in the room. My teacher spoke softly then, encouraging me to focus on slow, deep breathing throughout the rest of closing. The rest of class involved me just trying to hold it together. 

The aftermath.
I bailed on class the next day, and I've been dissecting my emotions since then. Initially, I felt anger and frustration and directed it at the practice and at my teacher, needing to place blame for being pushed out of my comfort zone. I sent a rather curt email to my teacher stating that I would not be in class. I felt she didn't understand how painful the backbends were because they come fairly naturally for her. I still felt emotional all day on Thursday, and I was afraid that more adjustments would bring on more tears. After relaying the story to my boyfriend, he asked, "if you had to sit down and think about why exactly this bothers you so much, what would it be?" 
I think the main thing was my bruised pride and embarrassment. Personally and professionally, I like appearing as though I have things together. I like appearing strong. It really, really gets to me to have my vulnerabilities exposed, especially in such public ways. This necessitates a careful façade. For example, when I think back to my qualifying exam a couple of years ago, all I can focus on is the questions I struggled to answer in front of my committee. Those moments replayed themselves in my head for weeks, along with the feeling of hot embarrassment and my cheeks getting red. Similarly, the thing that really gets to me about this is that I was pushed to a point where all of my vulnerabilities came to the surface. And everyone knows.  
My teacher has described this practice as a mirror. You see yourself reflected back in ways that sometimes make you cringe. I will return to our Mysore classroom again on Monday, with a bit more humility. I will face my teacher and fellow students for the first time since my little meltdown. I will return to dropbacks, the scene of the emotional crime. And, in the future, I won't let my pride prevent me from explaining that I need to take it easy for a night before resuming normal practice. We'll see what happens. 

Oh, a recent post from the Confluence Countdown made me smile and provided me with a good reminder that even teachers have their battles, though they may be different than our own. 


Yyogini said...

Why hello, fellow I-will-push-through-this-difficulty-even-it-kills-me academic yogi! :)

Drop backs need to be handled with care because it can hurt you physically and it can elicit lots of strong emotions, mostly because we have this giant piece of tube called the central nervous system that runs down our spine :)

I can understand why some teachers will push students to try out this move because there are lots of folks out there with very strong mental blocks (so strong they will start complaining about body pains before even attempting a move). They want to push this kind of students pass their mental blocks. In your case the physical issue trumps any emptional issues you have, so you should really let your teacher know. My teacher likes to remind me that I can always say "No" when he asks me to try something new and/or challenging. After all, it's just yoga :)

By the way, crying/sobbing is extremely common in yoga, even in gentle hatha and yin yoga classes, so don't feel bad. It's part of the yoga magic :)

wandering mb said...

Hello! (waves and smiles)

The drop back journey began over a year ago for me. My teacher and I work together four days a week, so we are both familiar with my patterns and day-to-day fluctuations. To her credit, there are definitely days where I am more hesitant than others. It is her job to nudge me out of avoidance. Tough love, maybe.

There are certain acceptable levels of discomfort in the practice. Some you just need to learn to deal with and push through, finding your breath. I do think that backbends fall into that realm for me. But where does one draw the line between working one's edge and going too far? I'm not sure.

It seems that communication with one's teacher is key.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by! I get the feeling there are a lot of us push-through-the-difficulty yogis! :-)

Anonymous said...

Your story sounds so familiar! I cried after landing on my head when I attempted the dropback. Didn't even try to laugh. And it's funny, I think that if there hadn't been anyone else there, perhaps the tears would not have come? I pushed through and failed, and that failure part in the eyes of many really hurt. Talk about truly being vulnerable!

If you're working on dropbacks for a year, that's actually not so bad. I've heard of many people who work on them for many years. My own teacher confided that he spent lots of time working on them, using pillows and props and stuff like that. I definitely think that it is something we need to take our time with...and, perhaps to approach it using our intuitive mind rather than the usual logical, left-brained, timeline way of mind? It's hard because we live in a culture that is all about achievement and timelines.

Funny, people often talk about yoga as being in this happy, blissful place. But I think it's great to be honest and open about those really dark and frustrating places too, because they are also the reality of yoga practice.

wandering mb said...

Hi, Ida!

Yeah, I'm trying to abandon the timeline and just let things fluctuate as they do. It seems that there's a lot of resentment-frustration-dread bound up in that movement for me. Maybe acknowledging that and being okay with that is an important step (rather than scolding myself for feeling that way).
I enjoy reading about your journey as well. Congrats on the new pashasana project! :-)