How Do You Fight Through Stress?

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How do you deal with stress?

This article was written by our great friend, Mary Mann – Enjoy!

“My recipe for dealing with anger and frustration: set the kitchen timer for twenty minutes, cry, rant, and rave, and at the sound of the bell, simmer down and go about business as usual.” ~ Phyllis Diller

On a particularly cold day last week, the wind as bitter as an old cup of coffee, I walked down the street snarling, practically snapping at strangers. I was suffering a great trifecta of miseries: a recent and very awkward run-in with an ex-boyfriend I hadn’t seen in years, a rift in my family that had been exacrerbated by the holidays, and an ongoing search for a job in my chosen field that felt like it was going nowhere.

My impending birthday rose beneath these things, pushing them up to the surface of my thoughts and blocking my vision. Failure in any facet of life feels much more pronounced when I’ve reached a definitive marker – another birthday, another year of my life to be judged by my harshest critic, myself. As I walked I replayed old conversations in my head, which, like putting Bon Iver on repeat, brought unbidden tears to my eyes. I wiped them away, struggling to stay positive, or at least look positive, as I headed into work.

During my morning commute I had passed a man lying on the ground in the tunnel above the 6th Ave L platform. His beard, uncut, trailed down to the middle of his chest, and his clothes had all faded to a monotone dun-color. He was howling like a newborn, surrounded by the detritus of a Cheeto bag explosion. The sight was heartbreaking, but more frightening was that I found myself almost envious of his ability to fall apart in public like that – to stop caring or trying. I began to understand how crazy people become crazy. That man had simply reached the end of his rope; he was too tired to fight the good fight of humanity anymore.

“How far off from that am I?” I mused aloud in the fluorescent light of the break-room at work, deep into a self-pity spiral.

I was far enough off that I hadn’t fully given up, anyway. There was a battle to fight. But after hours of unabated angst (which venting to a friend on my cell in the bathroom and obsessively repeating Thich Nhat Hahn quotes in my head didn’t cure) it became clear that it was something I had to duke out with myself.

So, naturally, I went to yoga. That three by six space that my mat creates has been the scene of many a battle between my self and myself. This day would be no exception.

I went into Laughing Lotus, my studio of choice in New York, and jostled through the crowd of people in the coatroom. Why were there so many people? Why couldn’t they get out of my way? Couldn’t they see I was just trying to get in here?

Deep Breath.

Unrolling my mat, I took stock of the quickly filling room and groaned inwardly. I wished fervently for privacy. Actually, I wished that I could give up this fight with myself, go home, go to sleep, and wake up with a great job, an undemanding but fulfilling lover, $3,000 in the bank and a bowl full of macaroni and cheese.

Alas, it was not to be.  And anyway, I’m lactose intolerant.

So I sat down on my mat, closed my eyes, and tried to zone out.

“Excuse me?”

I turned a brutal glare on the man who had dared touch my arm when I was meditating, the man who by all rights should have been melting under my gaze.

“Could you move your mat back a bit? I think we’re trying to make five rows.”

I sighed an assent, and with as much passive-aggression as I could muster, I moved my mat and got back into lotus pose, closing my eyes, blocking everything out.

The instructor quieted the class and opened her Bhagavad Gita. And of course, because there are no accidents, she began to read about Arjuna, a spoiled brat of a royal warrior who just did not feel like going into battle that day.

Well that sounded awful damn familiar.

I did my best to listen, straining to keep my head quiet, and eagerly jumped back into downward dog as the flow began. This was it. I stretched deeper, balanced on finer points, moved with more precision than ever before. My life was on the line.

At least, my life as a semi-normal person who doesn’t scream obscenities in public. Sweat poured off of my body, feeling like sludge. On the mat my problems were reduced to those drops dripping off of the tip of my nose, down the curve of my ear, plopping onto the mat with sweet splashes.

As we moved into eagle pose, I felt my body condense into a small elemental thing, not human at all, or perhaps something beyond, extrahuman – a human without the bullshit.  I curled up into myself, breathing deeply, and I did not want class to end.

I was beyond the point of Arjuna, not wanting to fight.  Now I was in mid-battle, and I didn’t want it to end. What would come after?

And “after” always does come. As I laid on the mat in Savasana, my limbs oozing warmth, I dreaded what was next. Physical pain I could handle, I relished the burn of my muscles in a difficult pose. Emotional pain I was not so adept at handling. But I had no choice, I had to go back out into the world and continue the struggle.

As I lay there, my thoughts wandered. Why was I struggling so hard? Why was my life on the line?

There it was. It hit me as I lay there thinking my way through savasana: I could just stop.  I wouldn’t stop living, or loving, or working – doing those things that make life sweet – but just stop struggling.

Nonattachment.  A simple concept, and the whole damn point of yoga, and it had just sailed right over my head as I muscled my way through my practice.

The instructor came by just then, and placed what felt like a prophetic hand on my forehead, pressing down lightly. And I kept laying there, through the final Om and Namaste. The end of class happened without me, and no one said anything. The universe, apparently, continued to spin and pulse without my supervision. I got up finally when the room was half empty. I left the building two steps behind everyone else, and so there were no back-ups in the coatroom, no jams of people on the stairs.

The battle wasn’t over, it never is. It just no longer felt like a fight

“If you suffer and make your loved ones suffer, there is nothing that can justify your desire.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh (The Art of Power)