How to Dissolve Anger & Judgment: A Work in Progress. ~ Nicole Pomer

Via on Oct 24, 2012

I spent two years of my life living and working in East Africa.

During my last six months, I worked predominantly with the poorest tribe in all of Kenya, the Turkana tribe, in the arid lands of the north. Turkana people have little option for income generation. Food can’t be grown in the parched soil and oppressive heat, and many can’t even afford livestock, a basic necessity for all other Kenyan pastoralist tribes.

Most of the women living in the villages in which I worked rely on charcoal-making for income; burning dry wood close to the nearby foothills, then laboriously carting it to town on their heads for hours under the inescapable sun.

It’s difficult returning to a southern California yoga community when you’ve been away living in a dusty village full of mud huts where the majority of your neighbors had no electricity, running water, or material possessions of any kind—save for possibly a chicken, a broom made from dry twigs and a plastic bucket. Although I love my yoga community, sometimes I can’t help but ponder the excesses of those sitting in sukhasana (easy sitting pose) beside me.

It’s the hardest part about embracing yoga for me: the pretentious, holier-than-thou side; or as one friend put it, the part of yoga that is “a bunch of rich white people saying namaste to each other.”

Here are a few quotes from fellow yogis this past week which caused me to come close to vomiting in my mouth, and how I overcame that reaction.

“Oh my God, If I eat a tomato from Trader Joe’s, I’ll feel sick.” This, a comment made by a vegan, gluten-free yogini (who only eats vegetables from Whole Foods or the Farmer’s Market, apparently). The truth is, I agree with her that local vegetables are better, but somehow, announcing her preferences loudly to the class causes me to grimace. Could she sound any more pretentious? My mind immediately snaps back to meals of barbecued goat meat, hearty chicken stews and ugali (white flour mixed with boiling water).

I find myself becoming agitated at this person. My mind snaps to an image of a close friend who will only cook with Himalayan sea salt, to those who use food as a playing field to judge, or to somehow feel healthier, more educated, or having the ability to spend more money on their food than others. I feel anger beginning to rise from somewhere deep in my lower belly. I just bought organic tomatoes from Trader Joe’s yesterday, and I liked them. Sometimes I shop at Ralphs. Take that.

The teacher walks in. Appearing to be in her fifties, she is dripping in strands of jewels and wearing the shortest short-shorts I have ever seen. She is a cougar goddess. She delicately takes a seat and tells us she is sorry she’s a few minutes late. Apparently she saw a deer on the side of the road which had been hit by a car and she couldn’t stop crying.

I think back to the time our matatu (Kenyan public transportation vehicles known for their reckless drivers) hit a drunk man crossing the road. After hitting the man, the driver couldn’t stop because if he did, he would be stoned to death. I am brought back to the scene in slow-motion: sitting in the center seat in the back of the van and watching the man coming closer and closer through the front windshield. Panic. Everyone shouting. Beside me, a chicken squawking, attempting to flap its bound anwings.

Probably high on the miraa plant, an amphetamine-like stimulant that the majority of Kenyan drivers chew all day long,  the driver swerves, but it’s too late. The pedestrian remains standing in the center of the road, his frame tall and lanky, plastic sandals poking out of his dirty pants full of holes. I think I make out a beer bottle in his hand.

As we hit him, his body rolls up onto the hood and cracks the front windshield. A piece of glass flies into my eye. The man rolls away to the side of the road. We never found out for sure if he survived.

A Kenyan friend once told me, “in Kenya, you don’t cry, because there’s no one there to wipe away your tears.” I blink back to the yoga teacher, tears streaming down her face. She has us all repeat a mantra for the deer. I can’t help but grimace again. American animals have access to better medical care than most Kenyan humans living in rural villages do.

The list of my thoughts could go on. This is how I see the world now. The negativity is toxic.

My experience of yoga, the yoga community, didn’t used to be this way. Now I feel anger rising up within me as my eyes dart around the room. The teacher’s heavy jeweled necklaces (how can she possibly practice in those?), the bright reflective Lululemon emblem blinding me as I sit, its wearer flaunting the fact that she spends a small fortune on the clothes she purchases to sweat in.

I see the Turkana women before me, sitting under an acacia tree at one of our women’s groups in which we discuss income generation ideas to build a new well. (Their livestock bathe and drink from their current water supply). The women wear dusty and worn black sandals bought from town, made of recycled rubber tires with straps cut out and literally nailed to the soles. They wear pounds of beaded jewelry; thin, brightly-colored necklaces stacked up to their chins, wrists weighed down by thick metal bangles, heavy hoop earrings lining their earlobes to the cartilage of the upper ear.

My mind snaps back to my present location. We are being told to root our sits bones down into the earth, and as we do so, finding new length rising up our spines through the crown of our heads. I’m immediately able to relax under the covers of my eyes, allowing the waves of my breath to dissolve the negativity that has collected in my mind and body. I drop these ideas I have of how the world should be; the global inequalities I have seen and will continue to be confronted with every day, the anger I hold inside about how unfair it all feels.

Maybe in a way some of that anger is directed at myself. Why should I be so lucky to be learning and experiencing this gift of yoga, to contemplate these ideas of who I am and dive deeper into that deepest part of myself, while over half of the global population is bombarded with thoughts of finding food and shelter?

I deepen my inhalation and my exhalation, working to make them equal lengths. I inhale in “so,” I exhale out “hum.” I can touch that place of peace, that place of interconnectedness. As I exhale, I release the negative emotions that have collected in my lower stomach. They are heavy like rocks. I push them back into Mother Earth with my breath. She will absorb them in her healing embrace.

She will transform the negativity into sacred joy and beauty.

I see the Turkana women again. To me, they are so beautiful. They animatedly discuss events of the day, most either pregnant or bouncing a child on her leg. The children are dressed in hole-covered rags; makeshift jewelry on their tiny wrists resembling their mothers. They need solar panels, a clean well, and nourishment for their children. They need sturdier materials to build their shelters, new government leaders who aren’t corrupt and filled with greed. But they don’t need yoga. Despite all that, they don’t need an escape from their ever-present monkey thoughts the way we do. They have peace.

I look around the yoga room. The people in here need this, as do I. We need it because although we may have the material comforts that most people in the world only dream of, most of us don’t have a comfortable community in which to thrive. If we have children, they are most likely not raised by a village. We live isolated, bombarded by billboards and magazine ads, living in a culture in which we are judged not by who we are, but by what we buy.

This room is full of people who need healing in a different way. My inhalation is compassion for those around me. Suddenly, I realize I have tapped into pratipaksha bhavana, described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” I relax my hostilities and judgments aimed at those sitting on their yoga mats around me. My friends in California struggle just as my Turkana friends do. Who am I to judge anything?

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.

May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

Nicole is a baby mama, writer, painter, and lover of all types of creative expression. She is currently a yoga teacher in training and can usually be found playing with her sweet husband and baby, working on her next writing project, or practicing yoga at her favorite yoga studio, her living room overlooking a woodsy canyon.

Editor: Anne Clendening

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2 Responses to “How to Dissolve Anger & Judgment: A Work in Progress. ~ Nicole Pomer”

  1. greateacher says:

    I applaud you. You have dealt with important topics in yoga and social consciousness and let us in to how you reflect, learn and thusly teach to us. Thank you.

  2. Stacey says:

    Thank you for your honesty in sharing your experience! I really appreciate how insightfully you've contrasted California yoga studio life with rural tribal Kenya life. And the lesson learned in the end is one we can all relate to. Thank you!

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