June 2, 2015

Surviving The Sh*t Storm.

WISome of the highlights of my year are when big-name yoga teachers come to my little town of St. Louis for weekend workshops. I love the sense of community that fires up every time so many local students and teachers come together in the same room, all of us learning side-by-side from a master of the craft.

I love challenging my 40-year-old body into new shapes and structures, discovering previously unknown openings and limitations while defying gravity and stretching fresh life into old fibers. And I love breathing in concert with others who share my love affair with inhales and exhales.

Most of all, I love the forced immersion into myself. No phone calls… no emails… and someone else to manage things for a few days. I scrap and scrape for that freedom and focused presence in my daily life, but between kids and business and the dousing of little fires here and there, it usually only comes in bits and pieces that are stolen at something (or someone) else’s expense. You know that tradeoff.

In that three-day immersion, though, when I’m able to concentrate on the work of taking awareness and attention to greater depths of the Self, something really special happens. There’s a deeper-than-usual tuning in followed by something that might start off looking like a break-down but, in reality, is a break-through of the most magnificent order.

Example: It was while immersed in my first yoga teacher training about eight years ago that I discovered the courage to have a child. In a powerful session with another teacher exactly one year, three months, two weeks and two days ago (but, hey, who’s counting?), I admitted my problematic relationship with alcohol and decided, in that moment, to stop drinking. More recently, I re-affirmed my pursuit of happiness and “flow.” (And learned that I would not, in fact, break if I were to fall forward into a backbend from a forearm balance.)

This weekend was my second time studying in person with the incredible Noah Maze. In a session on Saturday, we came into Warrior I roughly 56,000 times (a conservative estimate). You know the pose. (That’s me photobombing the photo of friend doing it above.) It’s part of most every yoga class, but I rarely spend much time in it because I have ridiculously tight hip flexors—and this pose stretches said hip flexors in ways that are uncomfortable to me.

It’s worth noting here that for as much as I appreciate disruption, I do not like discomfort (big difference). And so I usually go out of my way to avoid it, especially in the hips.

Most of us tend to carry a lot of shit in our hips—our frustrations, our grief, our hurts and losses and unresolved traumas. And to open those hips (particularly, the psoas muscle, aka “muscle of the soul”) is often to open the box of suppressed emotions that accompany our shit. And this has been a year of some pretty significant shit at my house: There’s been a lost job and money troubles, a cancer scare and a big hospital bill, depression and counseling, marital strain and more counseling, dreams delayed, the unexpected challenges of sobriety and…


Let’s just say there’s been a lot. But I know there could always be more. So much more.

That’s why, through all of this, I’ve done my best to keep my smile. Not as a mask to hide behind, but because I subscribe to the uplifting power of positive thinking. “It’ll be fine” has become my mantra, and I believe it with every part of me.

But yesterday, in the 56,000th time in Warrior I, when my little hip flexors were screaming about being pulled past their limits, all of my emotional shit began to leak out. All of my fear and frustration and anger and petulance. So I took child’s pose and cried, never mind the other 50+ people in the room.

That’s when Noah reminded us of the benefit of agitation and discomfort. Not just the value of sitting with it as a means to get past it, but the blessing of experiencing it in the first place, on and off the yoga mat.

“If you go through life just wanting things to be peaceful, you’ll never know [amazing positive things like] orgasm,” he said. (Not necessarily the comparison I was expecting, but we all got a good chuckle out of it.)

We inherently know the truth about this kind of contrast—that we don’t fully realize the healing power of warmth until we’ve been cold, or the beauty of light until we’ve been locked for too long in darkness—and yet contrast is hard to appreciate when we’re in the middle of a shit storm. Because it’s hard to just hang on in a shit storm!

“Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth,” the boxer Mike Tyson once said.

So, what’s the plan, Stan?

How will we respond when the proverbial shit hits the fan? What will we choose in the tempest when it feels like we can’t catch a break, the universe is conspiring against us and we’re tempted to see the glass half-empty at best with no possibility for change in sight? Will we forget all the things that are right and slowly slip into a state of expecting the worst, and as a consequence, possibly attract more of it?

Or will we remind ourselves that things are (most likely) temporary and (more often than not) changeable? Can we work through the discomfort and find some grace in the experience of contrast? Can we, even in the toughest of times, use the experience of life’s agitation (like petting a cat against the grain, as Noah put it) as a reflection point that ultimately leads us to the choice of staying intent, uplifted, grateful?

(It should be said that choosing happiness isn’t always just a matter of sheer, solo self-will. Sometimes we need a jumpstart, maybe from a counselor or a support group, anti-depressants, in-patient therapy, or any number of therapies. I recognize that stigma and reluctance tend to go along with some of these, but I believe no option should be off the table when it comes to the important work of righting our mental and emotional ship.)

“Every yoga pose is an opportunity for self-inquiry, an opportunity to say ‘yes, ’an opportunity for empowerment,” Noah said.

As is every challenge. So chin up. Every storm passes—even shit storms.


Author: Becky Vollmer

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Image: courtesy of the author

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Becky Vollmer  |  Contribution: 2,430