Image: Carolyn Quan
My first professional love was the body. How it moves, how we inhabit it, and what happens when we don't move enough, or move too much. All those different layers and functions.
This led to 25 years of teaching yoga and practicing yoga therapy, 15 years of being a massage therapist, stints as an anatomy and pathology teacher, getting a personal training certification, and so very many hours of continuing education, mostly excellent (some life-changing!) and rarely tedious.
My next passion was behavior change with an emphasis on emotional eating. I have worked with groups and individuals for 10 years in this area. over this time, I have gone from coaching weight loss to self-talk and perfectionism and wandered back again- as they seem to be all connected because they all have to do with coping mechanisms.
Coping mechanisms are behaviors that we have picked up along the way in times of stress. They are what, at that particular moment in time, seemed to keep us safe, or at the very least distracted from what was going on that was uncomfortable. But here's the tricky bit- very often we were wrong about what was happening, and what the best choice was. This is especially true of coping mechanisms that were adopted in childhood.
One of the most popular misconceptions is that repressing our feelings is a good idea. Or, from another slant, that if we expressed our feelings something bad would happen, usually that we would hurt or make angry someone else.
We adopt all sorts of coping mechanisms to repress our feelings. We overeat, we indulge in alcohol or drugs, we shop, we scroll, we hyper-focus on our appearance or performance, and we project our discontent onto others- we pretend that it's not me, it's you.
Personally, I used to eat my anger, and am excellent at being a martyr even when it's really not called for. It was my default through my 20s and 30s, became acutely and uncomfortably aware of it in my mid to late 30s (that part was awful- when you see something you are doing that is harmful but don't know how else to be) and then after I turned 40 I really started looking at how to change it. Now I am 48 and am just now getting the hang of being truly all right with myself when I choose to do what I perceive as less when I could do more. As an example, I no longer try to put in hours of writing after dinner. I go to sleep early instead. In just the last couple of years (a gift of menopause), I have learned that if I push myself too much I don't feel good and don't create quality output.
And by not feeling good what I really mean is not feeling. Just going through the motions while being numb and exhausted just beneath the surface. I am not willing to accept that anymore. It means doing less. Sometimes I feel guilty about it for no good reason, but I'm getting over that too.
I am reminded of something Krishna Das, kirtan teacher and Bhakti (loving devotion) yogi said once. I was at a week-long intense yoga retreat and we were practicing upwards of six hours a day. We were in a resting pose and he was singing to us (which was wonderful, my favorite album of his is Pilgrim Heart), and then he stopped and said,
"All of you work so hard, practice so hard. If you were to stop, just stop for just one minute and get out of your own way, you would see all the love rushing towards you."
I was struck by that image, the love rushing towards me, and that I have to stop to feel it. And it made me remember why I fell in love with yoga in the first place. I remember my first class, following the instructions of the teacher, moving my feet just so, extending this part while stabilizing somewhere else. I was not thinking. I was not worrying or feeling feelings. It was such a relief. I remember saying to my best friend that I just felt like an animal, like a cow chewing grass, just being in my body without being preoccupied with what was coming next. I was trying to express that I was present, in the now. I had not felt that way since I was a young child living deep in the forest.
It's kinda crazy to me that so many of us live lives in which we have to make a point to make time to stop and feel the love rushing towards us. How did our lives get so full? What are all these thoughts that feel so important to have and react to? It's like we got in a vehicle that we thought we were driving and found that somewhere along the line not only are we not driving, we have lost track of where we are headed.
Our outdated coping mechanisms have taken the wheel.
Want to reorient with me?
Let's stop and feel the love rushing towards us.