Friday, January 30, 2015

"You Matter" and the Art of Compassion

I had an experience this morning in a yoga class at my gym that was so significant, I would even venture to say it was spiritual in nature. One of those experiences when you know something special has happened and you cannot wait to share the beauty of your experience in the hopes that maybe it will help someone else, or make some type of difference in this world.

To back up a little bit, I recently commented on my personal Facebook page about a bunch of Bibles that I found in our home and kind of made a joke about how between my husband and I, we had a lot of Bibles; ironic considering the fact I felt like I had been having a spiritual crisis of sorts. However I have come to discover recently that my struggles have been the combination of an interpersonal crisis mixed with a religious one, rather than a spiritual one.

I have felt it necessary to try and work through some of the issues causing this upheaval in my life, both to improve the overall emotional quality of my life and of course, to improve my physical quality of life by reducing stress and anxiety. As I have been working through some of those various issues, I have started to look at my environment and many of the people in my life in a different way, some good and well, some not so good. I have started to look at myself differently and I have been able to make a lot of connections between my personality, behavior, events that have happened to me, and the way I function in the world. It is a process that has, as recently as yesterday, been gut-wrenching and also one which has made me realize that I need to make some changes in how I do business and who I do business with so to speak. The therapeutic process has left me feeling incredibly vulnerable and also feeling the need to strive to take care of myself on a much higher level than I am used to.

And here is where the yoga comes in. I have blogged before about the gentle yoga classes at my gym and how helpful they have been in managing many of my autoimmune symptoms. But I tend to be sporadic in how frequently I attend the classes. However last week, after a very difficult therapy session and subsequent discussion with my husband, I knew I needed to better manage some of my emotions. My previous vices have been bad food and alcohol. The food I have a problem with already, so that was a bad idea. The alcohol I don't have a problem with, but when I do drink (which is rare these days), I want to drink for pleasure and not because I need it as a coping mechanism. Because in my experience and in the experience of many people I love, that is a very slippery slope.

So instead, I impulsively attended an evening yoga class at my gym that I had not previously been to. The class went great and I decided then and there, that I would attend yoga at least 3-4x a week for now since it greatly helps me redirect my anger, fear, and all those other emotions that come from dealing with hard shit; not to mention that it helps pull myself into a more peaceful place.

This led me to a different yoga class this morning that I also had never attended. A different instructor and not a gentle class. The uncertainty of the class level made me pretty nervous, but it was the only class of the day and I was now needing yoga classes as often as some people need AA, so off I went.

The instructor realized I was new to the class and came over to talk with me. I briefly explained about my autoimmune and joint issues and he assured me that I could go at my own pace and he would provide alternatives for some of the more difficult poses.

The type of yoga practiced in this class is Kripalu yoga. Many people that live in my area are familiar with the word Kripalu because it is also the name of a yoga retreat center in western Massachusetts; where this style of yoga originated. Until today, I didn't know that Kripalu was also a form of yoga. What defines Kripalu yoga is its emphasis on following the flow of prana (life-force energy), practicing compassionate self-acceptance, and developing witness consciousness (observing the mind without judgment). Then you take that off the mat and into your daily life. 

The instructor explained to me that the word Kripalu means "compassion".


I was so in the right place. 
Because if it was one thing I needed right now, it was compassion.

I don't know if I can exactly explain the hows and whys of why this class was so different for me except to say that it had an emotional component that I had not really fully experienced in a yoga class before. There were many challenges for me physically during the hour long class because a lot of the postures and sequences were new to me, but through my breathing and by listening to the instructor's voice, I was in a very different place with my body than I usually am. An easier place. A better place. Then the instructor said a quote:

"Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself.” ~Bhagavad Gita.

Honestly, my thoughts were so turned inward and focused, I don't remember when he said this quote, maybe it was at the beginning of class, maybe it was in the middle. What I do remember is the shock I felt go through me as he spoke the words.

Isn't that what I had been doing for weeks now?
Tolerating the consequences of being myself?

Well actually no, I hadn't been tolerating anything. I was scratching and crawling my way through it...always fearing what new revelation or fear was going to appear around the corner.

Now though, on this mat, in this room, by doing this yoga, I was tolerating the consequences of being myself: of being in a mind that over thinks and never shuts off; of being on the receiving end of events I shouldn't have had to go through, of being in a body that just doesn't work the way its supposed to.

A body that here, in this moment was, in its own way, working as it was supposed to.

I was giving both my body and my mind the one thing I really needed and that was...


Then at some point, we sat in a comfortable cross-legged seated position and the instructor is talking. At first, I am so focused that I miss the beginning of what he says. Until I look up and see him staring at us intently and I hear the words:

"You matter."

I'm in a class with a bunch of strangers and an instructor I do not know. Yet, I hear words of such compassion; words that at that exact point in time, I really needed to hear. Words that convey to me that not only does my existence matter, but so do my experiences and my interpretation of those experiences, both good and bad.

And, I start to cry.

I try not to cry because the tears come so unexpectedly that at first, I am embarrassed. But then I stop worrying about what other people may think and I just feel. I feel the compassion that not only comes from a total stranger, but the compassion that comes from myself, towards myself.

Compassion for my struggles.
Compassion for my flaws.
Compassion for the bad decisions I have made.
Compassion for the bad decisions made by other people.
Compassion for myself as a human being.

Two simple words, yet so powerful: you matter.

So tonight I am doing as the Kripalu way teaches: I am taking my yoga experience off the mat and into the world.

With you, right now.
By telling you that...

YOU matter.

Your spirit, your experiences, your energy, your beauty, your strength.

It all matters.

Please don't forget that.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad you wrote this because I've been struggling with " I matter" all my life. Only recently have I realized how much if it is true. You matter, I matter. Yet we tend to really listen to those who make a point to say we don't matter and we forget ourselves.
    Take care and yes you matter :)