Breathe it out (or shout it)

So here’s a piece of terrifying news: it is March. Already.

If there is a student at this point in the semester who doesn’t greet that news with a sense of mounting anxiety (and possibly breaking into a cold sweat) they’re probably lying. Midterms are either in progress or they just passed and students are awaiting sentencing results. Essay deadlines are looming. Readings are piling up. Finals are on the horizon. For many, summer prospects are an unresolved and frankly frightening loose end.

I apologize to any whose blood pressure went up in reading the previous paragraph. As I wrote I could feel an all-too familiar tension creep up into my shoulders – the one that makes me so tense and tight it’s as if my shoulders connect directly to the base of my skull, with no neck between them.

Most of you know by now that to deal with this I like to run. So it’s no surprise to you that my stress-fracture-induced hiatus from running has been more than mere inconvenience. Even now that I am recovering my running ability is still extremely limited. So lately I’ve been turning to yoga instead. It’s not difficult to see why that would be the case; an activity known for emphasizing focus on breath, soft lighting and the setting aside of intrusive thoughts seems ideally suited to stressful periods.

The only problem? It’s at precisely these periods that I become spectacularly bad at the part where I set aside those intrusive thoughts. And so my sun salutations involve a lot less meditation and a lot more silent worry posing as tranquility. I call it the Worrier Pose (see what I did there, fellow yogis?)

The Worrier Pose:

Inhale. Did I answer that email from my prof?
Exhale. I should really start writing that essay when I get home tonight.
Inhale and reach up. I still haven’t finished researching that other essay though.
Exhale, bend forward. Crap, did I do readings for class tomorrow?
Inhale, flat back. Whatever, I’ll skim the intro and conclusion and fake the rest. Then start that essay.
Exhale bend forward. When was the last time I did laundry?
Walk or step feet back to plank. Have I done groceries this week?
Lower down, then up into upward dog. What dog were they looking at when they named this one?
Push back into downward dog. Seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog hold this pose for as long as people do. 

Not zen at all.

So last week I went to a class that called itself Neuro Yoga. The class description said something about emphasis on breath (they all do) and positive affirmations. I envisioned a darkened quiet room, sitting cross-legged and intoning nice things about ourselves and the universe in unison. I got a well-lit room, music and shouting affirmations at the universe while holding a plank pose. In unison.

There is something beautifully cathartic about struggling to convince your abs to hold on for just a few moments longer while you scream at nobody in particular that you are brilliant and overcoming all obstacles.
I haven’t felt so at peace in ages.

It did make me wonder though – how did we all get to the point where we had so much bottled up inside us that we needed to shout to release it? It’s not just students who feel this way. As far as I can tell, it’s everyone. Which is why this Washington Post article about exhaustion not being a status symbol feels especially on point right now. The work culture we all participate in is not doing our minds or bodies any favours.

I’m hardly breaking new ground when I say that this ought to change. But I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that just because it hasn’t changed yet doesn’t mean we can’t pause and look after ourselves right now. In fact, if we all collectively start taking time out of our work lives to release the stress and fear it makes us feel, I’d say change is well underway.

So wherever you are, remember to do this one thing today. Not for me, but for you. Breathe, or shout, or run, or do whatever it is you do that will release how you’re feeling. Really do it – don’t just go through the motions of the Worrier Pose. Push back at the way the universe is making you feel right now. Believe me, the universe can take it. In fact, it will probably be better off for the honesty – even if that honesty is being shouted in its face and not peacefully chanted by a zenned-out yogi.

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