Hot Yoga Session 18: Your Surrounding Environment

This post is part of my January 2012 30 Days of Hot Yoga series. This month I’m taking on a personal challenge to complete 30 sessions of hot yoga at Baptiste Studios in 30 days in celebration of my 30th birthday. Wish me luck!

It’s no secret that your surrounding environment affects you. This is pretty obvious in an office work setting. An uncomfortable chair, bad lighting, or an irritating neighbor can dramatically affect your mood, your productivity, and your general happiness.

Maybe the arms in your chair are too high and they always bump your desk when you turn around. Maybe a fluorescent light has just reached the end of its useful life and incessantly flickers all day. Or maybe your neighbor spends an entire morning talking loudly on the phone with a client.

All of these things are minor on their own, but when you are stressed about an impending deadline, or your still steaming from the argument you had with a friend/spouse the night prior, these small things can push you over the edge and lead to you saying or doing things you wouldn’t normally do.

When I get irritated at work for a stupid reason, like my boss saying something sarcastic that I decided to interpret as a personal assault against my character (rather than a joke), I can usually trace it back to that guy that ran a red light during my commute and nearly hit me or maybe a deadline got pushed up that I wasn’t anticipating, leaving me to worry about how I would fit this change into my schedule for the week.

Usually I spend those days blasting my iPod, stewing on the negative for a while, and giving off the “don’t you DARE talk to me” vibe. When that doesn’t work, I usually share a portion of my irritation with others: “can you BELIEVE she has been on the phone all day?!” or “what the hell was THAT supposed to mean?!”. And, in the very rare case (it’s happened twice in the last three years) where my irritation has completely derailed any hope of productivity for the day, I own my anger/irritation, and do everyone a favor by leaving for the day.

One of the things I realized during practice today was that leaving the scene of a bad mood can be great for your neighbors (let’s face it, no one wants to be around an angry person) and your productivity (last time I left for this reason I ended up working 10 hours straight from home .. which not only addressed the thing that was stressing me out, it also allowed me to make amends with the opposition), but it’s bad for your emotional health.

Leaving is an act of disengagement. Running away from something that is difficult, while alleviating the environmental stress of the scene, denies you of the opportunity to learn HOW to deal with it.

Let me preface my yoga experience with acknowledging that I had a particularly nice day at work today. Everything went smoothly, people were responsive and helpful, and my cube neighbors broke up the day with occasional conversation. In fact, it was such a productive day that I was able to go to the earlier class – something that I wanted, but believed to be a lofty goal, given my workload.  So when I arrived at class today I had no expectations. I was just there to enjoy myself, get into the practice, and maybe learn something new.

Class started off fine, but from the beginning I was a little awkward and it was difficult to find the correct alignment in standing poses. As the room started to heat up, I found myself getting frustrated by the awkwardness of my body in poses I had done hundreds of times. When I moved from one position to another, I had to spend extra time moving and twisting. Every pose was so challenging that I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I started making verbal excuses in my mind: I was just having a bad day, it’s hard to do this every day, I spent too much time in basics classes this week.

I started getting frustrated. Frustrated and angry.

As the anger built, I moved to child’s pose and tried to trace back WHY I was so angry. What could have possibly set me off? I had a good day at work. I got everything done that I needed to. I was going on vacation first thing tomorrow morning. I was physically strong. And I had all of these motions a hundred times before.

I looked around me.

My neighbor to the left had her feet up on the wall, completely disengaged from the class. Before class started, she had an incident with someone else when she moved her mat from another position to the spot next to mine because to have a buffer. When the person said they would be willing to move and apologized, she refused and kept saying “it’s not you, it’s me.” I had seen her a lot before and, for whatever reason, just didn’t like her. She had an aggressive look, like if I moved the wrong way she would attack me. In previous interactions I had intentionally smiled and observed when she had pleasant conversations with other people. But today, with that strange interaction before class and her complete disengagement in the class made me feel surprisingly uncomfortable. Why bother going to class if you’re not going to participate?

To my right was a girl I hadn’t seen before. She was a little overweight and it was clear this was one of her first classes. She had a pleasant smile and generally seemed fine. But class wiped her out and she spent most of the time in child’s pose.

Behind me was a pair of friends, one of which was crowding me for no reason. They occasionally talked to each other during class. I mean.. seriously?

In front of me was a girl who, if such a thing existed, appeared to be practicing for the yoga olympics (yogalympics). I do admire the work that it takes to get into handstands, but something about her energy made me feel like I was in a competition (this happens every once in a while.. I can’t place how, but you can tell when someone is being competitive) and/or at some kind of variety show. Unfortunately for her, I have seen Cirque du Soleil and was not impressed.

But I had brought my own negative energy to class as well, though I didn’t know it until this moment. Earlier today someone had sent me an email about a volunteer program they wanted to start up. They were adamant about talking as soon as possible and I found myself giving too much time to them when I had other more important things to do for the same organization. I react emotionally when people seem like they are trying to waste my time, particularly when it’s in regards to a volunteer activity, and even more so when their motivation is all about self-promotion.

So there it was. I was in a nexus of bad juju and I would be stuck there for the remainder of class. I would address my irritation by staying through this class, in child’s pose with everyone else (no yogalympics for me), stewing in my own frustration and anger.

And while I cannot reasonably blame my environment for the foulness of my mood and a soured practice, I have at least begun to acknowledge that the quality of my internal practice is a reflection of how I perceive my external environment. It’s possible to be stubborn enough to stick through discomfort because all feelings eventually pass. {And they pass a lot faster when you’re rescued from yourself by a friend, good conversation, and a glass of wine!}