May 20, 2014

To Stress or Not to Stress—Is That Really the Question?

Lately, when I get stressed, I think of this story one of my yoga teacher told me about the effects of stress on the bodies of mice. An experiment was done in which one set of mice were given everything they needed to survive and the other group of mice wasn’t. They were put into stressful situations, that I guess would be a mouse’s parallel to losing a job, a car breaking down, or wondering if they’d be able to afford their rent and grocery bills. Whatever that is in mouse-terms.

After the mice went to mouse heaven, autopsies were performed and the stressed out mice’s organs had turned black. I think about this when I feel a knot in my stomach. Is that my stomach turning black?

After going through more than my fair share of life changes in the past couple of months, changes I didn’t choose, I do wonder what effect all of the stress is having on my body. The cold sore on my face is one quite obvious example of how stress can present itself physically. So I wonder if I am doing enough for myself to manage my life stressors? I think I could always do more, but I definitely have a good base.

So what do I do? How do I get through it? Well, it’s times like these that I really get to see how my yoga practice is affecting my life and mind. Now, I remember to breathe. Before yoga, stress would lead to shallow breathing, which after a while, would lead to a panic attack. Now, I know that while this present moment may not be the greatest—hell, it might be downright awful—I remember that not all moments will be like this one. And all I have to handle is what is happening right now. Before yoga, my mind would leap into a downward spiral of what-ifs and why-is-this-happening-to-me moments. I’d feel like a victim instead of someone who has the right to choose how she reacts to situations.

Don’t get me wrong: my car nearly caught fire this morning, and I definitely shed my share of tears. I felt myself beginning to fall into the old pattern of spiraling. But then I remembered yoga sutra 2.33, translated as, “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” 

So I take a breath, and I start there. I needed to move my car before tomorrow’s street cleaning or a I get a ticket. So I became thankful that I tried to move it today and not tomorrow before rushing off to my temp job. I wouldn’t have been able to get things done quick enough in the morning to manage the car situation and still get to work. I was thankful that I tried to move it early so that my brothers could drive to my town and fix it for me (which they did at a fraction of the cost a shop would have charged me). Had I tried to move it tonight, I wouldn’t have access to as much help.

I feel a world of gratitude for my brothers right now, which is a way better feeling than being mad about my car. And that’s a choice. It’s one that I don’t know I could have made before immersing myself in yoga and self-study. And I’m hoping it’s one step closer to not ending up like those poor little stressed mice.

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