I am not just talking about those “yoga teacher rockstars” (yes they exist, with groupies and everything!). I am talking about real-life, torn-up jeans wearing, guitar slinging, tattooed ROCKSTARS. Or, at least that’s what I wanted while I was at Governor’s Ball a few weeks ago, watching Alison Mosshart of The Kills wail her heart out at an unearthly decibel.
I have never been one for large drunk crowds of people and typically avoid situations where any or all of my senses feel like they are going to explode. So when my boyfriend bought me tickets for Governor’s Ball last month, I had to feign excitement by saying things like “ gosh, I am super amped for the festival tomorrow!” and “gee whiz, I am pumped to hear some live music!”.
Fast forward to me standing in a sea of people, raising my hands in the air like I just didn’t care, tapping my foot with an irresistible urge to jump and scream and growl and be heard. There was something about the way Alison Mosshart sang- loud and guttural; something about those steady, hard drums (ahem – root chakra!); something in her black attire, bleach blond hair and cherry red lipstick that was dark, urgent and necessary. As I watched The Kills perform, I felt like I was a 15 year old girl again- sitting in my bedroom, listening to Nine Inch Nails and painting my CD player speakers with Revlon Vampire Red nail polish. It was passionate and dramatic and I liked it. I needed it.
Sometimes my yoga practice doesn’t feel so dramatic. When I move my body on my mat it is slow, deliberate, and controlled. On the best of days it is graceful and I feel strong and empowered. Other times it is heavy and messy and makes me want to cry. The fantastic thing for someone like me who is an introvert is that I get to practice my art on the privacy of my own mat – sometimes at home, sometimes under the guidance of my teachers.
Rockstars do it in front of millions. They dish up their heaviness and messiness and heartache right up on a giant stage with hot, bright lights on them. They are unafraid to be vulnerable, to dance around and whip their hair and sweat all over the place. They’ve got guts to sing their truth loud- even if it’s dark and ugly and uncomfortable.
I don’t like being uncomfortable. It’s really uncomfortable! And I especially don’t like to advertise my discomfort for the whole world to see. That is supremely uncomfortable.
In yoga we have the sanskrit word tapas, which means to burn or purify. My favorite translation of tapas is “the willingness to endure intensity for the sake of transformation”. Even though my yoga practice isn’t loud and dramatic, it has taught me that being uncomfortable is one of the best ways to grow; that stepping past the edge of my own awkwardness is the only way to get beyond it. It’s shown me how to ease-fully stretch a tight muscle or work to strengthen a weak one until the challenge shifts; until the boundary of what is uncomfortable changes and I expand beyond my perceived limitation.
So, maybe it is the moments when one or more of my senses feels like it is about to explode that are the ones I should be seeking, or at least stop avoiding. Maybe I should go to more loud concerts. Maybe rather than avoiding Times Square on a hot summer day, I should walk directly through it. Or maybe I simply need to give myself permission to be dramatic once in a while – to stomp my feet, and shake my fists, and shout when I am excited or angry. And if someone sees or hears me being messy, maybe that’s okay too. Maybe that person will learn something about me in that moment. And perhaps that person will realize that they also have permission to be imperfect- to be seen and heard, even if it is dark and ugly and uncomfortable.
Two weeks ago as I was waiting for the train up on 125th St, I saw a woman attempting to open a bottle of Orangina. I watched as she struggled with the cap, trying to twist and turn it from different positions and angles; left hand vs. right. I observed as she positioned the bottle between her thighs and used both hands to work the cap loose. I appreciated her resourcefulness when she pulled out her keys and began to saw at the perforation and I winced when she held it between her back teeth and began to clamp down.
I was trying hard not to watch-I didn’t want to embarrass her nor did I want to be caught with the staring problem that most non-native New Yorkers learn quickly to overcome. The only issue was that I could not look away because I was salivating at the thought of how satisfying it would be if I could be the one to get the bottle open.
We have all been there-watching someone we know struggle with a jam or pickle jar; our muscles flexing, our fingers twitching, our jaws gripping in a sort of physical empathy as we watch the battle between man and lid. There is an unspoken rule that you must let the friend/co-worker/lover struggle for at least 3 attempts before you can step in and say, “Um, do you mind if I give it a try?”, knowing with 100% confidence that you will probably get the job done on the first attempt and then hand it back with a glint of pride in your eyes but trying to be humble saying “Well, you loosened it for me.”
So, as I watched this girl work so hard for her refreshment, I wondered what was stopping me from stepping up and offering to help. I certainly wanted to get the cap off of the bottle. I could already hear the crisp bubbly “tst” of the carbonation being released as the metal perforation finally gave. My forearm muscles were aching in anticipation! Still, I chose to pretend I didn’t notice, to watch out the corner of my eye, to act as if I was engrossed in the standing water and the floating metro cards on the tracks below.
There is a quote by Albert Einstein:
A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us.
So, was I choosing not to help this girl because I didn’t know her? I think so. She was unfamiliar to me and therefore I felt separate from her. I could not easily see her struggle with the Orangina bottle as my own struggle. If it had been my sister, my roommate or a friend I would have quickly lent a hand (pun intended!). Einstein goes on to say
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
As I stood there on the train tracks remembering the wisdom of Einstein, I knew that I had fallen into exactly what he had described- a prison of my own delusion that I was separate from Orangina Girl. At that moment I made a choice that would definitely not change history, but it would satisfy a thirst.
“Can I help you get that open?”, I offered. The girl’s face, flushed with effort and frustration, flooded with relief. “Can you, please? I have tried everything”. I took the bottle in my strong hands and twisted hard…then a little harder…. and finally, “Tst”. Relief. I handed the bottle back to her with a humble shrug and said “Well, you loosened it for me”. She couldn’t reply because she was already chugging the cold liquid sunshine inside the bottle. Afterwards, she wiped her lips and said, “That was satisfying”. I couldn’t have agreed more.