We need yoga now more than ever.
It’s been an emotional week. Actually, it’s been an emotional year. This feels like a pivotal moment in time. We are at a tipping point. Anger, hostility, fear, and hatred are driving so much of the conflict.
It’s hard to be hopeful when every day there seems to be a new reason to despair.
In some ways, it feels like the world is in an enormous emotional cauldron right now. Everything is getting stirred together and we’re mired in an emotional soup.
Recently, one of my students reminded me of a famous experiment, testing and observing the impact of emotions on water.
In the experiment, the scientist placed a drop of water on a petri dish and had a group of people yell insults and attacks at the water droplet. For several minutes, they raged at the water droplet, unleashing the most hateful, negative, and nasty comments they could think of. When they looked at the droplet under the microscope, the droplet looked fractured and broken.
Then the scientist took a second drop of water and had the same people speak to the new water droplet lovingly and kindly. For several minutes, they spoke with great tenderness and gentleness towards the new droplet. When they looked at this droplet under the microscope, the droplet looked more cohesive and whole.
Humans are composed of about 80% water.
Which begs the question, what happens to us when we are subjected to constant nastiness, violence, hatred, and anger? How does it impact our bodies, our hearts, and our minds? Even further, how does it impact or muscles, our tissue, our organs, and our bones?
I think the short answer is that it’s making us sick and divided.
I don’t think emotional assault is an unfamiliar action, though. I think we’ve all chosen to turn our anger towards ourselves or other people at some point or another.
After talking with my student, I started to think about all the times I’d turned my anger outward. I tend to fall on the angrier end of the spectrum, which can motivate me towards activism and also towards road rage.
I thought about the many times that someone cut me off in traffic or didn’t signal or blew through a stop sign or nearly hit me. My immediate reaction is always anger. Sometimes I honk my horn loudly. I’ve also been known to flip the bird and yell angrily at the other driver. All very productive stuff.
It doesn’t change anything with the driver. If anything, my anger makes them angry leading to further dangerous or destructive or anger-motivated behavior.
I’m tired of perpetuating that cycle.
I’m more interested in answering the question: “what type of energy do I want to put out into the world?”
Or more expressly, “how can I create a more positive impact on my own body of water? How can I create a more positive impact on the bodies of water I interact with?”
Just to be 100% clear, this is not me ignoring the fact that there is some serious shit we need to deal with right now.
This is not about sending loving kindness out into the universe and hoping that it makes a dent.
That’s not how this works.
There are very real hate crimes that are happening all over the country right now. Even in my ultra progressive town in my deep blue state, several churches and schools have been defaced with hateful words. Brown skinned people have been verbally, as well as physically attacked.
I don’t think these are isolated incidents. I believe that the fallout of this election is in the fact that people now feel emboldened by the racist, misogynistic, damaging attitude of the president-elect, to act upon their own fearful, bigoted beliefs that have been somewhat hidden until now.
Every community across this country has been shaken to its core.
Meditating on love isn’t going to create the kind of change we need in order to rebuild our communities and build a stronger foundation of support, trust, and community.
Instead, I think we need to approach emotional impact from a grassroots level. We need to focus more on how we treat one another on a small scale. How do you treat your partner, your kids, your parents, your neighbors, your co-workers, your boss, and your friends?
Beyond that immediate circle of influence, what choices can you make to demonstrate your care for or support of the people you interact with? How can you be a positive and powerful force in the world instead of contributing to the cycles of anger, hate, and destruction?
How can you use your words, your thoughts, and your actions to show support, build bridges, and communicate kindness?
We are all bodies of water.
Although some articles discredit the experiments on the water droplets, I believe that our actions matter. The way we treat one another matters. It ripples out from us through everyone we interact with. The further out our influence stretches, the bigger the waves.
The first place you have to start is with you.
How you treat yourself matters and it will directly impact how you treat others.
This is the kind of lesson I strive to teach my kids, whether it’s through yoga or self-care or social justice. I want them both to know that if they want to make a difference, they have to first start with themselves.
As my daughter grows up, I see big flashes of myself in her. Some of the things I see are the weird little idiosyncrasies, like collecting rocks or not liking her pants to be above her belly button. I also see the uncontrollable anger that bursts out in flashes. Some of it is standard threenager hormones. Some of it, she learned from watching and listening to me.
Painful as it is to admit that hard truth, I’m realizing more and more that I not only teach Milly how to treat herself, but I also teach her how to treat others. I know, this is a big “um, yeah, obviously” sort of a moment. I have always known this. As she gets older, however, I am witnessing it.
In considering the energetic impact of Milly witnessing my anger and thinking it’s an acceptable response to everything that frustrates her, I’m trying to make a shift. I want to demonstrate kindness and support, respect and fairness, steadiness and love.
I want to show her how to be angry when it’s necessary to be angry and to channel her anger into something productive instead of something destructive.
I want to show her how to be calm in the face of great challenges.
It begins with me. It begins with my attitude towards myself. It continues with my willingness to continue to do the hard work of consciously considering how to act on my emotions.
I need yoga now more than ever.
One of the great benefits of yoga is the idea that if we can connect all parts of ourselves – body, mind, and heart – we can more effectively address the constant flow of emotions that move through us on a second to second basis. If that’s true, which I believe it is, I can learn how to consciously and intentionally create ripples my own body of water so what flows out from me is purposeful.
I think this is how we begin to make a difference.
In our own lives.
In the lives of our children.
This is how we learn to take care of one another instead of teach others down.
This is how we fight with compassion, love, and tenacity to rebuild the cohesiveness of our communities.