Lessons from Getting the Flu
I recall many months back during a Q&A at one of our BYSJ Presents talks, a member asked me when was the last time that I was sick. I had to sit there for a moment and try to remember. Honestly, I still don’t remember the last time. I do know that it was many years ago (five or more) that I even had a cold. Thanks for that, yoga!
Recently however, I was home typing away and noticed my throat feeling itchy and a cough starting. Then I slept pretty awful. I didn’t feel so hot the next day but was still excited throughout with coffee, lots of good meetings, and the opportunity to dance. But on the way home, I started to feel chills. At the store getting soup, I realized something was coming on. I laughed because I didn’t remember how awful those “chills” were and how they are really just the beginning of the night you are about to have – LOL.
I own a very over-sized pink fluffy robe that I never wear, but tonight was the night to wrap myself in it! Luckily, I have the best homeopathic doctor that will call me back at most any hour and leave me a useful message if I can’t get in to see him. This time, he left me instructions to get Oscillococcinum at Whole Foods and take it often. So soup, supplement, big fluffy robe and I’m good. Right? Furthering my luck, the Warriors were on so my mind was on the game.
However, it didn’t take too long though to notice that anything I moved— my legs, a shift in my chair, even lifting my spoon to eat my soup HURT: body aches! OMG. Now I see why that term is first on the medication label: relieves body aches.
Had the flu? Then you know what happens next: it gets worse before it gets better. I so wanted to find humor or insight in the situation (being a mature yogi and all) but honestly, I’m grateful no one was around so I could be as miserable as I felt. I remember the moment my internal furnace went from warm to inferno flames! As I imagine it, my immune system was so happy to finally have a worthy enemy that all those Popeye-spinach-eating immune minions came out to play! Whatever was in me had NO chance of survival as those minions destroyed everything in their way and blazed right through those cellular channels. I have this image of high-fives going on while I roll around in bed, shivering in my sweat.
I know this is pretty silly and funny even as I sit here and write about it. But, here’s my point and how wonderful it is: it’s in our nature to get sick. It’s really hard NOT to get sick once in awhile. So how great is it that you’ve built up that immune “muscle” to take care of you if and when that happens! Yoga, your practice, is doing just that— stimulating your immune system so that when needed, it’s ready to launch with gusto into attack mode. It wastes no time kicking out the unwelcome so you can be back to normal FAST!
Invaders and Mental Virtues
Just as I have developed my immune system to cope with any physical invaders, my yoga practice empowers my mind to meet invasive thoughts. As you practice in the yoga room, reflecting thoughts back-and-forth like a Ping-Pong game with the front mirror, class by class those systems in your mind develop and strengthen.
For instance, as we exercise the respiratory system in Pranayama deep breathing, we are simultaneously becoming conscious of the “monkey mind” we walked into class with. You may still be continuing a conversation you had with a co-worker, reviewing a day’s meeting that took place, or just flickering through random moments of your day. Over the course of Pranayama deep breathing, those thoughts disperse like mist in the air. They loosen their hold on you for the rest of class. What comes through is a cleaner mind, ready for the 90 minutes ahead.
At Half Moon Pose, things get a bit tougher. The mind seeks to protect your ego and get you out of the suffering. You entertain thoughts like “I didn’t sleep much, I’m tired today,” or “This is good enough, I don’t want to overexert myself so I have energy for Triangle pose.” But how great the Bikram dialogue is! It’s designed for you to jump into those words, dispelling those other thoughts that aren’t serving you in the moment. Surrendering to the dialogue opens you up to experience something much larger. Super!
Standing-Head-to-Knee pose is by far one of THE most challenging postures for ANY yoga practitioner, champ or novice. Why? Because here is where the STATE of your mind shows up front and center, loud and clear. Thoughts like “I can’t” (doubt), “I should be able to” (frustration), “I did it yesterday” (expectation), or “I’m never going to be able to,” (unworthiness). Those whispers become deafening and cripple your practice, which is why it’s important to practice often. With repetition, all that noise diminishes back to whispers and you strengthen the virtues of the mind: willpower, self-control, concentration, faith, and patience.
Just like the flu stoked my empowered immune system, our empowered, trained, and disciplined minds turn on as we encounter conflicting forces in different mental situations. We build resilience through struggle!
If you didn’t see the Super Bowl this year, you missed one of THE greatest stories ever experienced. Sports fan or no, the New England Patriots demonstrated “never give up” on one of the biggest stages in our time. Over 111 million people around the globe watched Super Bowl 51! Down by 21-3 at the half and still down by 28-9 in the middle of the 4th quarter, Tom Brady (Patriots Quarterback) and his team managed the seemingly impossible by winning in overtime 34-28.
This mega-inspirational story encompasses so many mini-lessons, but for now I just want to point out one. During all the post-game interviews, everyone noted that even down at half-time 21-3 (and no team in NFL history has ever made a come back to win by more than 10 points), everyone in the locker room was positive. The team conversation strategized what they needed to do now, in that moment. They weren’t distracted by the odds against them, or judgments about the outcome of the first half.
Instead, like you do in yoga each class, the Patriots relied on the game plan that they execute week after week. The repeated plays— like our repeated poses— build confidence and shut out (the rather noisier) doubt. That’s why you hear teachers say, “Just Show Up.” You benefit from a more complete present and open mind, where even the impossible can become possible.
Keeping a Present and Open Mind
Not too long ago, I was watching Van Jones host “The Messy Truth” with special guest, Whoopi Goldberg. Trump must have been in office for one week, but already the atmosphere turned volatile as Trump talked of building a wall with Mexico. In the program, Van Jones had guests from the audience ask both him and Whoopi questions about the wall and other actions the Trump administration was contemplating on border protection.
Whoopi clearly communicates her dislike for Trump, and tells an interesting story about Trump’s involvement in the furor over Obama’s birth certificate. She feels strongly that Trump’s actions are taking America backwards and she’s not going to stand for it. She believes that building a wall won’t solve anything, but will make matters worse. Even while the majority of the audience agrees with her, what happens next strikes right at the heart of the present and open mind we need to cultivate now more than ever…
This gentleman, Joel Campagnola (see video at 7:58), gets up to share his son’s struggles with opiates. Originally given painkillers to help overcome an injury, he quickly became addicted. Desperate for more, the son became involved with the wrong people and eventually bought what he thought were opiates. Instead, it was something called a “kill bag.” Kill bags are a sick marketing strategy of drug dealers to lure in new customers under the pretense of having “the good stuff” by selling a bag of drugs so strong it will kill them. This cold-hearted tactic left behind this distraught dad. He wonders what’s wrong with a border, if it can help stop drugs from entering our neighborhoods?
I once heard a really great statement, “don’t drive the position, drive the policy.” Tom Brady exemplified this as with his present and open mind, he concentrated solely on driving plays. He let go of any beliefs he held about the game itself, and the same held true with this father. After he shares his story, you can feel the audience shift away from driving home a position. Instead, they become open up to a conversation about a serious policy gap. Whoopi’s response was epic. She apologized for both his loss and for any way her argument may have dismissed what he went through! Therein she, too, became present and open-minded, ready to impose some plays “down the field” that will result in true victory.
Lead and Live Your Yoga
Members, I’m on a mission to spread this yoga. Yoga is the only tool I know by far that has the power to teach us to lead ourselves. In so doing, we can lead a nation, and even lead humankind. Members, YOU possess this transformative mental power, just like Tom Brady! It’s there as you practice day after day, and it’s ready to be used the same way my immune system woke up ready to take on the viral struggle in my body. Yoga cultivates within you the skills of returning to a present and open mind.
If you’re getting stoked a little, if the conflict escalates, use it. Instead of just having an argument, show up, be bold, and bring others to the table to rise up and have a true conversation! Like our practice, it can be uncomfortable but do what you know and breathe. Like Whoopi stated to this father, “it’s time for us to be empathetic, to be compassionate and to just start talking.” Live out your yoga beyond the mat – you have the muscle for it!