I was driving to teach a class today and this very aggressive driver behind me was right on my tail. We were in heavy traffic on the freeway and the traffic was ‘stop and go’. I watched this driver in my rear view mirror come really close to rear-ending me several times. I decided to get out of the way and move lanes and let the car go by me. I pulled into another lane and the car sped past me and then hit the brakes and almost rear ended the next car. I watched the car for several minutes almost rear end this car several more times as we continued in the ‘stop and go’ traffic. There was one moment where I was beside this car and I looked over to see what was going on with the driver. There was a middle-aged woman behind the wheel and she was incredibly angry. She was yelling at the car in front of her. She suddenly noticed me watching her. She stopped yelling and glared at me with ‘daggers’ in her eyes. She then lifted up her arm and gave me the finger and mouthed the words F&%k Yo%! I thought to myself, “Wow! This woman's behavior is crazy.”
I thought about how bizarre this whole encounter was on the rest of my drive to teach my class. I also thought about how common it is to see this kind of behavior if you drive in L.A. traffic a lot.
You don't have to have a yoga studio to be practicing yoga. This woman was holding some pretty intense stuff inside. Her anger wasn’t just at me or the other driver in front of her. It's not rocket science to figure this out and also easy to see that her behavior had very little to do with me or the other driver. We were the innocent bystanders in her ‘drive-by shooting’ of unhealthy emotions.
Being in your car, on the freeway, in ‘stop and go’ traffic, with somewhere to go, is not a lot different than holding a pose longer than we want to, staying focused and letting things get uncomfortable.
If you just create the fire and the intensity, though, there's no yoga. If you create the fire and the intensity things will come up that need to process for you. If you get caught up in these things they aren’t processing and moving through you. You have to look at them and you have to let them go. You have to breathe while you’re in the fire. You have to practice surrendering.
This woman wasn’t breathing while she was in the fire. She probably wasn't even aware of what she was doing. She was caught up in old emotional stuff that was moving through her and needed to process. Was she angry at me for looking at her? Was she angry at me and the other driver for simply being there? So angry that she was filled with rage to the point that she wanted to ram her car into us to get us to move out of the way? Were we really the source of the anger she was feeling? That doesn't make sense. Think about it. The reaction doesn’t match the reality of the situation. She was being triggered and she didn't have the knowledge to understand what was happening and didn’t have the tools to work with the energy coming up for her and so she was getting caught up in her stuff as it was coming up. It was just sub-conscious mental tension, old stuck energy that needed to process.
One of the things we're learning to do in yoga is how to work with energy, process energy and release stuck energy. What the woman in the car this morning didn't realize is that the things coming up and triggering her had nothing to do with the present moment.
The key thing in our practice that we are learning is to be in the fire but to not get caught up in the fire. This woman was caught up in the fire. She was so caught up in it and so attached to her emotions she was lashing out at everyone around her. In her mind -- I must have been the cause of her anger because I was looking at her. That made sense to her in that moment.
“How dare you get in my way when I have somewhere to go! I'm going to ram my car into you!"
Think about how crazy that is? But in her mind, this was the reality, it just wasn't connected to actual reality.
When you practice not attaching over and over again, when you're in the fire and your stuff is coming up, then you are rehearsing a new pattern of not getting caught up in the emotional energy moving through you, the sub-conscious tension that needs to process.
Your emotions are still going to come up and surprise you. You're human. You're going to get angry and upset and you're going to feel a whole lot and sometimes your emotions are going to be connected to reality and are actually a healthy response to stimulus. You don't want to ignore these emotions that are connected to the present moment but you do want to be able to distinguish between the present moment and old stuck energy that is moving through you.
If a tiger escapes from the zoo and is about to attack you, fear is a very healthy emotion and will stimulate a response that may save your life. Emotions are not bad things. Your yoga practice is going to help you learn to detach when you are getting caught up in things that aren’t connected to reality but instead – is just energy moving through you, tension that needs to process. Your practice is going to help you to sharpen your mind enough so that you can determine when something that is coming up for you is connected to reality, or when it is simply old stuck energy and sub-conscious tension moving through you.
Take your yoga with you even on the freeway. Practice your yoga off the mat. Breathe while you are in the fire. Practice surrendering.