The Politics of Distraction

Perhaps this post should be titled the Distraction of Politics? Either way, I think you know where this is going.

As a yoga instructor, I try my best to engage in a step above small talk with the students who I am lucky enough to practice with. Some students are ready and willing to let it all hang out with me, they belly up to the 'bar' and we chat about the traffic, the podcast they're listening to, or maybe we go deep about a surgery their family member is having that week. These people are open books who I can bounce ideas off of, and get feedback on what they need from me. 

On the other hand I understand that some people just come to yoga to chill out. They don't want to talk about work, or their kids, or the weather. They want to walk in, grab a mat, lay down and close their eyes until I make them sit back up and start breathing. These people, I don't bug.  A simple, "You ready for some yoga?" in the beginning followed by "Have a great night!" at the end is all we exchange. I don't look to them for a gauge on how they're enjoying our classes. They let me know they enjoy our time together because they keep showing up.

Usually it is pretty easy to navigate the small talk portion before and after class to appease all personalities in the room. I try not to bring up anything too stressful, as yoga is supposed to be relaxing. If you've ever been to one of my classes you know we always set our intentions before getting started. I advise everyone to use their intention to guide them back into the moment and their yoga practice when stressful thoughts start to creep in throughout class. If I can hold the space for someone to forget about their to do list, even if only for an hour, I feel like I'm doing my job. If I were to lead a conversation about stressful things in our life right before asking you to breath deeply, I don't think you'd be coming back to my class.

All that being said, a couple weeks ago I found myself to be the stressed out one.

You see, I was triggered by this whole Presidential election. (Side Note - should Presidential be capitalized? It feels like maybe this year it shouldn't be.) I usually pride myself in being an aware and engaged participant in the political process. I like to be presented facts and make my decisions based off of those facts. I know what my important political "issues" are and vote accordingly. I would never, EVER, tell anyone who to vote for, I just want people to vote. This year I realized being a small business owner I should probably be less obvious about my political choices. I made a conscious decision to refrain from any political discussion on social media, and I was okay with that decision. I was fine with politics being something I only talked about with my husband and my mom. 

All was fine and dandy until I saw a video of two men walking off a bus.

That video threw me in a tailspin I never saw coming. Without even being aware of it I started consuming media at an aggressively rapid pace. I stayed up later than usual to watch news programs. I refreshed Twitter and Facebook every few minutes to read reaction pieces, and watch speeches. I had the SiriusXM app on my phone permanently tuned to CNN so I wouldn't miss any breaking news and the accompanying dialogue on the aforementioned breaking news.

Looking back at it now I was almost in a free fall of needing to check to see how the rest of the world was responding. Not so surprisingly, half of our country disagreed with the other half. Networks showed panel after panel of opposing view points. Men and women weighed in with their opinions, many shared emotionally scarring experiences they had been through. I watched and devoured it all, hoping that something I would see, or hear, or read, would make me feel better. Nothing ever did. But I still had to be involved, right? It was my duty as an American citizen to be engaged, and active in this election, wasn't it?

I would walk into the studio still reeling from the latest piece of news I had seen. All I wanted to do was ask everyone if they were watching the debates. Ask if they were okay, see if they were as affected as I was. My brain wouldn't allow me to comprehend that anyone couldn't be consumed like I was. I held back though. The more grounded side of my personality won out and kept me from projecting my anxiety onto the students I practiced with. 

By happenstance I had a Strategy Session scheduled with my friend Molly Hillig during this time. I started the conversation hoping she could clue me in on some ways to create healthier habits. 

"I feel like I know all the healthy things I should be doing, there is just some sort of block where I'm not doing them!" I told her. I think I was talking about drinking more green juice or something to be honest. But in her special Molly way, she led me to identify for myself what the real issue was. 

I was distracted. 

I was mindlessly obsessing over every word, every sound byte, with absolutely no purpose or intention other than finding some sort of validation for how I felt. Not exactly the most conscious and 'aware' thing for a yoga instructor to admit, but it's the truth. My reality was I was focusing so much on this election I almost started to lose my sense of reality. 

So what did I do? I got moving. I turned off the CNN streaming from my phone and listened to my absolute favorite artist. I hopped onto my blue circle mat and let the yoga flow. For the first time in about two weeks I started to feel inspired again. I started to feel powerful again. Yoga has this tendency to remind me how strong my body, mind and soul are, I tend to forget. 

That yoga session also brought to light a cold, hard truth I needed to face. I thought I was being engaged and informed by consuming the constant noise of this election, when in all actuality I was the one being consumed. Bringing awareness to this fact makes it obvious how careful I need to be in the future when it comes to what I allow into my brain, and my heart.

It's not easy for me to admit, but I hope someone else might be able to relate to this little stumble in my mindfulness journey. 

Maybe your distraction isn't the election. Perhaps it is obsessively checking Facebook throughout the day, or zoning out in front of the TV for a few hours after the kids go to bed. Whatever is distracting you from the real life, the real people in front of you, the first step is identifying it. 

I'm sure your antidote to distraction isn't the same as mine either. Maybe you'd be better served by just taking a walk outside. Or snuggling in a blanket and reading a book. I'm sure we all could benefit from a little less time on our phones though. I encourage you to think of something that gets you out of your head, even for a hour. Your mind with thank you for it. 

I always tell people, the hardest part of yoga is just getting on the mat. The hardest part of becoming a more aware and mindful person, at least for me, is just being able to identify where I'm struggling. Once I identify my struggles I can mindfully bring my attention to them. Before long they aren't struggles anymore, they are an obstacle I've overcome. 

Now I am definitely not recommending you don't vote, or don't try to stay up to date on the political situation in our country. I just know for myself I have to constantly be checking my awareness surrounding it. Am I refreshing Twitter every five minutes? Or am I mindfully staying present in the world around me and only opening my social media apps once or twice a day? Little mental checks like that are how I try and set myself up for success. 

It's only been about a week or so, but I can tell you being a mindful consumer of media is a million times less stressful than being an obsessive one. Going into the second debate I was so anxious and nervous, I was almost in tears. I had this awful sick to my stomach feeling the whole night. Going into tonight's debate? I'm not even sure I'll watch it in it's entirety. I'm teaching yoga so the debate will just about be over by the time I get home. In the past I would have the whole thing recorded and start watching it from the beginning at 9:30 PM . Tonight? I may just watch the commentary. The need to devour every article, every panel and every interview isn't there anymore. Thank goodness. 

And the last thing I think about walking into the studio before teaching a class, is politics.

Namaste

Liz