Stress and Politics

Readers. To quote one President Obama: "This is not your typical election." And this is not your typical post either. Edge of the Mat usually steers well clear of political conversation. But something happened on Sunday and my practice of living was seriously put to the test. I'm not going to extol the virtues of one candidate over another here. I will simply say for the sake of clarity that I'm with her. I'll be casting my vote for Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States of America.

So it's Sunday night, and I'm driving back from an amazing weekend, in which my two good friends married one another, and my fiance and I were the officiants who married them. We saw old friends, made new ones, and even had time for a bagel. All is right with the world.

Until 9pm rolls around, and we switch on the radio to the local NPR station, and we begin listening to the second presidential debate. When we arrive home in Boston, I immediately run into the house and switch on the TV for the last 20 minutes or so. It is torturous, it is horrible, and I can't tear myself away. There is mocking, there is yelling, there are flashes of white hot anger. And that's just what's going on in my living room. There is the suggestion of cooking popcorn for debate #3, for the express purpose of being able to throw something at the television without damage to our house.

It is 12:30am, and we are still watching CNN. I find every pundit and commentator who disagrees with me detestable. It is 1am and I am in bed, wide awake, adrenaline crackling like electricity through my veins. I stop and think "What the hell is going ON right now?"

I have let myself get out of control, and it's not serving me. When I decided to lead a workshop on stress relief this month, I had NO IDEA how timely it would actually be. This election is stressing me out, and I can't be the only one. There are moments when I forget myself completely. I am fueled by anger, vengeance, fury - and a profound feeling of despair that we will never all be able to come together and treat every individual with respect. I am many qualities in those moments that I attribute to those with whom I disagree.

And I will continue to disagree, deeply, completely, fundamentally. But at 1am on a Sunday night, worked up and highly agitated, I realized that this wasn't the person I wanted to be in the world. This is not how I wanted to represent myself, as a member of my political party or as a citizen of the world. Time to stop gnashing my teeth. Time to start breathing more deeply.

What's the point, you might be thinking? Aren't I allowed to be pissed off? Doesn't it show that I really care about the issues, about the fate of our nation? Yes, it does. And yes, you are allowed to be mad, furious even. But my question back is: What is it costing you? And is the way you're existing in the world a model for how you'd like others to act as well?

When I asked myself these questions, I didn't want to supply the answers. I wanted to believe that politics has nothing to do with yoga or spirituality. Or maybe these circumstances are so extreme that I could get a free pass. And then I think about great leaders, truly great leaders, who fought hard for what they believed, and at the same time were models of peace, fellowship, and love. And I understand that these are exactly the kinds of battles for which the tools of yoga were invented: the important ones, the fights that really count.

How do you do it? How do you turn down the heat when the pot is threatening to boil over? Good question.

When we are worked up and angry, the body is under significant stress. I've got three suggestions for reducing stress below, none of which require you to give up your ideals or stop fighting the good fight.

1.  2:1 Breathing. Count your breaths, and let your exhales be twice as long as your inhales. You could start with a count of 3:6 and move up to 4:8 or 5:10. Practice for 2-5 minutes.

2.  Move your Body. When ducks get into spats with each other, they flap their wings vigorously after the fight is over. Help regulate excess adrenaline and frustration by going for a run, spending 15 minutes on your mat, or doing 100 jumping jacks.

3.  Take a Shower. If you're really ticked off, take a cold shower. It breaks the thought pattern that you're in, and activates your sense of touch, which can soothe you and prevent that "blinded by anger" sensation.

I hope you let your voice be heard and VOTE on (or before) November 8th. I also hope you give yourself permission, if necessary, to turn off election coverage and say "No thanks, not tonight."