All my life other people have tried to get me to relax.
“Try watching TV in the evenings,” said my rabbi.
“Lighten up,” said one of my favorite yoga students.
“Relax!!” directed my father (to his credit, he was a New York litigator for most of my childhood so life was pretty intense for him and the most relaxing he ever did was read the New York Times from cover to cover while his children jumped from couch to couch loudly on the other side of his newspaper).
“You do so much, take a break.” says my husband, who is an especially appreciative man.
“Take some ‘me’ time,” said my doctor when I dragged myself into her office with a frozen shoulder and begged for physical therapy (I had a newborn and a 3-year-old at home and a husband in a PhD program).
“Light some scented candles,” said my mother. Of course, my mother’s advice actually did help.
Clearly, the lifestyle feedback indicated that I did need to be able to relax sometimes.
I tried hanging out with laid back people – you know the ones who like Phish and the Grateful Dead. I moved to the very “chill” west coast where, ironically, I was the most stressed out I’ve been in my recent memory because of the demands of the cost of living in the bay area.
I recently reconnected with a wonderful friend from college. We both began teaching high school English after we graduated from college and went our separate ways, but my career has been quite changeable and while I’ve gotten a comprehensive survey of jobs in the education field, she has been a classroom teacher for fourteen straight years. I asked her if things have gotten easier since her first few years of teaching. Since I had not taught for more than 2 consecutive years with the same curriculum I figured that things would’ve gotten easier had I stayed on a more direct path, gaining mastery as an English teacher and learning how to let go of the intensity of stacks of papers to grade and pouring my knowledge into every student who wanted to delve deeply into literature and writing. Evidently, my writing has gotten worse since then because I write a lot of run-on sentences now. No, she said, it has not gotten easier. And here’s the real reason why relaxing is challenging for me – she said because of our personalities we would stay in a high intensity relationship with our work (and in my case, with the world) permanently. And she is right. She is so right. This intensity is part of who I am and it has its benefits. But the challenge is that I have to “work” harder than other people to achieve relaxation. Some people have to “work” harder to achieve the level of intensity that it takes me to complete a CrossFit class. We’ve all got our stuff.
Yoga provides me with a path and the tools that I need to avoid internal combustion when I feel like I will explode with intensity. I notice that my son has some of the same tendencies toward intensity as I. That is why, like my mother encouraged my yoga practice from a young age I encourage his yoga practice with the hope that he will be able to find a safe haven from the intensity of just being himself for his whole life.