Summer is here! Yeah, the solstice is still actually a couple of weeks away. But the heat of the season has certainly made an appearance. And with that heat, you may find yourself feeling a little…uncomfortable at times. Irritated. Short-tempered and grumpy, even. ‘Cause you’re a human being who responds to your environment, you know?
In Ayurveda, these heat-induced reactions are linked to the Pitta Dosha, which relates to the fire element. Kept in check, the fire element gives us all kinds of positive qualities: passion, drive, inspiration, discipline. Fire gone haywire? You’ll know it’s happened when you find yourself wondering, “who the HELL have I become?” after yelling at a family member or getting unreasonably pissed off because someone was WRONG on the Internet (OMG!!!)
When I investigate the processes that lead up to my own fire-gone-haywire moments, I often find they are born of a generally unreasonable expectation of having control over the world and the people around me. That other people should do things the way I would do them. When I notice that I’m living with that expectation, I end up laughing at myself. Which is good. Laughing is more fun than fuming.
Practices like yoga asana, meditation, and pranayama are crazy helpful in moving through that trajectory from anger to understanding. They make a re-set button available. But there are times when escaping to your mat or your meditation cushion isn’t possible. And this, I find, is where the study of yoga philosophy really pays off.
One of the most useful things I’ve learned from yoga philosophy, as well as practices like Non-Violent Communication, or NVC for short (which I think of as “applied yoga philosophy”) is the importance of allowing other people the dignity of their own preferences and tendencies. We all know how crappy it feels when someone wants to determine your thoughts and actions for you, against your will. It may feel like that person doesn’t think you are important, or intelligent enough to make good decisions. You know what else? It’s important to admit that it also feels crappy to be the person attempting to micro-manage others. We come from a pretty gross-feeling place when we act as though we expect nothing good from the people in our lives. Nobody’s gonna win under these circumstances, and everyone knows it, yet too often we as humans just dig in and simply fight harder.
On the other hand, it feels awesome when we start from the expectation that human beings can respond well to discussions and requests made respectfully. It feels even more awesome to realize that we don’t have to share matching opinions if we can remember to share our humanity. (Though I will say, sometimes people can’t share their humanity. Knowing how to walk away from bad communication is an important skill, too)
In general, I find healthy communication makes me more capable of learning. If nothing else, I am a nerd. Learning is a high priority for me. And human beings happen to be my favorite subject. So a lot of my practices end up being geared toward making sure I don’t cut myself off from that expanded learning. And you know, I fail a lot. Everybody does. In the game of being human, if you aren’t failing, you aren’t really playing. The point is, as Samuel Beckett wrote, to “try again, fail again. Fail better.”
To be able to get to a place where sincere and respectful communication is possible—to set myself up for success in learning better ways to be human—I find I have to know where I’m coming from. And then I need some kind of trusted map for moving forward. This is where the aforementioned yoga philosophy and NVC comes in, in some very on-the-ground ways. For the “what is this feeling I’m having?” piece of things, the understanding of the Rasas in yoga philosophy goes a long way (for more on the Rasas, go HERE.) Do I feel angry? Do I feel sad? Do I feel scared? Why?
Armed with that information, I can then go through the steps of Non-Violent Communication, which boil down to an expression of awareness of both self and situation. It generally goes something like, “I’ve noticed _____ is happening. I’m feeling ____. I have a need for ____. I’d like to request that ____.”** Sounds simple, but taking responsibility for one’s feelings, needs and desires in a way that respects the same in other people is definitely one of the upper-level courses in yoga practice.
As the summer heats up, we hope you find opportunities for both self-care and self-reflection. Though those things both start with “self,” they make a huge difference in what we end up passing on to other people. Have a great summer, and…stay cool!
Much love and thanks for reading,
Erin H/Grassroots Yoga
**This is admittedly only the briefest boiling down of NVC. For more, PLEASE go to The Center for Non-Violent Communication website.