Life Lessons from a Yoga Mat Spider
You probably read the title of this blog and wondered if I was I lost my mind, mistyped, was high or all of the above. Well, the title was intentional. So, here goes: a story of why I love yoga so much because it always teaches me new things...in one way or another.
This afternoon, I took a yoga class at my favorite spot. The teacher asked us to set an intention that we wanted to focus on - and my mind immediately settled on strength. In the last day or so, I had been feeling physically weak and fatigued. So, at the start of class, I tried to visualize feeling whole and re-energized in my body, feeling strong in whatever expression of a pose I could move into and clearing any doubt in my mind that I was, indeed, weak.
After our first sun salutation, however, I noticed something moving at the top of my mat. I peered down, and to my horror, realized that it was a huge spider (think: black widow size...and fuzzy). I immediately felt my mind go into fight-or-flight mode. Why? I'm a huge arachnophobe. I can't handle being in the same room as a small spider...and can't even muster strength to kill them without losing my mind. Sometimes, it's comical...if you are an outsider.
Anyways, the spider stayed perched at the top of my mat while I pondered what to do. Should I tell the teacher? Should I give into my anxiety and scream or cry? Should I slam my water bottle down on it and cause a scene (mostly, because I knew I would scream as I tried to hit it)? Should I quietly get up and leave the class?
As I tried to ponder how to handle this spider, I forced myself to return to my breath, knowing it would help temper my anxiety. I started with slow inhales and exhales, trying to look away from the spider for a few breaths at a time.
After a few minutes, I noticed I had become gradually calmer and calmer - increasingly more focused on the my breath cycle and the feeling of space opening in my body as we moved through a few flows. Meanwhile, the spider kept moving around in the space in front of me.
A few minutes turned into a few more...and eventually, we ended up on our backs for happy baby and savasana. As I rocked on my back in happy baby, I realized I had managed not to scream and not to cause a scene. I managed to not let a spider ruin my yoga practice. (Don't get me wrong - I had been less than comfortable watching it creep around the area surrounding my mat. But, I also realized that I needed to not let something so out of my control take over a class I'd been looking forward to all week.)
All in all, I knew my intention was realized: I was strong. I handled a major moment of fear and panic by focusing on my breath and the current moment, the now. It made me think: how many other moments of panic - where my immediate reaction is to lose my shit (pardon my language) - can I manage with simple attention to my breath and looking inward with a sense of strength and purpose?
I often forget, but this was a huge reminder (in the small form of a spider): there's no sense in letting something entirely out of your control ruin your day. In moments of panic and moments where you feel like you have lost control, you can always return to your breath. Sometimes, the message you need to hear comes from the most unlikely of places. Maybe, next time, though, I can learn something...without a spider. Thanks in advance, universe!