Monday, May 28, 2012

The problem of suppressing emotions

One of the biggest problems I have is not being in touch with how I feel. There is a virtue highly regarded by the Chinese culture (and maybe Asian culture in general) that is not even a common concept in the western society. I was trying to figure out its translation, and I found the Falun Gong wiki entry translates this virtue as "forbearance". This virtue included the restraint of acting out as well as the suppression of negative emotions when facing hardship or unreasonable demands from authority and those who are older than you. One of the positive outcomes of this virtue is that when one bears the hardship during tough times, one builds character. My mother even taught me this Chinese saying: "When hardship hits you so hard that your teeth are knocked off, swallow the teeth along with all the blood generated from the impact."

In Chinese it's just seven characters/syllables and this is the first time I translated it into English and boy  does it sounds messed up. Who the hell teaches such a concept to their daughters? And you know what? Not knowing any better, I accepted this concept. I don't know why, but I've always wanted to be the most virtuous person I can be, so I practiced forbearance a lot. I practiced suppressing my feelings, thinking that emotions are totally irrational. Anger is bad. Shyness is bad. It frustrates me that I don't have a good grip on my emotions. That I could suppress my anger towards an action or a person I don't like for awhile, and when my patience runs out, I would explode. I hated that about myself. My family suggested that I don't try hard enough, that I must practice even more restraint to prevent exploding anger. This actually makes me even more unpredictable. Practically anything my family says can make me spazz at them, and it's gotten to so bad that I don't even have to meet my family face to face. The mere thought of my mother and some family members can trigger angry feelings. I feel like I need to check myself into a psychiatry unit.

It wasn't until I started taking yoga classes that I learned that when you suppress a negative feeling, it doesn't just disappear into nothingness. It gets stored as tension somewhere in your body. I don't usually believe a statement like that without any evidence, but I don't know how else to explain the fact that I would tear up in the middle of an asana practice. When this happened, the pose I was holding was usually not especially challenging, nor was I recounting a piece of a sad memory. Supposedly asana practice works out energy channels in the body, relieving physical and emotional tensions (knots) in the body, Deep tissue massage can also achieve similar effects sometimes.

It seems to me that a feeling is not a single thought or a single item. It's a combination of a bunch of stuff happening in my body. The stomach tightens, the heart pumps harder, the skin pores widen, major muscles tighten a little bit. Instead of me being aware of 20 things happening at once in my body, my brain interpretes these 20 events as one single feeling. Combo ABCDEFG = anxiousness; HIJKLMN = fearfulness; OPQRSTU = anger, etc. When I order myself to suppress a feeling, what happens is I'm ordering my conscious brain to ignore all these signals in the body. Well, the body is actually trying to communicate something to the rational mind. Instead of making the feeling go away (which I can't, because it's not one single thing), the brain simply ignores all the signals. The next time an emotional trigger happens, the signals become stronger, but again, I say "suppress these bad feelings", my brain tries to ignore the signals, and I become oblivious to all the change in my pulse, the muscle tensions, the inflammation, etc. Over time my brain learns to ignore all the signals/alarms in my body, which means I become oblivious to my feelings. Then one day the alarms reach above a threshold, bypass the rational brain, and I snap at some innocent person like a bitch.

Step 1 is getting in touch with my feelings. Step 1.1 is to take deeper breaths. I totally thought I'd get this down after 2 years of yoga practice, but it seems like I've still got a lot of work to do to improve my breathing skills!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Obsession with weight loss

The other day my parents’ friends visited and I had to socialize with them. One of the males offered me some sweets, which I politely declined because I didn’t feel like having some sweets at the time. He said with a smile, “I understand. Young women are always watching their weight.” I tried to protest his claim but he just laughed it off as if he was 100% confident he had read my mind.

Another woman asked me, “Oh my god you’ve lost so much weight since I last saw you! How do you do it?” I've actually gained 95% of the weight back since I've returned from my India trip, but I told her about my daily Ashtanga practice (back home then and now I only practice a few days a week) + eating only 2 meals a day (brunch and early dinner) + not snacking on junk food + a bit of food poisoning.  A tan also provides a visually slimming effect. She nodded, stayed silent for a while; about 20 minutes later she abruptly declared that yoga must be easier for me because my mother took me to dance lessons when I was a small girl. I said I didn’t go to India to practice yoga just for weight loss. My aunt, who was also present at the scene, missed the negation word and asked loudly, “What? You went to India to practice yoga just to lose weight?”

I have trouble staying calm whenever these older adults mention about me and weight loss and wouldn’t give up on the subject. A rush of anger uncontrollably arises and I always have to suppress it with all my might, but they seem totally oblivious of it.

I’ve been reading up a lot on psychology lately. It seems that the reason I get worked up so easily with my parents and their friends is that I keep getting invalidated. If I try to express how I feel, they would tell me I shouldn't feel that way. When I honestly express my reasons for doing something, they can't accept my words for what they are, but instead they come up with explanations for me and conclude that they are correct. If we're debating public issues or religion or culture, then fine, everybody has their own opinions. However, we are talking about my actions and my feelings. Being invalidated and dismissed cause serious  damage to my feelings and my relationships with these people.

Because they grew up with the cultural belief that feelings don't matter and their personal believes that old people cannot change their ways, I need to change my way of thinking/dealing with them before I go insane. So if I put myself in their shoes, I guess they are struggling to understand what's going on in their children's heads. The Taiwanese media portrays young women as 100% dedicated to nothing but  looking good, maintaining youth, and losing weight. The commercials, the talk shows, dramas, and even the news seem to spread the same message. Not only has the TV, magazines and newspapers successfully brainwashed most of the young people, the older generation seem to have concluded that these superficial goals are the only things that young women care about these days. Weight loss and staying pale (skin whitening = looking good) are two ideas simple enough for them to grasp and understand. Somehow it got through to them that I don't care about whitening, but weight loss is something that they kind of shove down my throat (because my body frame is larger than the average Chinese woman) and they believe I deeply care about.

So I hate interacting with the older generation because I feel like they keep assuming I'm constantly trying to lose weight. However, they are merely trying to be friendly, and losing weight is the only topic they think I'm interested in that they feel they can discuss with me. This is sad but I feel like the elderly are completely out of touch with the modern world. They went through a time of war, so their whole lives were about obtaining security by getting married, having a family, finding a stable job and stay in it until retirement. They are very confused about young people today pursuing countless hobbies, picking jobs based on personal interests (and switching careers when they get bored of what they're doing), realizing personal dreams, and attempting to be in touch with personal feelings. The Internet, human rights, fair trade, global warming, energy issues, recycling, gay marriages, etc. did not exist during their times, and they seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around these topics. Weight loss is one issue that they can understand, so that's what they'll talk to me about because they think they can connect with me this way (and avoid talking about any of the topics I mentioned above).

So weight loss with family friends = weather small talks in western culture. I should stop getting so worked up when they bring this up with me next time. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A lesson about my mind through sky diving

Yesterday I jumped out of an airplane. Well, not quite. I showed up, paid a large sum of cash, signed some legal waivers, stepped into a funny full body suit + hat + goggles, allowed someone to put a body harness on me, voluntarily walked into an airplane, which went up to 10,000 feet, and sat on the ledge of an airplane with open doors. Just as the feeling of panic and fear started to arise, the tandem instructor  leaned forward, lo and behold, I was out of the aircraft and free falling from the sky. No jumping actually happened on my part.

It may have seemed like an excessively expensive approach to experience 4 minutes of adrenaline rush, but I felt like I got many important life lessons out of it.

I feel incredibly lucky to live in an era when I can jump out of airplanes and survive without knowing a single thing about how parachutes work and techniques to sky dive. The availability of commercial tandem sky diving is a pretty recent phenomenon. Before the availability of tandem sky diving, I would have to learn how to release and operate the parachute, all the emergency manoeuvres, not to mention actually perform my own jumping and landing. According to this article I would have to do 6 static line jumps before I would be allowed to experience 3 seconds of free fall. I didn't even know the difference between free falling and parachuting. Now I can let an expert with lots of training plus >5000 jumps under his belt to take care of all the technical aspects of this activity, and just focus on the experience of floating in the air. I dreamed about free falls and flying many times. I have to say, free falling in dreams feel way scarier. I often felt like falling into the abyss and would literally experience a drop and land with a thump, all while laying perfectly supported by my bed.

My brain went totally RETARDED when in the air. It was my first time being in a small plane. It felt weird that I didn't need to strap myself into to a seatbelt. I was cramped up in a small space with 3 friends and four slightly bored-looking sky diving instructors who didn't really introduce themselves (they just landed from their 14th jump of the day 5 minutes ago). We didn't talk much because the plane was loud and we didn't know what to say. The four of us kept smiling stupidly out of sheer excitement and nervousness. One guy opened the airplane door (since I've only ever flown on commercial jumbo jets before this act just looked and felt wrong), and before any of us knew how to react, one of our friend was out of the airplane already. The rest of us obeyed instructions like sheep ("swing your legs to the ledge of the airplane"), and one by one the instructors took us into the open sky before we had time to panic or protest. Once I was in the air it felt like all common sense and logic also went out the window.  Logically, I should panic, and maybe regret this action, but I am already in mid-air, falling at 120 mph. It's too late to feel sorry, so I'll just feel stupid instead. However, there's a guy with cool sunglasses strapped to my back. If anything terrible happens to me, it could happen to him too, right? So I'll let him take care of it all.

Did I mention my brain sounds like a dumb ass in high elevation outside of an aircraft?

Free falling from 10,000 feet, strangely enough, does not feel as scary as one of those free fall rides in amusement parks. It might have something to do with the air cushioning or reaching terminal velocity before my brain could react. Supposedly the free fall lasted about 45 seconds, but it felt more like 5 seconds before I felt this yank, and went from horizontal to vertical when the instructor opened up the parachute. From then on it felt like smooth cruising in the sky with a human navigator attached to my back, showing me around the gorgeous scenery for about 3 minutes. I was a bit nauseous from the turning and spiralling, but then again I get dizzy and nauseous from standing forward folds and drop backs in yoga classes. Because the gliding part felt so smooth and easy, I actually asked the dumbest questions: "How long have you been doing this?" "21 years" (a sense of relieve from my part). "Do you ever get bored?" "No, it's a bit different every time I jump" (I was completely oblivious to the amount of skills and knowledge it required to perform the tandem jump, glide, navigate and land so smoothly and effortlessly). I landed on my two feet, with two weak knees and limp legs. The instructor stabilized me so I didn't fall backwards, and then practically sprinted off to receive the next group of customers.

When I was in the air my mind desperately wanted to grasp and put the moment on pause. I didn't have thoughts of danger or dying, but my mind was screaming: whoa whoa whoa this is happening too fast! Slow down! Why isn't the instructor giving me more verbal instructions? Am I doing this right? Am I doing anything that will endanger myself (ha ha ha)?  Am I supposed to be doing something right now (put arms in better positions or whatever)?  Free fall gave me the direct experience of how time is literally slipping away every single second of the day, and we can do nothing to slow it down. It also showed me how my brain is completely useless in unfamiliar situations. Why would I ask someone if they get "bored" of their sky diving job when this is one of the most intense experience I've ever had? Although it didn't show, but I remained stunned and somewhat dumbfounded for the rest of the day, still thinking that experience went by way too fast, and wishing I could have relaxed more while gliding in the sky.

After an evening of rest, I've come to the conclusion that bring a tandem sky diving instructor's job lets him opening up people's minds each time he takes a customer to sky dive for the first time. If someone can tandem sky dive for a living (16 times a day! Holy cow!), why do I give myself so much restrictions on what I can and cannot do with my life? I also realize I can't be responsible for other people's lives because I don't even trust myself with my life. I'm thankful that I live in a country with good enough safety standards that I can just show up to one of these places and do a jump without thoroughly checking their business reputation/history (I did look at their website before I went). This is not a privilege that everybody has. I feel very humbled and grateful for this experience.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Elevator Musing

In the elevator yesterday, I bumped into this older Asian gentleman, who always talks about wanting to try out yoga every time he sees me with a yoga mat going to or coming back from yoga class. I haven't seen him for quite awhile, and this time I was again with my yoga mat, coming back from Mysore practice at my friend's place.  He looked at me incredulously and said, "This is incredible! It's been two years and I can't believe you're still doing yoga! You should think about becoming a coach or something (I'm sure he meant yoga teacher)". 

I'm actually down to practice once per week only, which I'm not proud about, but to this man, the sheer fact that I haven't moved on to some other fad exercise is amazing. He also admits to never having tried yoga once,  despite talking repeated about it over the past 2 years and even though there's a studio 3 minutes walk from our building. It's possible he's always just been making conversations rather than actually wanting to try yoga.

I think the hardest part for starting something new is the "starting" part. If you want to try something new, bite the bullet, fight your nervousness, get your foot in the door, try it once just to get it over with, and then you're free to decide if you like it or hate it. 

Also, most people don't get it that becoming a yoga teacher means less practice time for the teacher, not more. But I guess they wouldn't know that if they've never tried a yoga class themselves.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Is blogging a form of unproductive procrastination?

I should really be working on refining my resume and submitting it for job hunting purposes. Instead I've been cleaning my apartment, playing sudoku, and trying to maintain this yoga blog, where many of the entries aren't even about yoga. If I were an actual yoga teacher, I would shut down this blog and start up something more professional looking, remove all the self-pity bits and complaints about my life, maintaining only inspirational sayings and informational bits about yoga. Such a yoga blog would be beneficial to me if I were to pursue yoga as a career. However, at this moment I am not considering to pursue a career teaching yoga. So.... is my urge to keep pumping out blog entries (many of them end up being totally unrelated to yoga) completely irrational and a total waste of time?

So far, my blog entries have often being non-coherent. Sometimes they are in the form of a diary, journaling about the day's yoga practice and other happenings. Sometimes I try to discuss a topic and often go astray and end up talking about things completely unrelated to the original topic. Sometimes I start blogging about an idea I wish to share with the blogosphere, but half way through I run out of steam and can't complete the entry (many of such entries sit in my "drafts" folder). I can't help but think that, if I have so much trouble writing light pieces about distinct, coherent yoga topics, how am I going to survive in the professional world, where I would need to submit reports/documents about whatever it is I am working on, which would also need to be coherent, expressive, and persuasive?

For this reason, I believe my blog entries are not a total waste of time. I am working on my written communication skills that may be useful towards my future career, whatever that may be. In case you're wondering WTF am I trying to say, well, I spent the whole day writing a blog entry but it read like I was brainstorming 5 topics all at once rather than producing one piece of writing. I am feeling guilty I spent so much time blogging instead of working on my resume.

This is me trying to justify the usage of my unemployed hours.