A tension buster that doesn’t require fists or tears. Well, maybe just a few tears..

Stuffed in my purse is a tattered notebook titled “300 Writing Prompts”. It’s got coffee stains, a couple of rogue croissant flakes wedged between the pages, and a few fountain pens worth of ink capturing whatever was occupying my thoughts in response to the prompt I landed on.

Today’s Prompt: Periodically we have tension build up in our lives that requires a release of some kind. Some people cry; others punch; some find a creative outlet. What is your release?”

Of course I cry. Hell I cry over just about anything…the squirrel scurrying across the busy street in front of my house (is the little guy gonna make it? Can he outrun the asshole texting behind the steering wheel?). Punching is useless. Just ask an old black belt pal of mine who tried to teach me the finer points of nailing an impactful karate chop. Natch, my fist rarely made contact with his blocking mitt.

Frog Lotus Training, 2012

Frog Lotus Training, 2012

No,  the quickest route to release for me has never come through a punch or kick. A permanently purple pinkie toe from stubbing too many bed corners reflects as much. I get my release through a deep, predominantly-physical (with ample sweat) yoga practice. This may or may not include tears, but as long as I give my practice 100 percent attention through breath, focus, right effort (neither teeth-clenching angry Warriors nor half-assed hip circles for 90 minutes…there’s a balance to strike), and purpose then whatever heavy-hearted crap is clogging my thoughts will find its way out of my head. At least temporarily until it brews up again. Because I’m human, you see.

There’s an umbrella in here.”

Prior to rediscovering yoga, (I say rediscover because I first discovered yoga at age 23, and it took me two decades to learn that yoga involved much more than showing off headstands on Dad’s living room carpet before Christmas dinner. No one gave a shit. Except perhaps his dog Reggie, who out-posed me in his impressive Downward Facing Dog) I retreated when life got dicey. Self-sequestering seems to be my instinctive tactic in dealing with whatever woes creep in, but I’ve learned through several moves, a painful divorce, newfound love and all the joy and fears that can accompany it that the way out of woe is into connection. And a practice surrounded by others working through their own woes under the guidance of a loving teacher in a peaceful space is where I get the most release.

Room 403 Casa Fuster

Room 403 Casa Fuster

As I scribbled through the prompt in my notebook I conjured memories of the many extraordinary spaces I’ve been privileged to practice in. An old textile mill in the Berkshire Mountains. A NYC loft with bright pink graffitied walls and crystal chandeliers. The studios, parks, beaches, basements, and lofts I’ve practiced in have left positive imprints on my heart that keep me coming back every time I feel tension or woe building. A sampling:

  • Is that an umbrella in the corner? I completed my first teacher training at Frog Lotus Yoga in North Adams, MA. The studio is housed in what was once an industrial mill that dates back to 1833, and overlooks Natural Bridge State Park. There’s an altar in the corner of this spacious sanctuary with a white parasol, which I later learned was a gift from Amma, the Hugging Saint who spends her life fully embodying selfless love and compassion toward all beings. Gorgeous murals canvas the walls and when it rains you see, hear, and smell the miracle on the trees just beyond the giant windows. Tears on your mat by Svasana guaranteed.
  • A yoga class sounded great amidst an ultra leisurely ten-day stretch of poolside mojitos, cobblestoned window shopping, gelato cones and yes, I’ll have another plate of octopus tapas. Alas, this girl doesn’t speak Spanish. Contorting my neck to try and lipread a Barcelona lovely’s sequence directions for an hour just wouldn’t do. But my hotel floor would. Snuggling my mat up next to the half-opened French doors in my Hotel Casa Fuster room allowed me to flow in step with the sounds of school children in the courtyard below and catch glimpses of the Sagrada de Familia in the distance. Bliss.
  • So what if my Eagle pose teetered. At this studio, I could actually blame the floor. The upstairs of an old building across from the Princeton, NJ, campus served as the ultimate oasis for a girl living on the east coast for the first time six years ago. Chanting, incense, precision and homage to the Ashtanga roots took me out of my loneliness and into an entirely new world of new friends, new accents, and new love I won’t soon forget. The studio has since closed, but the teacher and his embodiment of what it means to teach, practice, and live his yoga remains in my heart forever.

These days I find release at Baptiste Yoga Boston, where I am blessed to teach and practice. It may not be forever, but as long as I’ve got my mat, and a willingness to step into a new space I know I’ll find release. Maybe even with a few tears.

How do you release tension? Where do you roll out your mat?

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