On being an urban yogini

The lovely Chicago skyline

The lovely Chicago skyline

As I get more and more involved with my yoga training, I’ve come to realize the necessity of incorporating yoga into all aspects of my life, not just during that hour and a half I’m on my mat in the studio. This has proven challenging to me and is something I feel that I struggle with on a daily basis.

For one thing, city living is a beast in and of itself. I’ve lived in larger cities than Chicago, but let’s face it, Chicago is really quite large – the 4th largest in North America. With big city living, comes big city challenges. Public transportation is crowded, the sidewalks downtown are swarming with either tourists or worker bees just trying to get where they need to go. It takes a long time to get from point A to point B. Cost of living is expensive. There’s a lot of time spent waiting in lines. The pace can be hectic and often annoying. Patience is tested. Tempers flare.

I am not immune to impatience or anger or frustration. Especially when I’m on crowded public transportation (my bugbear) and I’m standing, ass to elbow, with a few hundred of my not-so-closest fellow human beings. For a long time, I let these encounters really rile me up. I’d get super annoyed when people would jam up the front section of the bus, even though there was space in the back.  Or, if some teenager on the bus was obliviously swinging his backpack in my face while I’m sitting there, fuming and festering with anger, trying to decide if I should punch him in the knee or not.

Then, one day, in class, my teacher told us about how he used to let his temper get the best of him until he realized that the only one he was affecting/hurting was himself. In the case of that backpack-wearing kid on the bus, MY anger isn’t going to affect him in the slightest. I’m the only one feeling that anger. And is it really justified? He’s not sticking his backpack in my face to tick me off, he most likely is completely unaware that this is even an issue for me. One that could be solved with a simple, “excuse me, but your pack is a bit close to my head for comfort.” And then….let it go.

Of course, this is another example of ahimsa. Toward myself and toward the unsuspecting boy. The key is awareness. If you can catch yourself before that flame of anger ignites and be AWARE that this isn’t a situation that needs to escalate (in your head), it’s so much easier to just let it go and sail through it. You see the thought, recognize it and release it. Pranayama has been very helpful. Just the act of regulating my breathing and going from shallow anger-breathing to conscious, slow deep-breathing helps diffuse that negative energy.

My day-to-day life in a large city is one big experiment in practicing ahimsa, and I’m happy to say, it has been getting easier. But, it is still a situation that is unavoidable, so all I can do is practice, practice, practice.