Stress Balls, Vindicating Rain, and “Just Say No.”

In the span of an approximately 4.5 minute car ride from driveway to yoga studio the other morning, I managed to hitch myself to two completely separate but equally frustrating “stress balls.” I’m going to refer to these instances as “stress balls” because the analogy that comes to mind the coughing and hacking that follows choking on a hairball (not that I have experience, ha, just go with it…).

The lodging of a stress ball in the brain literally blocks the rationality to my mind like a hairball would block oxygen to the lungs. I become entangled in the stress ball. I honestly can’t even divulge what my two stress balls were that morning because they, one especially, were so absurdly foolishThey were sent to me as signs, this I realize; signs that my zen, the zen I spend every day on my mat and tinkering away in my own mind cultivating, ought not be so easily disrupted! Seriously, what the funk?

I told myself to let it go as I put things in my locker and headed into the cool studio to unfurl my mat. I mostly let it go, save for the one or two times it popped into my head during class. Luckily, my incredible teacher offered up the opportunity to set a particular intention (it seemed a more profound invitation than the average “set your intention” theme one might encounter in yoga, as though she were reading my mind…). So I did. I chose the purposeful stress ball, shed some rational and kind light on it, and made it my intention. It was the other, embarrassingly ridiculous stress ball that I wanted to laugh away like, “What? THAT? HA! As if I would be bothered by something so frivolous! Get real. I have bigger fish to fry.” 

I know, I know, it’s just cruel not to divulge what the other stress ball was. I promise I will. GAH! I don’t want to, but I will.

So I practiced for that hour and a half, shedding warm, loving light on my intention. I successfully molded it into a compassionate Self intention, rather than a sticky, choking-hazard stress ball, and left yoga feeling all the more balanced around it. It wasn’t until I saw the rain scattering the pavement outside the studio, as I traipsed across the street in my red toms for a green tea, that I felt vindicated. YES! It rained!

You don’t yet get why that is important, so I suppose it’s time to unleash the second stress ball.

Ah heck, I’ll just get it out now. I’d been planning to bike to yoga as I usually do, my typical “green commute” to yoga, and oftentimes work. Well, today my phone forecast said rain…but not until 30 minutes after I was due to return from yoga. What to do? Chance it, like I had a couple weeks ago for an appointment downtown? Meh, last week I had chanced it and when I came out of my appointment I found an utterly rain-doused bicycle and sopping wet pavement, with a threatening sprinkle still leaking from the fluffy, dark grey sky. COOL. So, needless to say, I figured today I’d listen to that lesson and drive. It makes me feel guilty to drive when I am only going a short way. I know, pick your battles right? Guilt is a choice, right? These are all mantras of mine, and yet I was fighting the guilt tooth and nail, sitting at a red light waiting to turn when, low and behold, a bicycle pulls up behind me in the turn lane. I can see half the body. I knew almost immediately it was a fellow yogi, even from a peek of ponytail and ensemble. I could tell. Some section of my brain labeled “UNSTABLE: DO NOT ENTER” smartly decided, “If it’s her, I’m going to feel like a terrible eco-conscious yogi for taking my car and being afraid of a little rain.” Really awesome and rational decision, right? 

It was her.

Of course it was her. The Universe would have it no other way after I’d made such a deft deal with the devil, as far as guilt and loathing and common freaking sense are concerned. She’s one of my friends, and we were only a few mats apart, so every time I saw her curling out of child’s pose beside me or from between my own legs in Prasarita Padottanasana, I felt a pang of guilt. 

That was so mortifying to admit, but now it’s out. 

So, what was the lesson in all this, you ask? Well, for one, I’ve coined the term “stress ball” which is rather entertaining and a little brilliant (this coming from the “to bike or not to bike” hot mess, ha). I’ve also learned that, rain or no rain, I choose when to feel guilty. I attach to thoughts. If the thought is negative then I inevitably, like a captain with his ship, sink hard and fast with it. Another mind-reading moment during yoga was when my teacher said we often are distracted without even realizing we’ve become distracted! We attach so quickly to thoughts, and it takes us away from the present moment, the feeling of what it is to exist, to be aware and present.

I heard that and was like, holy cow she’s doing it again! She’s peering into my brain and seeing my freak-fest of obsession and saying, stop that right now! While it’s unlikely that my incredible yoga teacher is clairvoyant, she is certainly the most expert yoga master I’ve ever encountered and I value every word that comes out of her mouth as thought it’s minted in gold. I don’t even know if “minted in gold” is a phrase, but if it’s not, I’ve coined two tonight.

So, consider this: what if we take that advice and simply “say no to thoughts.” Say no to distraction. Say no to stress. What if we did that? What if I had said, Sara don’t be ridiculous, you drove your car and it’s fine and you are causing yourself more damage by worrying over it when you could be enjoying the music or the sunshine or the speed with which you’ll arrive. I could have just enjoyed the foggy day outside and tuned in to the feeling of being in the warm car, the fabric of my yoga pants on my skin, the cool of the filtered water as it slid down my throat. That would have been me being gently and quietly aware of what it felt like to be me, and to be present, that morning. It would have been me saying no to distracting thoughts. Just say no. It’s very hard, I’m sure. But, like all beautiful practices (yoga, pranayama, mediation, patience, forgiveness…), I’m also sure it’s so worth it. I’m going to commit myself to the practice of “Just Say No” when it comes to distraction, guilt, self-loathing and all other self-depricating and harmful thought tendencies. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Won’t you join me in this new “Just Say No” campaign? This “War on Stress,” if you will. Let’s do it. Naturally, we’re not referring to all thoughts here, just the ones that would be detrimentally distracting. Let’s practice not attaching to thoughts that threaten to distract us from the bliss of the present moment. Are you ever enjoying a wonderful person’s company, watching a great film, eating a delicious meal or even practicing a satisfying yoga sequence – but you’re so distracted by a nagging thought that you can hardly enjoy what it is that you’re doing? How frustrating that is!!! It’s so wrong! To let the deliciousness of the present moment be bled out like that, by a nagging, stress ball thought! No more. No more I say!

“Just Say No” to harmful, distracting thoughts. “Just Say No” to stress balls. “Just Say No” and bathe in the vindicating rain of a mind not clogged by distracting tension. The only stress balls we should have in our life are those little squishy things to squeeze on and relieve anxiety. We’ll do it together. Hack up those stress balls and say no to distraction. I promise there’s no voting involved, just some gentle nudges of the mind.

The last shred of wisdom I’ll leave you with tonight is another remarkable line from my yoga teacher that class. Chew on this as you fall asleep tonight.
If treated and used properly, and with skill, she said, the mind and body are the tools necessary to live a very happy and fulfilling life.
I trust that means learning how hit stress balls out of the park like you’re Barry Bonds, and treating the body like a temple.
I’ll bet we can do it. I’ll bet we can break the habit of surrendering to distraction and harming thoughts. I’ll bet all my stress balls on it.



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