I was touched by a question a new student brought up recently. She had been recommended yoga by a psychotherapist who hoped it would help her deal with stress she was experiencing as a result of her job. Tentatively, this young woman approached me at the end of a class and asked for my advice. Expecting the usual queries about physical injuries or pain, I was taken aback when she said “What can I do to stop crying at work?”
We didn't speak for long, but our conversation gave me pause for thought. She explained that she was a bank cashier supervising the handover from human customer interface to machines. The customers didn't like the machines, were annoyed that they couldn't use them easily and took their frustrations out on her. “They shout at me all day and it's really hard not to cry” she said desperately. She didn't know how to use the machines very well either, and when she made a mistake, her bosses shouted at her too.
I doubt many of us could claim not to have been rude or short tempered to someone wearing a uniform when the service we expected from their company wasn't delivered, yet do any of us consider the repercussions? I'm guilty of doing this myself at times (especially to call centre employees!), but in the words of esteemed spiritual teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his book 'The Science of Being & Art of Living',
“One wrong word spoken gives the wrong impression in the atmosphere. The man may go on to change his attitude, his decision, or his course of behaviour, but the word that has gone out of his mouth can never be withdrawn. The influence that he has created in the audience and in the atmosphere around him can never be withdrawn.”
In this particular case, the influence of harsh words on my poor student, close to tears as she spoke to me, was distressing to witness. Could we not, in these changing times that challenge all of us, find a way to be a little kinder to each other …?
In terms of specific yoga techniques, I suggested that she connect with her breath as much as possible, surreptitiously lengthening exhalation when under attack in order to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and stay calm. I also advised that she take awareness to her abdomen to encourage emotional balance, and into her feet to feel grounded and stable. I felt it was important to let her know that being upset in these circumstances seemed very natural, and that she shouldn't resist, repress or judge the vulnerability. To allow our feelings to be as they are, to let them rise up and fade away without defining ourselves by them, to witness or be 'mindful', is good spiritual practice and something that we should all explore as much as possible.
Yoga has more to offer someone suffering chronic anxiety and unhappiness than the parameters of a 10 minute conversation can convey. I am concerned that I wasn't able to share as much as I would have liked to with this woman, but I am also very grateful for our exchange, because I have been reminded most potently to focus on my shared humanity with whoever I am dealing with at any given time, whatever the circumstance.
Penny Jane Fuller 2014