An Experiment: Bringing Peace and Calm to the Commute

Axis Yoga’s Teacher Training Program invites students to examine the habits and practices in their lives that may not be serving them, and then to apply a yogic principle to their lives in a student experient. This student chose to apply the principle of Satya, or Truthfullness, to her frustration and stress she feels in her car, rushing from one place to the next. Her experiment is as follows:

Bringing Peace and Calm to the Commute: Introduction

Driving home after learning of this project, in my case, Satya, truthfulness, I left thinking, “How is this going to work? There are so many areas that I could work on. Where do I even begin?” It was as I was driving home that afternoon, leaving late and rushing to meet my family for dinner that I realized exactly where my focus needed to be. It struck me as I was honking at the car in front of me for stopping “too long” at a stop sign. “How dare he!” I thought. Doesn’t he know that I need to be somewhere in 10 minutes? Doesn’t he know I need to see my family? I need to get somewhere. I am in a hurry. I, I, I, me, me, me.

I haven’t always been this way. I haven’t always felt so rushed, so pressured for time. Last September my life changed more than I could have ever imagine when I introduced my sweet baby boy into the world. I couldn’t even begin to tell you all of the wonderful life changes I have experienced since he arrived but of course there have been some challenges along the way too. You could say that my husband and my life has gotten somewhat chaotic when it comes to the all too familiar word; TIME. Where is it? Time that is. There sure doesn’t seem to be enough in my world. I have found myself rushing to get from one place to another because when I actually have the chance to get out of my house to run errands, practice asana, meet a friend for coffee, whatever it may be, I only have a set amount of time and I must get everything I possibly can get done within that time. Lets just say the phrase “be present” has been absent in my thoughts for months now. Therefore while in my car going from place to place I am a frantic, rolling of the eye, somewhat crazy, horn-honking mess. Is this really me; someone who cannot even restrain from doing things that are not them? Not at all. After honking at the person in front of me I caught myself thinking; am I thinking the truth? Am I speaking the truth? Am I being the truth? To all three of those questions I answered no. This is the moment my experiment began.

I pulled over to the side of the road and found myself getting very emotional looking from the outside in at this frenzied person, this person who has lost their true self. What had just happened was embarrassing; I was ashamed. I had just left a very powerful 5 hour yoga training where as I was walking out the door I felt so free, so calm, so in touch with myself. Within 5 minutes, what had happened? After honking at this man and catching myself in a state that I do not wish to see myself in, I spent 15 minutes parked on the side of the road scribbling down my thoughts, my emotions and I ended up seeing my experiment was right in front of me.  I realized I needed to look in and ponder where I need to go on this journey of growth. Then, I needed to be honest with myself and follow that path even if it brings discomfort. My experiment started the very next second when I put my car into drive.

Bringing Peace and Calm to the Commute: The Process

Hypothesis: If I can be honest with myself in mind, speech and action while driving, I will experience more peace in my life, more calmness in my mind, and people will even notice the happiness I can bring in the most subtle of ways. Can I go to bed at night at peace with myself in what I brought to the outside world and to who I am? This is how I will know I am living the truth. Somewhere along this journey of mine I found this quote, “Truth frees us to create the world we really want – both within and without.” Can I create the world I really want?

Conducting the experiment: I will keep a journal where I will reflect on my day and notice if I feel at peace with myself with the actions and thoughts I had while driving around town. I will breathe through my frustration, I will turn on calming music and maybe even roll the windows down every once and a while. I will use the time in my car to embrace the quiet. Through journaling each day, at night I will ask: Can I truthfully go to bed at peace with myself for how my day has unfolded?

Bringing Peace and Calm to the Commute: Conclusion Part I

My conclusion: For my conclusion, I almost wanted to write something as simple as, “I found this is an ongoing process” and leave it at that because, that is what it is. Just because I am turning in this paper that doesn’t mean that I can then get into my car and go on as I was a month ago. It has been a challenge for me in so many ways but through this observation I have noticed so much more. I have woken to see who I really am and what I was doing a month ago that wasn’t working for me or my family. I see who I was a year ago shining through; a more present, calm, rational and truthful person.

            One of the biggest things I noticed was that my ego was getting in the way. My ego was telling me that it was MY time, that it was ME who was trying to get somewhere all the while treating the people around me in a way that was rude and inconsiderate. I wasn’t thinking about the people, I was absorbed in my own world; I was in my own bottle. I was so focused on my intent and where I needed to go. Not once had I thought that these people who weren’t turning fast enough, or who had stopped too long or who knows what, had lives of their own, families of their own, places they wanted to go and their sole purpose wasn’t trying to “ruin” what I was doing. This world, thankfully, isn’t all about me but my ego sure thought so.

Bringing Peace and Calm to the Commute: Conclusion Part II

Another conclusion I made was while driving one day I was stopped at a railroad crossing. I caught myself looking at the car next to me where a little boy was sitting in his car seat with a birthday hat on, the car was filled with balloons and his mom was laughing and talking to him through the rearview mirror. The little boy looked over to me and gave me a big smile. I, of course, smiled right back at him and gave him a wave too. This got me thinking; when was the last time I walked by someone, or even drove by someone and was the first to smile? It had been a long time. Through this experiment I have caught myself taking time to smile at strangers and to ask people how their days are going even when I felt rushed to get going. I have been taking time out of my day to do this but that isn’t even how I think of it anymore. I am just living life how it should be and I am not “taking time” I am giving my time, happily. I am being my true self because this is me, this person I am today was how I grew up being, how I would like to think of how I have always been but somewhere along the way I got lost, I got consumed in my own being and wasn’t showing who I really was, I wasn’t showing my truth. I now go to bed and reflect on my day and realize how happy and fulfilled I feel with the way it has unfolded. Time is still an issue and of course there are still times I don’t stop to smile or I find myself frustrated at the person in front of me but the use of my time has done much more good than negative. Plus now, I have ways to get myself out of the funk. Just being aware of my actions, I have made significant progress compared to just weeks ago when I wouldn’t have even realized what I did.

Vimala Thakar, in her book Life as Yoga, wrote, “There is nothing more unclean than untruth. Untruth has a wonderful capacity to vitiate all your life. Before you know it, untruth brings you face to face with fear. Untruth is very proficient in giving rise to endless complexes, evils and disease without your even knowing anything about its processes. Untruth lands you in folly, fear, hypocrisy and false pride. Anyone who gives quarter to untruth even once will find that all sorts of impurities will enter into him by the backdoor. So the foundation stone of the spiritual endeavors is purity of life and purity means truthful behavior.” This sums it up. My husband and my interactions had been turning into, “Ok, I’m going to go. Make sure you change Henry’s diaper. Call the insurance company before 5. Oh and be ready when I get home because we have to meet your parents at 6.” We both were stressed, I was tired, I wasn’t eating properly but after realizing that this is no way to live and this isn’t my true self, things have started to take a more positive spiral and I know that it will take time, I will be taken out of my comfort zone but it is worth it, I am worth it.

Be Gentle: An Experiment with Ahimsa and Tapas

Axis Yoga inspires students to apply the yogic principles of yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) to their lives through a personal experiment. This student’s yama and niyama experiment turned out to be both surprising and liberating.

Be Gentle: Introduction

The moment we started to talk about the yama and niyama experiments I was filled with anxiety. Breaking in to groups felt like a life sentence. Which part of myself am I going to delve into and work with? I knew I was being asked to take a hard look at myself, and that is never easy. I settled with ahimsa for my yama.

I was introduced to the concept of ahimsa several years ago. It is the restraint of non-violence, or non-harming. This seems fairly simple at the surface. Restrain from violence, don’t hit or kick? Easy! When adding the fact that yamas are to be practiced at the physical, verbal, and mental levels the task of Ahimsa becomes much more challenging. Which thoughts and words are harmful to yourself or others or harder yet the collective prana of the universe?

When we broke into groups I had a very clear sense of where I most needed to work on ahimsa in my life. As I listened to my group mates describe their habits of yelling and getting angry at others I felt that I truly could not relate. I said with conviction that my most violent acts are my thoughts towards myself. I went as far as to say that I really did not have any harmful thoughts or verbalizations towards the outside world, that I took it all in for myself. One of my group mates first response to that was “hurting yourself does hurt those around you.” This got me thinking. The first few days of the experiment I did not have much of a plan, I just started observing my thoughts closely. We all know this is a huge chore in and of itself. I was astonished by what I found. I do have harmful thoughts and verbalizations towards others!

Be Gentle: Observation

The first day of the experiment was one of my 11 hour work days. I work in a women’s health clinic which has me interacting with tons of people every day. I interact with many coworkers and patients in person and on the phone. I genuinely thought that I did not need to work on my harmful thoughts towards the outside world. Well, all I needed was an eleven hour work day to show me differently. I found that the majority of my harmful thoughts came in the form of judgment. With patients: “Are you seriously complaining about the ten minute wait when we are about to give you free services? You have no idea how lucky you are.” “Did you really just ask me if you were going to die because you are spotting? You are crazy paranoid!” With coworkers: “Blah blah blah about your chemistry homework, you do not even know how to do your job.” I was startled when I started to realize how plain mean some of my thoughts were. I am always saying how much I love my coworkers and that patient care is the best part of the job. You would never know it if you could hear my thoughts.

It was easy for me to point out my harmful thoughts towards myself. I have a long history of self-attacks. Anytime one little thing happens I spiral into a million self-loathing thoughts. For example, if I am running late for work I think “gosh slackers are late, no one can count on me, I am bad at my job, I am bad at everything, everyone must hate me, I am lazy, I am fat….” This is a samskara that I have tried over and over again to break. I can now catch it and limit the domino effect most of the time. Since I have spent a lot of energy working on this for several years, I seemed to have drowned out the negative attitudes toward others. They have gone by unchecked. This experiment is beginning to change that.

Be Gentle: Ahimsa

After a few days of observation I formulated a little more of a rough experiment. I began with an observation; my most violent/harmful thoughts are directed towards myself. I want to live with more ahimsa. Then I formulated a hypothesis: when I practice sadhana 15 minutes a day and increase ahimsa towards others by catching negative thoughts and treating them with kindness, negative thoughts towards myself will decrease. And finally the actual experiment; to do sadhana 15 minutes a day, to keep tally of negative self-thoughts, to keep a tally of negative thoughts towards others and if the other is present to smile and treat them with kindness, if the other is not present to breath and imagine them happy. It goes without saying that keeping tracks of every single thought is near impossible. And determining what is negative or harmful is another obstacle. My tallies were absolutely a rough estimate, but still very telling for me. The action of needing to take out a pen and mark my harmful thoughts made me very aware of them. It was a pleasant surprise that the numbers greatly decreased.

Self          Others

Day 1:        8             8

Day 2:       19         21

Day 3:       1            4

Day 4:       6            5

Day 5:       2            4

Day 6:       4            6

Day 7:       3            3

Day 8:       2           3

It quickly became apparent to me that harmful thoughts towards myself led to harmful thoughts towards others, and vice versa. They fed off of each other, making the tallies in each category equal or nearly equal most days. It was very hard to keep true track with so much vritti. As the days went by I used a little different criterion for what was marked as a tally. I may have had more than 2 negative thoughts towards myself on day 8, but they held less weight than they did on day 1. I had a few parallel experiences during the first half and second half of the experiment. The first time I encountered the experiences I attached to my thoughts. The second half I had a very light sensation where I said to myself “wow, that could feel really bad right now, but it just doesn’t.” It was a rather liberating feeling.

Be Gentle: Tapas

During all of this I started a month long cleanse. This was my niyama experiment with tapas. I have cut out soy, gluten, egg, night shades, dairy, peanuts, corn, potatoes, alcohol and sugar and I am only eating one solid meal a day. I am on day 19 and am feeling great. It has been a struggle and practicing ahimsa has been key. On day two of my ahimsa experiment I had by far the most negative thoughts and verbalizations. I ate something that I considered “cheating.” There was a little white wine in a sauce and I ate it anyways. I spiraled into a negative place because I was frustrated that I was not doing 100 percent perfectly. I could not even enjoy the sauce or the company I was with. This was a huge lesson in ahimsa for me. There is no reason to beat myself up for something so small. Even if I went out and ate a slice of pizza it would not be the end of the world and would not warrant harmful thoughts towards myself.