Once a month I walk into the large three-story suburban office building. I open the double doors; to the left the elevator, to the right the stairs. Every month I tell myself Take the stairs, it’s better for you. Every month I turn left.
When the elevator door dings open, I walk down the hallway, passing a few dental offices and open another door. The hum of sound machines greets me, and my shoulders relax. Soon I’m greeted with a smile and walk into the office, plop myself down on her big plum-colored sofa and bear my soul.
Therapists are like house cleaners and take-out restaurants. When you find a good one, you never let them go.
I love my therapist. She’s a wonderful mix of gentleness, winsomeness, and wisdom. She’s also not afraid to tell it like she sees it. It’s something I value in her, even though sometimes truth is a hard pill to swallow.
Two months ago she told me I was an overfunctioner. (Overfunctioning is basically a politely clinical way of saying control freak and problem-fixer.) I resisted the urge to say, Oh yeah? Overfunction THIS! and storm out.
Instead, I was forced to sit there, facing the truth she saw in me.
As you do in a good therapy session, we eventually got to the core issue: anxiety. Circumstances I can’t control make me anxious. I’m an overfunctioner, remember? I like things to work. I like things to be easy. I like to know the outcome before I get in the game.
There’s just one slight problem, I say. Nothing over the last five years of life has been predictable. In fact, over the last five years we’ve had a baby, moved halfway across the country, been promoted twice, had another baby, finished a Master’s degree, received a raise, been let go, faced an 18-month-long unemployment, become a one car family, had another baby, been hit with a plumbing bill that was the equivalent cost to a very nice used car, began a PhD program, started a business, and a reality TV star was elected president.
She listened and nodded one of those therapist “I hear you and acknowledge you, but I want you to sit there on that sofa and soak in the uncomfortableness of what you just realized” nods.
Finally, she broke the silence and quoted Richard Rohr: These dark periods are good teachers.
Rebecca, I have some homework for you this week. I prepared myself for the regularly-suggested-and-always-ignored advice to journal.
Instead, I want you to begin a yoga practice. I want you to learn how to sit in discomfort without needing to try to control it. I think yoga can teach you that.
Done I assure her. I’ve always wanted to begin a yoga practice, but I’ve always had a hard time justifying the expense. Now that my therapist was telling me to go, it seemed like a perfect excuse. A few days later, I nervously walked into a yoga studio lobby. The owner greeted me and assured me that the class I was attending was good for beginners. She gave me a quick run down of the class, showed me where to put my shoes, and sent me into the studio like I knew what I was doing.
When I walked in, there were three other women lying on their backs. Oh good, I thought, just set up your mat and then lie down. Look relaxed. Look like you know what you’re doing.
I heard the door open a few more times, mats unroll, each person coming to their mat. I opened my eyes a few times to look around and make sure I will still doing what I was supposed to be doing. Over the next few minutes, the room gets warm. Really, really, really warm. Suddenly it occurs to me that I might be in a hot yoga class.
Soon the class begins. Good evening, yogis. My name is Kim and I’ll be guiding you through your practice today. As we begin with some collective breaths, I want you to focus on letting go of the control of your practice. Set your intentions, but accept that you can’t control this time.
Or the thermostat.
Within minutes, I’m drenched in sweat. I’m suddenly angry with my therapist. Maybe this was all a ploy to get me to stop overfunctioning. Afterall, if you die of a heat stroke there’s no longer a high risk of overfunctioning.
Great warm up yogis. Please join me in savasna. I look around and everyone is lying on the ground looking dead. No wonder they look dead, it’s 110 degrees in here.
Soon savasna is over and we begin four flows. More sweat. More cursing in my head. I’m never going to my therapist again. Why don’t these people look tired?
Kim guides us through one more flow. Toward the end she leads us in another pose and says humble your warrior. It suddenly makes sense to me. Humble your warrior. Stop overfunctioning. Surrender.
So I try. The pose hurts, but not as much as the concept.
I believe in therapy because I believe I don’t have life figured out. I believe that exploring my character defects, my fears, my hurts and my emotions is important. Therapy is a journey of self discovery and brutal honesty. It is also a journey of forgiveness, both inward and outward, grace, and healing. Therapy helps me navigate the ascents and descents of my life and heart. It helps me discover who I am at the core, and who I am called to be.
Yoga is a lot like life. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes you do well, sometimes you don’t. But the practice always teaches us.