Lisa Kohn, a fellow New Yorker, is a long time student of Verge Yoga. Her weekly blogs can be found at LisaKohnWrites.
I yelled at my son this morning. Damn. I hate to start the day that way. I hate to end the day that way, or to have that happen at all. I hate to yell. And after I yell, all I want to do is scream at my son that I hate to yell. That that’s not the kind of mom I see myself as. That the screaming kind of mom is not the kind of mom I want to be.
My son and I don’t tussle that often, but when we do I get frustrated and yell. And he gets upset and yells back. It doesn’t work for me. Now, I know it’s normal to get frustrated and angry, and even to yell. And I know that as I continue to strengthen my self-acceptance and self-compassion, I can remember that it’s okay that I yell every now and then. I don’t yell that often. And I know that thinking I would never yell would be holding myself up to an impossible standard of perfection in my parenting, which I’m (imperfectly) learning more, day by day, not to do. I know all this, and yet I still hate it when I yell, or when I lose my cool that badly. So I look for tools and in-the-moment ways to breathe through the frustration and yelling, and to come out on the other side to my more grounded, loving self. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
As I think about breathing my way through, I remember the thought my yoga teacher shared the other day, as we sought the combination of movement and stillness on our mats. “There’s only this breath,” she told us.
“There’s only this breath” grounds me in the moment. “There’s only this breath” reminds me that I can be conscious and present and make a choice. A choice on how to react to my son. A choice as to whether or not to react to my son. “There’s only this breath” reminds me that this too will pass. This moment will pass. My level of frustration will pass. If I can simply stay with my breath and breathe through it, it will all pass.
I have been aiming more and more for mindfulness and being in the moment. I have thankfully been more and more aware of how many times I step out of the moment. When I yell at my son, I am a combination of being fully in the moment and caught up in the emotions searing through me, and fully out of the moment because I am too caught up in the emotions searing through me.
I read an an amazing book, My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor. Taylor is a brain scientist who suffered a stroke, and she chronicles her journey in this book. Taylor describes what I’ve termed the “ninety-second rule.” Apparently, when our fight or flight response kicks in and adrenaline courses through our system, it does so physiologically for only ninety seconds. It takes ninety seconds for our emotions such as anger to be automatically triggered, surge through our bodies, and be flushed out of our blood stream. For ninety seconds we have no control over our responses. For ninety seconds we have no control over what we do. But after that initial ninety seconds, while we may still think and feel that we have no control, we actually do. After that initial ninety seconds, after just a few of “there’s only this breath” breaths, we have a choice as to how we respond. We have a choice to not react but to respond. If we remain angry or upset at this point, it is a choice.
So I yelled at my son. I could have breathed through my frustration with him – each “there’s only this breath” breath at a time – and waited out my ninety seconds and then chosen how to respond to him. I didn’t. Now I can breath through my frustration with myself each “there’s only this breath” breath at a time, and wait out my ninety seconds (which have long since passed) and choose how to respond to myself. How to still treat myself with self-acceptance and self-compassion.
My son and I have a date this weekend to figure out how to work things through together better, so that hopefully we don’t have to yell.