The other day, I went through the employee cafeteria to refill my water on my way to teach a class. I walked by a table of men who were eating lunch and as I passed their table, I heard one of them suck in a little air between his teeth and mutter “ooooh, la nina.” I felt this sick-hollow feeling behind my chest, I rolled my shoulders inward to hide my boobs, the expression on my face froze and my skin felt super crawly. I remember this feeling from when I was 13 and 14—the early puberty years. Those were years when I wanted people to notice that I was becoming a woman but ended up cringing because the attention was mostly of this air-suck-between-teeth variety. When I was 12, I couldn’t find any voice to express myself in this sort of scenario, but now I’m 35 so I’m much more prepared to speak my mind, right? Well, not so much. I didn’t say a word. I just I clutched my water, kept my eyes down and hustled toward the door.
I got out of there, tried to harness my ignore-it super power, taught a class and went home, but then a couple of hours later, I got really mad. My mom came over and asked about my day. She became the stand in so I could vent and yell at that worker-guy while I paced in my living room. “SICK! Seriously? Listen, dude –First of all, I’m not a freakin’ girl. Girls are 5 to 12, maybe you could extend that to 17, but NOT a WOMAN of 35! I’m a MOTHER, I have a NAME, I am your COWORKER AAAAAND I bet everyone else at the table either already saw me or didn’t give a shit that I was walking in to get some boring water so what’s with the teeth and the ‘oooh, la nina’? Keep your stinkin’ thoughts to yourself. Uuuuugh! “ I was angry and grossed out, my lip was definitely curled and I hated hated hated having that dude’s voice creep into my ear and all over my body hours after the original incident.
I don’t really get into yelling matches. I’m not hot-headed. I tend to stay calm when someone is hurt or acting crazy or there is something dangerous and unfamiliar in the mist. But in a situation like this, it isn’t calm I feel, it’s panic. I go pre-verbal and my sympathetic nervous system kicks into stress-mode and I just want to flee and distance myself from eyes and teeth sucking, ASAP. Kind of like when this sort of thing happened when I was 12 and older men would look at me at the mall. I’d grab my friend’s hand, put my head down and we’d run away from the food court as fast as we could. But now, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I’m no longer la nina wandering Cielo Vista Mall. I think it is appropriate and necessary to confront a person who sucks air in through the teeth and says something with that tone of voice and not because it teaches him a lesson, but because I need to work that out right there so I don’t carry it with me. Perhaps I could say how uncomfortable it makes me to hear someone comment on my appearance and to sexualize me when I’m trying to go to work. (I know you saw the same corporate-office-awesome sexual harassment video that I did, Mister.) Or maybe I could slam down my water bottle in the middle of his lunch tray and lean in real close so he can smell my breath as I whisper que no quiero ver tu cara en este cafeteria nunca JAMAS! Because this is a yoga-blog, the logical query is, how can yoga help me speak up? How can yoga help me to find my voice?
I think it has something to do with MANTRA.
My first few years of yoga classes, I’d chant or maybe fake-chant “om” at the beginning of class, but I didn’t really get it. Most of the time, I was glad when it was over. In the following years, I started to like the OM and I felt that vibratory thing that sound can do in the system. I even noticed when OM came from deep in my belly and I loved that round, big, fog-horn sound. Recently, I’ve crossed another mantra-threshold. It has yet to become a part of my regular practice, but I can see that mantra is the wave of amandagreenYOGA’s future. And this is why: chanting mantra allows us to use our voice to say something loudly and precisely. When we are able to listen to our teacher and repeat the sound, inflection and tone of his or her voice, it takes a lot of concentration and we gain confidence in our own ability to project sound and articulate words. We all have samskaras—patterns and habits that influence our actions. We move our bodies in certain ways, we have thought patterns that we repeat over and over and we have certain ways that we use our voice. Volume, inflection, and the words we use (or don’t use in moments of stress) are subject to samskara. All of this influences the sounds we make when we speak. When we practice using our voice to chant in Sanskrit—something that might feel uncomfortable or make us uneasy at first, that practice has the potential to payoff when we need to address a person in a lunchroom who made an inappropriate and or inaccurate comment. Maybe it helps us to be able to speak up when a tasteless joke is made at someone else’s expense, or perhaps we can find the way to offer words of support to someone who is struggling. Maybe we can project a little better teaching yoga or on the sidelines of little-squirt-soccer games. Mantra practice can aid us in moving through the discomfort of saying something that we aren’t all that used to saying.
I am still irked by this “ssssss….oooh, la nina” incident. I have the feeling that if I had been able to think clearly and reACT to the man’s comment, maybe I wouldn’t be so frustrated. If I could have dealt with it right there in the moment, loudly and precisely, I wonder if I’d be blogging and thinking and working on it, still. I didn’t like what he said, but I didn’t really like my reaction either. I’d like to bust out of those 12 year old girl samskaras of shrink-and-flee and cultivate some authentic, (more adult) samskaras—ones that allow me to tune into how something makes me feel, evaluate whether a response is necessary and then actually find words and courage and kindness to respond with the respect that I hope to receive the next time I go into the cafeteria to get some water.