yoga off the mat

When a kid comes back to his old school…

     So, I’m sitting at the table, with garlic bread, pasta, meatballs, and a fluffy mound of fresh grated Parmesan cheese in front of me. My head hurts, my eyes burn and I try to hold back the tears for the umpteenth time today. Nope. The tears come- I was trying to stuff the emotions away in a place that was already stuffed too full.

“Are you OK?” my daughter asks.

“Noooo…” I wail.

The thing is, I work at a school, and there was another school shooting this week. We have “troubled Kids” with “discipline problems” who have “histories of suspensions” and who have been expelled. Just like the description of the kid who took a gun and a gas mask to school and murdered people in Florida.

I had been thinking about the kids I have worked with over the years, who have been in troubled, who have been expelled, or have changed schools shortly before they would have been expelled. (“He’s Texas’ problem now.” I remember saying about one boy in particular) Without too much trouble, I came up with half a dozen faces of people who I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see come back with guns and murder people.

This line of thinking seems like it would be topical, just related to this week’s shooting, but I can’t help but think it every time there is a school shooting, which happens a lot in the US.

Usually, I can compartmentalize my emotions. When I feel angry, I try not to let it spill over into the rest of life. Or, I feel sad, but I hold it in and don’t share it with the people around me..

Is compartmentalizing a good thing? Sure. Is it a bad thing? You bet. I would have a tough time doing my job if I said everything I thought, or expressed every emotion I felt. Every kid tries to push boundaries, see where you draw the line- If I yelled every time someone pushed my buttons, I’d be mad all day.  Some people would think that was great entertainment, so they would push buttons just for fun.

So I have a part of my brain (you do too, I’m not that special) that is alert for danger, the amygdala, and when danger is sensed, it sets off an alarm. Heart rate goes up, pupils dilate. “Wee-ooo Wee-oo” Then, the frontal cortex, the executive function, investigates the situation, says, “it’s nothing, he’s pushing your buttons, it’s just a joke, it’s just the news…everything is fine.” So, I put that feeling away, in my neck muscles, my gut,  my hips, my lower back, filing that troublesome emotion away to be dealt with later.

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When? You know, later.

There’s a  phenomenon in yoga classes, where people are in a deep hip opening pose, like pigeon, where the outer hip muscles are being stretched with the help of gravity, usually at the end of class, when all the associated muscles are warm and pliant, maybe the lights are turned down and the music slows. People inexplicably begin to cry. They’ve opened that file drawer with the pain in it, and some of it gets out, in the form of tears and quiet sobs.

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Friday afternoon pigeon pose. My daughter took pictures from several angles. This is one of the few that is not a shot of my butt.

So,  the same day this week when I was thinking of all the kids who might come back with guns and gas masks, I saw a tall kid in the hall after school, a ninth grader, who moved on to high school. I know his face,and he smiles when he sees me, “Hey- give me a sec to think of your name..” as the words come out of my mouth, I remember, but I pretend not to, “Does it start with a Q?” he nods, “Quelbert, right? Give me a hug, It’s so good to see you again, Quelbert!”

“Quinton actually.” he mumbles, as he allows a quick side hug. He has come back with a longboard and a mustache (and yes, the mustache is as terrible as you imagine) to remind me of all the nice, untroubled kids I’ve worked with. Kids I don’t worry about. I don’t know what made Quinton drop by to pay a visit to his old teachers this week, but I am glad he did.

That night at dinner, the emotional file drawer was already a little bit open, and over the garlic bread and pasta the tears poured out, and my kids and husband hugged me, and we pulled the file drawer all the way out and went through the fear and regret and anger and sadness and resentment and worry and pain and helplessness. And I feel a little better.

This blog isn’t about the politics. It isn’t about policing, or gun policy, or mental health treatment. These things all need to be dealt with, but I don’t think we can as long as we keep compartmentalizing, shoving that pain into the nooks and crannies of our lives, pointing fingers and shutting off the alarm bells in our minds. The alarms are going off for a reason. We should deal with them.

This week I was going to keep writing about shoulders, and how to get them strong, but this idea was too powerful. It’s yoga off the mat, yoga with a capitol Y. 

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