Conversation with October Student of the Month: Chris Anderson
When did you start practicing yoga and what inspired you to begin in the first place?
I started practicing yoga regularly during the last year of my masters program… so about four years ago. The reason I went was because my ex wanted to go to yoga and was embarrassed to go alone so I was just willing to tag along! I was like sure I’ll go with you and embarrass myself.. and I really did! One of my professors was in the class… which was somewhat mortifying ummm [laughing] I went initially to be supportive… but I ended up really enjoying the breathing exercises, which became my favorite part of the practice, and which was what kept me coming back.
Off of that breath note- how have you felt like this practice has transformed or influenced your relationship with or understanding of the mind/body connection?
This practice has taught me that I can manage my state of mind through breathing exercises. Focusing on my breath and trying to lengthen my breath can really calm me down and get me out of my head a little bit… For example if I’m having a bit of a fit of rage at traffic I can sit there at the light and just count the length of my inhales and exhales until the light turns, and I won’t end up screaming at anyone... [laughing] So, that’s definitely a transformation! I mean I’ve always found there to be a relationship between how I feel in my body and my state of mind but I think certainly with yoga, that’s kind of the purpose of the practice…. In yoga I think I am more consciously engaging with this idea of ‘what i’m doing with my body will have an effect on my state of mind and my emotional well being’ and that is a big part of why I come.
Do you feel like this practice of reconnecting to your breath is always accessible regardless of what state of mind or body you may be in at the time?
Yes, and that’s why I come every morning. I like to wake up and start the day on a good footing. I like to come here and get myself in the right frame of mind to go about the rest of my day, which doesn’t always last the whole day [laughing] but it always feels good to at least start at that point!
[laughing] Oh yes I can relate! What are some ways that your practice has positively shifted your behavior and mood not just on, but off of the mat?
I mean…. my blood pressure is down! Which is a good thing. Yoga can [also] have a pretty profound impact on how I view a situation. I don’t want to say it changes my world view entirely, but I do feel like it has really improved my ability to not be completely emotionally reactive to things.. and [instead] ask myself ‘why am I reacting this way?’, ‘Is this reaction going to be healthy or constructive?’... and usually I think, ‘well nothing is going to come of that [reaction] so just breath a little bit and rethink’. And in terms of work… one of the studies I was involved was introducing yoga to an elementary school as a way of trying to help address students’ stress, and so [it] has certainly bled over into my research interests… and so yea, [yoga] has had a pretty profound impact on my life. You know I can’t say that like everything in my life has changed, but I do think this practice has certainly been a force of positive change in my life in a couple of different ways. It’s allowed me to aspire to be better at engaging with my emotional state and not just giving into it. And I feel a whole lot better when i come to yoga; I feel healthier! And there’s a positive social element as well when coming to a studio and talking with the instructors and fellow practitioners. So it’s really holistically beneficial- or least that’s what yoga has been like for me.
That’s all really wonderful to hear! Would you mind sharing any challenges that you personally face in a yoga class?
Yea, I find it really challenging to focus just on myself when I’m on the mat. With there being other people in the room and a big set of mirrors on one of the walls, I can be very and easily ego-driven... I catch myself trying to look in the mirror to find out if I’m doing this pose better or worse than everyone else… So that has been a challenge for me.. But I think that yes it’s challenging, but also sort of part of the point… You’re never going to be completely free of distractions in life so part of the practice is learning how to more healthily engage with those distractions… you know acknowledge them, but don’t focus on them. But it can be frustrating for me because some days I just keep looking at the same person because I feel competitive with them or I catch myself tensing up because somebody is making a certain kind of noise that makes me mad [laughing] - but that challenge is an integral part of why I practice yoga… I’m learning to turn my focus inward.. and constantly learning how to engage more mindfully with myself in the presence of distraction.
In that vein of learning how to engage with the world more mindfully amidst the chaos and flood of distractions - how has your relationship with yoga influenced your ability to adapt to the sociopolitical transitions of 2017?
Frankly I think it probably has been a very good year for me to have been so focused on regularly practicing yoga… regardless of where someone falls on the political spectrum it certainly has been an unpleasant year for almost everyone. I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for a while, but just recently I’ve begun practicing different styles like yoga nidra, meditation, etc. and i think it’s been really helpful to have those classes that teach you how to channel your focus in a different and new way… because I think all of this has really taught me how to lessen the influence that negative energy may have on myself… I think I’m better able to constructively express myself because of or when I do practice yoga.. I think it could benefit everyone. I mean not all yogis are super chill people, a lot of us are on the angrier end of the spectrum and I include myself in that [laughing]... but I think it has certainly been beneficial for me… in learning how to react less and respond more to things that trigger my aggression.Yoga helps me more mindfully engage with my feelings instead of just pushing them to the side and trying to ignore them. I have learned to express myself in a more constructive and calm manner since practicing, and hopefully I’ll continue to improve…
I have a feeling you will! And thank you so much for sharing and willing to be a part of a conversation. Any last words of wisdom or advice you’d like to give to a beginner yogi who is anxious or nervous about showing up and beginning their journey of practicing yoga?
I mean yoga really is a practice for everybody. You don’t have to be flexible, you don’t have to have good balance, lord knows I don't’! I have been practicing for years and I still really struggle with balancing poses! This isn’t about you compared to other people it really is just about you and how you feel. And sure the other people in class will look at you, but they’re really not focused on you… you know you may have this sense that everyone’s eyes are on you but they’re not focusing on you... we are all trying to focus on ourselves. It’s natural to worry about making a fool of yourself, I mean I fell flat on my face in my first yoga class and I get embarrassed easily... so if I can keep coming back to yoga after my first experience - I think pretty much anyone else can get passed whatever initial embarrassment they may feel and learn how to really enjoy this practice. You may feel perhaps a little insecure and out of place at first but pretty much any studio you go to is going have a great roster of thoughtful teachers who really want to help you, especially here! I’ve taken classes with almost all of the instructors here, and I can’t think of one class where I’ve thought I will never do that ever again... everyone has their own style and things that they like to focus on and talk about and it’s really just a matter of finding something that fits you. So if you don’t like the first class you take, go try a different one! There is no limit to the ways in which you can express yourself in yoga, so you just have to take the first step and try it.
Interview by Olivia Bowers