On Saint Marks Place in the East Village, a voice:
“Overcome the pain. Push yourself to be stronger because you can. You know that it will pass.”
During a Vinyasa yoga class, the squatting chair pose makes muscles sear, sends fire up the thighs right to the buttocks. Pain. We move through the physical anguish because we know it will make us stronger; exercise — the edification of a stronger core. With a breath, everyone in the yoga class collapses over their knees. Sighs of relief. One man howls with all his might. Tomorrow, the aches may feel worse throughout the day: not just the momentary throbbing of the chair pose. Perhaps the following day, it may feel even worse: the stiffness, the tenderness, the inability to squat down or even swipe your subway card. It’s all worth it, we know, because the muscle fibers first must break down before they grow back stronger. Toned.
After yoga one night, I returned home to my rent-stabilized apartment and looked out my window at a symbol of strength and stability that has been with me over the last year. Gleaming in her glory, boastful and boxy: The Empire State Building. Every evening, I bid her goodnight thankful for her steadfast character built on a strong, and what feels permanent, foundation. As we all know, however, even the most monumental towers in this town can collapse when some unstoppable juggernaut causes their breakdown. Tragic loss and the ashes after cloud our hope for growth and new beginnings. Loss just feels this way.
The architects of our own lives, we make plans for how the foundation will be reset, follow the blue prints, move through the exercises, build, and emerge feeling impregnable, flexing our biceps at ourselves in the mirror. But what about emotional pain? The heart being a muscle you’d assume that when it breaks, it too would grow stronger. When we lose people we love, or endure other forms of great tragedy, we suffer tremendously so much so that it can feel like building a new life.
Buildings can be resurrected; the structure that once was comes back as something new, something stronger. Collapse, reconstruction, strength, new beginnings. The people who slipped away, however, are irreplaceable and the grieving of their disappearance breaks us down.
In New York City, as in most parts of the world, we reinvent our identities everyday. Break down, reconstruction, strength, new beginnings. The lonely man on Wall Street seeks new love; the waiter auditions for a lead role in a musical; the immigrant Sri Lankan woman sells saris in Jackson Heights, Queens to support her family. The writer prays, amidst the rubble of a life quaked by death and heartbreak, to be stronger than the pain of loss or at least to come back as so. She wants to be remembered as steadfast as the Empire State Building but as unflappable as the Freedom Tower, which rose again.
These are the things we don’t know about each other. In the streets of the City you are not, to the common stranger, a girl who lost her father. You are simply, as someone recently put it … “in my way!” Here we are together as individuals hustling, sitting side by side with our struggles and triumphs on alphabetical and numeric trains that take us in all directions. Some of us have money, others of us dreams of grandeur. We are all trying to get by. We are all, by basic construct, the same, but by lifestyle and circumstance and a million other ways, different.
Gripping the same pole for balance, we stand together on the uptown six train: the Wall Street man with a broken heart, the Sri Lankan woman with a family to feed, the waiter with dreams, and the writer with a life to rebuild. We are all going somewhere together, even if we part at different stops. We are all stronger than the times in our lives when we collapsed. Or at least, we hope we will be.
Now onward to Saint Marks Place where in a crowded room with side-by-side rubber mats we challenge the foundation on which we stand.
When life gets tough, sometimes its hard to pull yourself out of the doldrums. Convincing your spirit to believe in happiness again can feel like coaxing a cat into the bathtub. Well, most cats, but not these ones.
It’s been a year now since I lost my father. In that time, I learned that feeling good is a choice and takes effort.
A couple of my life mentors had two quick tips that changed everything for me. One, have as much fun as possible by scheduling things for yourself to look forward to. Two, do things that are delicious for the body: spend time in nature, exercise, eat healthy, connect with the earth by gardening or doing yoga.
At my most ugly moments, here are some simple things that helped me. Thanks to all the friends and family who either showed me how to restore happiness or laughed and cried along with me.
How to Create Happy Moments
1. Pretend You’re a Karaoke Star
Put on the most cranked song you love, close your eyes, and imagine yourself on stage rockin’ it. Picture the audience going crazy cheering for you; imagine singing the song better than the actual person singing it. During an instrumental break, envision yourself dancing like crazy when suddenly the crowd begins to jump pointing their fingers at you and calling out your name.
Yep, seriously. Nothing gets your heart pumping harder than jumping. The best feeling: jumping either on a trampoline or in the ocean waves. Think about it … can you bounce on a trampoline without smiling? If you’re angry, try Plyometrics: a form of jump exercise.
3. Squeeze a racket ball
With a racket ball in hand, concentrate on that thing that is bothering you for ten seconds and focus your efforts on squeezing the racket ball so hard that it pops (fyi it probably wont). Take a deep breath in, then as you breath out release the ball and let it drop to the floor. Continue breathing. Repeat.
4. Draw lines
Sometimes the mind gets filled with thoughts and worry junk. Forget those people that just say, “Don’t worry!” Instead try distracting the mind with something unimportant yet focused that calls your attention to the present moment. Grab a piece of paper, then stare into one palm focusing on the lines and with the other hand, draw the lines without looking away. Preset a timer so you don’t worry about how long it takes. Seem silly? Of course it is, but sometimes hitting the reset button means giving the brain a break just to get clear.
Also, try lying down, closing your eyes, and envisioning a golden light pencil slowly tracing the outline of your body.
I am not by any means saying alcohol will solve your problems. Any type of substance be it sugar, alcohol, or both either temporarily numbs feelings or raises serotonin. But hey, nothings beats the occasional cocktail, especially if you’ve had a tough day.
End of day, my mom and I used to come home from my dad’s construction site (he passed mid project and we had to help build this colossal structure) and blend new margarita flavors and listen to happy songs like It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere by Jimmy Buffet. No matter how excruciating the pain was during that moment, those times are now some of my favorite memories. Having a good laugh about how miserable you are also helps cure the blues.
Our favorite concoction: Megan and Mary’s very Cheery Cherry Margaritas made with mango puree and cherry juice.
6. Force yourself to laugh
In a room filled with complete strangers, I once mimed opening a laughter box and broke into hysterics when I looked inside of it. If you haven’t heard of Laughter Yoga yet, check it out. The most awkward practice you’ll ever experience, Laughter Yoga utilizes a series of exercises to initiate laughter.
Also, try to laugh without smiling.
7. Force yourself to cry
Bad feelings prevail, and sometimes you just feel yucko. I struggle with convincing myself all the time that I need to be strong and positive. The hard feelings though surface at some point, and it is healthier to acknowledge them by letting them out (imagine a dark storm cloud that refuses to rain. It just builds and builds). So, set aside a time alone to listen to a sad song, watch a tear-jerker movie, look at pictures of the person you lost, or journal. Do whatever you know is going to make you sad, so you can express it knowing that feeling is not a permanent state of being. You will surface again feeling relieved. Give yourself permission to just cry for a while.
8. Walk in the rain without an umbrella
A very cleansing and liberating sensation.
9. Get messy
There’s a certain innocence that pain takes away from you. Suddenly, life feels serious all the damn time. So, give yourself permission to act immature and regain your sense of childlike joy.
Try one of these: India’s Holi Festival, a paint party, puddle jumping, motorbike rides through the mud, a flour fight with someone while baking, etc.
10. Watch commencement speeches and puppy videos
Know already that since no one else on earth knows exactly what you are going through, they probably also wont understand why you spend your free time jumping on trampolines, drinking margaritas, and walking in the rain. If anyone asks why you’re acting erratically, tell them you’re making healing fun and ask them to support you by joining in. Who doesn’t get a drive from jumping in the pool with their clothes on, right?
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