Fight Or Flight

One year ago I flew from Spain to New York, simply because the flights were cheaper than those to Philly. 

You see, the first time I landed in NYC, it didn’t take. I followed my plan but it no longer suited me. I felt beaten up and defeated, so when I was given an opportunity to head back to Spain, I left.

While there I was lucky enough that one thing lead to another and I could stay on the Mediterranean coast, growing and gainfully employed, for several months. I was relieved, as I had been very anxious about returning to NYC and trying again. I was looking for any way out, completely intimidated by the city, the size of it, the expense of it, the millions of others trying to make it just like me. I researched other cities to move to and planned on staying at my Mom’s in PA upon my return. I was ready to check New York off my list for good and accept that I wasn’t cut out for the big city.

As with most things, it was a series of seemingly random events that opened my mind to the possibility of staying in New York – starting with flying here instead of to the airport closest to my Mom’s house (Philadelphia). Within days of arriving my decision had reversed completely. I didn’t know exactly what I’d do yet, but I wanted to be here; I didn’t want to run away and start all over in a different place – what would really be different there anyway? I'd learned that the location wasn’t the problem, nor was it the solution. I needed to find a way to create the lifestyle I really wanted; this was an internal challenge.

Fight or flight: the instinctive physiological response to a threatening situation, which readies one either to resist forcibly or to run away.

As one of my yoga instructors often says, there is a third option, an alternative to fight or flight: to breathe. Last weekend I attended a yin yoga workshop put on by this [amazing] instructor. This seemingly random timing offered the perfect opportunity to reflect on my decision to stay one year ago, because that is exactly the challenge of yin yoga: to stay. It is a beautiful, meditative practice, very different than the athletic yoga styles many of us are used to. In yin, we hold deep stretching poses for upwards of 5 minutes. Poses that are typically comfortable for most at about 10, 20, or maybe 30 seconds, can become very challenging for longer periods of time. You notice how your body and mind react, telling you to move, fidget, get out, get angry, fight back, panic. Your mind might try to tell you that you can’t do this, you’re not cut out for it, your ability is limited, you’re not okay.

What I noticed in the workshop this weekend was my mind telling me that I don’t have to stay here. Now, this is very true, the instructor was not going to force me back into any pose I wanted to come out of, and as a yoga instructor myself I often encourage folks to do only what they are comfortable with – to not push themselves physically and risk injury. But this was different. I was not in pain, I was reminding myself of my freedom to choose, to take the easier route. I realized that this is a habit of mine, as it can be both easier and temporarily empowering to exercise this freedom.

So why might you want to stay and breathe? Why remain uncomfortable when you don’t have to? The immense feelings of calm and buoyancy that come from yin yoga practice really must be experienced, but in my best attempt to explain: by releasing control (relaxing muscles, quieting the mind) and breathing through the difficult parts you forge not around but through the blocks, the parts where your mind or ego is insisting you can’t do it, where fear arises, where old stories come up. By passing through this “junk” you sink deeper; you stretch beyond what you thought possible; you find freedom in letting go. As all yoga is a lovely metaphor for life, the exact same reasoning applies for sticking it out when your mind tells you to run or fight your way out of an uncomfortable situation.

I knew I didn't have to stay in New York, but something kept me here anyway. By getting comfortable with the uncomfortable and trusting in myself, I managed to build the life I wanted, in the city I wanted; a life I once thought not possible, or at least too difficult to try. As I think back to one year ago, landing here with no intention of staying, I can’t even imagine having missed out on everything that’s unfolded: getting to experience and grow familiar with this amazing city; the lasting relationships that have formed and supported me; the knowledge I’ve acquired; and certainly not the least of which, the confidence that came from not giving up. By staying and breathing through it, I was able to do the thing I once thought I simply wasn’t cut out for.