There’s a story about a well-known yoga teacher who was driving with his three kids in the car.  Apparently he was going too slow for the likes of the car behind him, whose driver laid on his horn and hurled obscenities at the teacher as he abruptly passed him.  The teacher, not missing a beat, yelled back at his window “breathe through your nose!”  I relay this story in my book Radi8 in the chapter about the limb of yoga called pranayama, or breath control.  It’s a pithy illustration of the power of the breath, yes.  But it also conveys something larger about the entirety of the yoga practice.  How do we relate to our triggers, both big and small?

We all have triggers.  Things that set us off emotionally.  Maybe it’s a fellow driver going too slowly, or a snarky comment from our teenager, or an unreasonable demand from our boss.  Whatever it is that sets you off, you likely have little or no control over it.  You do have control, however, over how you react.  Instead of reacting in kind to Road Rage Ron, the yoga teacher in the story above chose to respond with empathy, actually offering helpful advice to the aggrieved driver m-f-ing him.

A student of mine relayed recently that he appreciated the story in the book.  And then he went on to tell me how just this past weekend, as he was driving home from yoga class feeling centered and peaceful, a driver started screaming at him.  Not just lambasting the manner in which he was making a turn, but also his choice of car.  The student responded in kind, as many of us would.  But — and here’s the powerful thing — he saw how he slipped up immediately after the unpleasant exchange.  Even though my student engaged with Nasty Nancy, he noticed right away, and wished he hadn’t.

This was a tremendous moment of learning, priming him for growth.  While he could look at the situation and say he failed, I believe he took a huge step forward.  Noticing our triggers and how we react to them is the first step — and the most important one — we can take in forging a path to move through life differently.

Instead of beating yourself up the next time you see that you fell short in some way, acknowledge how great it is that you noticed.  You’re a huge step closer to moving through the world with more grace and mindfulness.