Posts Tagged ‘rest’

The Possibility of Beginning. Maybe.

Well friends,

It’s a New Year.  We huffed our way through the holidays (in a spirited, good-natured way, one hopes), and we’ve crossed the threshold into 2009.  

I’ve often felt that this (somewhat arbitrary) point in one’s calendar should elicit some kind of significant transformation, some sacred renewal, some refreshing sense of purpose, meaning, intention, whatever. 

Yes, I went there.  The Caterpillar representing Transformation.

But I’ve rarely actually experienced anything of the sort — At least on or around January 1st.

However, many people regularly do.  And if you’re one of the regulars – It may be worth giving a quick thanks for such a palpable sense of Beginning.  

And I’d like to request membership into your club, perhaps just this time around, as I’m feeling a small bit of transformative Good happening beneath the surface.  

The purpose of Yoga, to whatever extent you practice it, and during whatever time of year, is actually… transformation.  Which makes the New Year a great time to let it shed some light in your corner…

Tree Pose

I describe Yoga as a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that leads you to your next and better place — Regardless of where you start.  

I started Yoga in a very isolated and frightened place.  At the time, I was dealing with undiagnosed depression and a hefty bit of self-doubt and self-hatred.  I was accustomed to working out in order to reach specific physical goals, and Yoga, at first, was another work-out option for me.  

The jarring thing was that the practice was so hushed.  Even when I felt like I was sweating through it, the idea of counting breaths made me… breathe.  And it made me listen to the breaths.  

I slowed down.  I felt calm.  (Unintentionally I assure you!   Calm was scary!)  It was utterly different than anything I’d done before.

Not to mention that in some of the poses, as I breathed, I would feel my body loosening and letting go.  I saw how physically uptight I was, how closed in… And how, with a bit of time and attention, it was possible to open up.  I saw distinct parallels with my emotional life, although I didn’t want anyone drawing them at the time.Gavel.  (Sentenced; get it?)

From the beginning, I think Yoga gave me a vague sense that nothing was sentenced.

Everything was changeable, even my own self-perception.  A lovely new idea.  

I still grapple with my will: With wanting to overtake a posture rather than allowing it to show me something about myself or my body.  I’m Type A, so it’s likely that this will continue to be my greatest Yogic challenge for some time.  But I also credit Yoga with teaching me a couple key Type-A-Take-Notice things:

1. You can always breathe – No matter how stressful or difficult the situation is…

2. and you can always let go just a little bit more.

Letting Go.

The practice of Yoga, even when seen only as a physical “workout,” will bring about some amazing transformations.  In addition to a more toned physique, increased strength & flexibility, lower blood pressure, improved respiration, reduced stress, supple joints, and better sleep…

…you may notice some sweet bonuses along the lines of greater ease with your body, a more objective view of anxieties, a practiced kindness toward yourself, more mindful consumption, a sense of having done something healthy… Etc.

This comes as a result of Yoga’s peculiar approach (at least in the world of physical training): In which you enter each posture not only to reach a physical goal but to truly take notice of where you are, right now, here on this mat.  

What is your body truly capable of?  Does it need rest?  Where do you feel the most sensation?  Are you clenching your jaw?  Can you take one more deep breath?  Can you relax anywhere?

The noticing is the beginning of the Change.  

Right now, my personal practice of Yoga is teaching me about vulnerability.  I often hide from my emotions, using physical or mental challenges to busy myself away from issues of the heart.  So you could say that it’s my practice of Yoga that’s given me a sense of Beginning this year…  

Here’s why:  As I mentioned, I’ve often gone about my practice by attempting to overtake each posture by sheer will and strength. (“I will get into headstand without a wall, I will not arch my back, and I will stay up there so help me until someone else falls down first!”)

I'm Fiercely Ambitious and Unaware!

Such focused ambition can be helpful in some arenas, but mostly what it does for me is block out anything unsavory.   By making my goals the only things that truly capture my attention, I give myself  a way out — A way to ignore the process, the moment, my actual life — with all its difficulties, questions, doubts, disappointments, and depression.  (I should note that I also wind up missing its joys, loves, inspirations, celebrations, etc…)

Choosing Not to Look.So as the year begins, I’m contemplating the idea of process.  In Yoga, I’ve seen that it’s possible to be fully aware of each moment, and to be truly kind to myself  — Even if I’m still on my way toward my “goal.”  

I’ve also seen that when it comes down to it, that very kindness is the whole point.  

And that it takes a lot more mastery than headstand.

Headstand.

Rest.

Sleep ToesHello friends,

It’s been a wholly beautiful week… My last few days have been deliciously consumed with Ellery’s holiday show with Ric Hordinski, which was as magical as we could have expected (and perhaps more.)  Justin and I are feeling particularly Grateful today… And it’s a great season for it.  

I’ll post Tuesday’s sequence for you very soon — (Our ‘theme’ was Strength vs. Surrender, and I think it may have been timely for all of us… More to come on that.)

But meanwhile… Rest.

This morning, I was listening to Buddhist teacher Ajahn Brahm via podcast, and he said, 

Five minutes’ investment in Rest will save you hours of time later on. 

He was applying this to the idea that in our culture, most of us work inefficiently.  We think that in order to meet our goals, to be successful, to become who we want to be, we need to work work work.  Because of this,  the ideas of rest and of taking time are nearly enemies.  With this mentality, we rarely show up for the present moment — The only one that ever really matters.

Sadly, the way that life truly works makes this harried lifestyle ineffective.  Which we tend to find counter-intuitive…

Ajahn Brahm mentioned a large company in London that recently tripled its clientele, doubled its profits, and retained all of its staff… Leading to its reception of a Best Business Practices Award that year.  When asked how the company achieved all of this, they said that they simply banned Overtime: No one was allowed to work more than 8 hours a day and no more than 5 days a week.  

Because of this, the employees were rested.  Their home lives were healthier, with improved family relationships.  And with more time to devote to family and to other interests, their time at work was devoted and positive.  The ‘office politics,’ often a result of simple fatigue and irritability, diminished — improving morale, cooperation, and productivity.   Employees’ work was more efficient because they had time — apart from the workday — to deal with their other obligations, family crises, etc.  And interactions between employees and business clients were positive, because the employees enjoyed their work.  As a result, clients enjoyed working with the company, and recommended it to others.  

All of this because the employees were cared for and rested.  The result was more and better work!

sleeping-cat

We’ve heard stories like this before, but I think most of us still feel that the busier, the more harried, the more stressed we are, the more productive we are.  And (perhaps?) even the more valuable we are.  

And with this busy-ness & time-consumption comes fatigue, irritability, destabilized/strained relationships… Not to mention the physical and emotional effects of chronic stress.  

stress-ball

We wind up with repressed (or not-so-repressed) resentment toward our work, even if it’s something we believe in, because of the other interests/passions/hobbies/relationships that it blocks out with its demands on our schedules & mental space.  

So there are many ways in which Ajahn Brahm’s thought is true:

Ajahn Brahm

* Five minutes’ investment in rest can give you mental clarity to assist your brainstorming– Cutting down on the hours you invest in a project, dilemma, etc.

* Five minutes’ investment in rest can lend the poise and peace of mind to deal with a confrontational person, a difficult situation, etc– Cutting down on the time spent mixed up in office politics, in apologies, in worrying about personal encounters, etc.

Harried.

* Five minutes’ investment in rest is enough to break the pattern of chronic stress, lower your blood pressure, fill your lungs with oxygen, and release some muscular tension– Improving your immunity and your heart function and saving the time you may otherwise spend at home with an illness, in a hospital with heart problems, or dragging yourself through your work day with a common cold.  

* Five minutes’ investment in rest can help bring balance and rest to your mental state so that it’s easier to fall asleep at night.  Which means you get more sleep and have more energy the following day, which means that the work you do is better and more efficient.

sleeping-in-bed

* Five minutes’ investment in rest is enough to refresh your senses, bring you into the present, and inspire you with the power of the immediate moment.  It’s enough to remind you of your motivation for your work: what truly inspires you to put forth your effort.  It’s enough to remind you of your love for your family, your love for your fellow man, what really matters in life, the small-ness of problems that otherwise seem insurmountable… Not to mention your personal values & your faith.

Hands All of this can save time you may spend later on trying to make up for half-hearted work, or trying to repair or maintain difficult relationships that crop up as a result of negligence or stress.  It can save you time dealing with depression, apathy, listlessness… and/or years spent doing work from which you feel disconnected.  

Incidentally, just five minutes of Yoga has been proven to lower blood pressure, calm the nervous system, increase energy, release tension, provide deep rest (often better than a nap), improve sleep, improve digestion, improve mental focus and clarity, and even increase a sense of happiness and peace.  

balasana

In short, take your five minutes.  You’re too busy not to!

sleeping-dog

Oh Stress. We wouldn’t miss you.

So, friends.  

You and I, this season, working, shopping, promising, photo-ing, greeting, eating, partying, and still more working…

Feeling a little um, stressed? 

Yes, I thought so.  Here’s some fine news for us:

Child's Pose in Class

…But what happens when we experience moderate stress repeatedly, day after day? Our bodies activate the same emergency systems [as when faced with acute stress, like a car accident], although to a lesser degree. Unfortunately, when invoked chronically, physiological responses that help us cope with danger can become dangerous themselves. Suppression of digestion can contribute to gastrointestinal problems, and promotion of high glucose levels in the blood may contribute to diabetes. Constricted blood vessels, a pounding heart, and rapid clotting can eventually lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke. Suppression of inflammation can also suppress the immune system, making us more susceptible to infection and possibly even cancer. Chronic stress can also lead to infertility, poor healing capability, and exhaustion. 

Stress Busters 

Luckily, there are lots of ways to reduce stress or even to head it off in the first place. They fall into three main categories: changing your situation, changing your attitude, and taking good care of yourself. Changing your situation—getting a new job, moving to a new neighborhood, or leaving an unhealthy relationship—can be very effective, but it’s often not practical or even desirable. Changing your attitude—deciding you don’t have to knock yourself out working overtime to prove your self-worth, for example, or deciding it’s not your responsibility to make your partner change—can be very powerful, even life-transforming, because it puts you in control. When you realize you can choose how you react, many events you formerly found stressful may lose their power to push your buttons. Taking care of yourself—eating right, avoiding harmful drugs, exercising, making rest a priority, and scheduling time in pleasant environments with nice people—helps you recover from stress and keeps it from building up again. 

One of the best stress busters around is yoga. It directly counteracts both the physiological and psychological components of stress, simultaneously helping you take better care of yourself and change your attitude. The stretching you do in yoga relieves muscle tension. Upside-down poses and reclining poses slow the heart, relax the blood vessels, inhibit production of norepinephrine, and calm the brain. Pranayama (yoga’s classic breathwork) slows respiration. As you practice being more aware and mindful, you gain a sense of self-control, equanimity, and peace. Perhaps most important of all, meditation and the teachings of yoga philosophy can help you realize that most of the things that upset you just aren’t worth getting stressed about. 

–Roger Cole, PhD, taken from Yoga Journal: “This is Your Body On Stress.”

The Hardest Part.

The hardest part, for most of us anyway, is believing that you’re worth the time.  I could be wrong about this, but one of the few things about which I feel certain these days is that we tend to come up short when it comes to self-compassion.  Such a thing doesn’t have to extend into self-hatred or even negative self-talk (though it does for the bulk of us), but it does include the inability to place value on one’s self.  

Uncluttering Your Life, below, sheds light on how this manifests for many of us: The way we’ll bend over backwards for someone else, but we won’t lift a hand for ourselves.  

(As a sidenote, this is utterly the opposite of what I grew up believing.  This is the opposite ailment of our souls.  It’s not that we’re selfish; it’s that we aren’t.)

In a manner of speaking.

Granted, it’s not like our bending-over-backwards is extended to “the whole world,” without regard.  It’s usually our families, friends, jobs, places of worship, community meetings, volunteer orgs…

But it’s certainly not extended to ourselves: the ones who (let’s face it) do have to actually be around (and, if I can be wildly greedy, NOT encumbered by self-doubt) in order to have a truly positive affect on our spouse/children/families/friends/clients/others.

And so Yoga is, as Amy Weintraub has said, “…about learning to build a new relationship with your body.”  Not just your physical body, but your mind, emotions, everything.  

Which doesn’t mean you start neglecting other people, or acting like an a- -.  (Sometimes we fail to do what’s good for us because we fear it will somehow hurl us into an abyss of selfish jerk-dom.)

cb054879

Rather, it means that you begin to pay attention.  

Maybe when you breathe, you notice the breath.  Maybe when you eat, you truly smell and taste the food.  When you lie on your living room carpet, you feel each part of your back body against the floor.  

(savasana)

Or when you stand in Mountain Pose, you feel the ground beneath your feet, the uplifting of your rib cage, the crown of your head pressing up.

(Mountain Pose)Maybe when you’ve been working for ten hours, you feel the fatigue (and maybe even rest!).  When you’ve been eating thirds and fourths, you feel that you’re full.  When you’re having a negative conversation, you feel its effects.  When you have a joyful encounter, you feel the joy fully.  When you love someone, you let it move you deeply.

(love)

(love)

Of course, maybe it means that you give yourself 90 minutes a couple times a week to truly be in your body, doing some Yoga and letting the practice sink in.  

Or that at night you take some deep breaths to soothe your nervous system, or, upon waking, maybe you breathe deeply while offering gratitude for a new day.  

Whatever it is, if you’re like me, it’s hard as h—.  

But not impossible.  

Perhaps we’ll teach each other.

Uncluttering Your Life

Excerpts taken from article of the same title in Yoga + Magazine, written by Michele Morris

We all want a life that’s rich in experience, but not at the expense of our energy and inner peace. How can we get the right balance?

images1

Know Your Heart
Overdoing for others can be a sign of a failure to love yourself. If you don’t value your own needs, you can’t possibly give them proper weight. For yoga teacher Donna Farhi, the author of Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship, staying close to her dharma [calling] keeps her close to her true self. “When I stay close to the truth of what I have agreed to do and what is the most valuable use of my time and energy, there seems to be little conflict involved,” she says. “When I don’t stay close to that truth, conflict ensues. The conflict can manifest itself as fatigue, getting sick, or as resentment that I am giving something that I really don’t want to give. It can manifest as not being fully present…

… Farhi, who teaches yoga throughout the world, is zealous about not allowing the many demands on her time to take over her life. “When I am on a deadline or on the road, it’s just not possible to take on other commitments,” says Farhi. “Otherwise I risk not fulfilling the commitments I’ve already made to people or getting exhausted so that I am no use to anyone, least of all myself.” How does she do it? “First, I honestly reflect on what I can do and what I can’t do, and what I need to delegate to some responsible individual,” she adds. “I am not a robot. I am mortal. The world will not stop if I take a nap.” 

One of the appeals of yoga or meditation practice is that we take time to breathe. But this is a skill we can use to bring balance to even the busiest day. When you’re waiting for an elevator, instead of punching the button repeatedly, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and wait for the bell. Before a meal, take the time to say grace, or simply pause and take a moment to breathe.

Shifting gears, creating rituals, setting boundaries, and staying focused on what really makes you happy will help you break the habit of overcommitment. Jane Morrison has come up with a different way of looking at the problem: “Something has to give—you or your family,” she says. “You can’t do it all. Rather than say no to everything, I think about what I want to say yes to. If I fill my life with the right yes’s, there’s no room for no’s.”+

Family Yoga.

It was no surprise to anyone that during our Thanksgiving Day family time, the conversation made its way to the subject of stress, anxiety, reputation, etc.  Each of us has our own business, and/or a truly people-intensive job.  Either way, we often bring home our work’s tension, stress, curiosity, excitement, tension…

I mentioned to them that as a Yoga student, I always appreciate being reminded to let go of the tension in my mouth & jaw.  (I’ve noticed that I hold most of my tension in my jaw and my tongue.)

Okay.  So I know that the first time you hear this, it has to sound totally ridiculous.  But seriously, most of us (everyone; not just my family) keep our tongues firmly planted against the roofs of our mouths.  (Do a check right now.)  

It’s a sign of unnecessary tension, which in turn is of course a sign of stress.  

One of the foundational (and most beautiful) things about Yoga is its ability to bring your awareness back to your own body.  For instance, as soon as you’re aware that you’re holding tension in your tongue, you can let it go and take a deep breath.  As you do so, you may feel a release down into the sides of your neck — from right under your ears to the tops of your shoulders.

Of course, holding unnecessary tension anywhere in your body is a habit; it’s your body’s ingrained way of dealing with stressful and/or emotional circumstances.  To change this, it will take intention and practice; it will require the development of new habits to replace the old, inefficient, and often harmful ones.

So because we need time, and practice, and many many reminders, it’s always good to hear someone say, “Take a deep breath.”  Or, “Let your exhale be long and full.”  Or, “Allow your tongue to loosen from the roof of your mouth.”  

Because over time, your body learns how that loosening feels, how the relaxation feels, the letting-go.  Your body learns how a deep breath feels, with its increased supply of oxygen and its resulting settling-into-the-moment.  

And so, over time, your body will yearn to return to that feeling — and you’ll remember, on your own, to let go.  Slowly, new habits will come.

As I lie down at night, I often remember my Yoga teacher saying, “Allow your top and bottom teeth to separate from each other.”  I remember that in that tiny movement, I feel my whole being let go and relax.  It never fails.

So —

I’m sure we all looked a little crazy, sitting around the living room and trying to loosen our tongues & jaws.  But maybe in a few days, one of us will be staring at a computer screen, or lying in bed trying to fall asleep, or driving in rush-hour traffic, and we’ll remember how that letting-go felt.  And we’ll do it again: the beginning of a new habit, a new way of being.