Happy Friday blog followers! Thanks for checking in!
Welcome to the third and final part of this little blog series about the intersections between our yoga practices and our daily lives.
Last week we discussed the practice of acceptance and how sometimes life doesn’t go our way and the best thing we can do for ourselves is to simply “let it be”. I’m still working on that one to be honest and I just wanted to say that I SO appreciate the many people who expressed their concern for me after reading my post. I realize it may have been a bit of a dark or depressing one to read but in fact it was really helpful for me to put it out there. The practice of acceptance requires us to be honest about where we’re at and to hold these feelings in a space of self-compassion and awareness instead of fighting them or hiding them. So that’s what I did, and it helped a lot! But perhaps my blog posts thus far have been a little bit of a downer? I was on the phone with my cousin this morning and he has demanded more smiley face emojis in this next post so let’s give it a try! Today we are going to discuss how to make more space for things that do feel good and how to move towards living an easier, happier life. WOOHOO! 😀😀😀 (Those are for you cousin Stew!)
So where to start? As discussed, we must always begin with the process of FEELING. Getting in touch with our thoughts and emotions is one of the most powerful practices we can ever learn. This IS the practice of mindfulness (in the context of this blog post we’ll consider feeling, awareness and mindfulness to be intimately linked and interchangeable terms). The power of this practice lies in our ability to recognize when and how our mind takes us to dark and unhappy places vs. when it leads us to “feel good” places filled with the rainbows and unicorns that cousin Stew is hoping to read about today.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn explains in the book Full Catastrophe Living, “much of our stress comes from threats, real or imagined, to our social status, to our sense of how others perceive us” so it’s easy for us to get caught up in certain daily habits that we may consider to be worthwhile because they elicit positive response from others. For example, at my old job I would often answer emails way past normal work hours (like literally every email that came in from the time I opened my eyes to the time I went to sleep and sometimes I’d even wake up in the middle of the night and respond if I felt it was necessary). This habit demonstrated that I was a hard worker and a dedicated employee and it got me promotions and all kinds of fun perks, BUT I wasn’t paying any attention to how this habit was affecting my overall health and wellbeing. I realize now that every time my phone beeped there was literally a chemical stress reaction occurring throughout my body and mind. This habit would eventually lead me to a burnout and the inability to continue being such a valuable employee. So was it really worth it? If I had slowed down and taken the time to actually FEEL instead of simply focusing on the end goal perhaps I could have recognized the way this habit was wreaking havoc on my wellbeing and maybe I could have come up with some better and more sustainable ways to be a valuable employee.
So again, the first step is always to slow down and FEEL. The next step is to recognize any patterns or habits that we play out in our daily lives that don’t feel good. From here we can begin to make the distinction between those things we can’t control and need to “let be” vs. the habits that simply aren’t necessary so we can “let go” of them. In Strala yoga we call this concept “making space” and we consider every human being to be a “spacemaker”. Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about this as the difference between “reacting” (which often involves involuntary stress responses in the body and has little to do with actually being aware of our feelings) vs. “responding” (ie: recognizing and cultivating habits that make us feel good and not allowing ourselves to get caught up in patterns that lead to negative feelings).
Whether you call it “responding” or “spacemaking” or anything else – the point is that it should feel good from the inside out and throughout the entire process. Getting into this practice of “spacemaking” is fun and energizing and so fulfilling (smiley faces guaranteed!)! The idea here is to drop the tension in our lives, to let go of the practices and habits that we are constantly struggling through and to make space for the things that feel uniquely good to us. All that is required is a willingness to slow down and explore.
When I started to really practice more awareness in my life, I began to notice a lot of habits that I was pushing myself through even though I didn’t like them. I’ll let you in on a few secret things about me that I figured out along the way:
- I don’t like raw leafy greens! “WHAT? A yogi who doesn’t like raw spinach?” YUP! And yet I can’t tell you how many times I forced myself through a salad or green juice because I wanted the people in front of me to perceive me as “healthy” and “fit”
- I hate running. It just doesn’t feel good for me. But of course I forced myself through several long races (even a 23km trail race that took over 4 hours to complete) because the end goal of the medal and the picture of me crossing the finish line seemed like a good way to prove to myself and to others how much “willpower” I have and how “fit” I am.
- I am NOT a morning person. And by “morning” I mean anything before 9am! But for a long time I felt guilty about this. I had the idea that “productive” people always get up early in the morning and “lazy” people sleep in.
- I’m not into chanting or “om’ing” in my yoga practice. Uh oh – do I still have the right to call myself a yogi if I don’t do these things? For a while this made me incredible insecure when I’d meet other yoga teachers.
- A couple yoga poses that don’t work for me: squats with my feet flat on the floor (it hurts my hips), chair poses with my arms up in the air (my shoulders always feel tense like this).
Once I recognized that these things don’t feel good for me I was left with a few choices:
1- I can force myself to eat raw greens and chant and do chair poses with my arms in the air.
2 -I can become incredibly insecure and doubt my ability to be a worthwhile yoga teacher because I don’t fit the “yogi” mold.
3- I can get creative! I can find delicious ways to cook my greens and incorporate them into my meals (here’s an amazing spinach pie recipe that I love!). I can stop running and make more time for the things I enjoy (like yoga). I can create a work schedule and lifestyle where early mornings are not as necessary (I work more at night now). I can stop worrying about learning chants or incorporating om’s into my classes and I can share more of the mindfulness techniques that have worked so well for me. I can squat with my heels off the floor and sway a little from one foot to the other to release tension from my hips. I can do my chair pose with my hands in front of my heart or drop my arms out all together and just let them hang out wherever they naturally fall that day.
Obviously I chose option 3. And I’m a lot better for it! I’m less tired, less stressed and I have discovered so much more space in my life to explore so I can find even more ways of being that feel uniquely good to me. Some of these things may seem silly and trivial but if I spent my time pushing myself through all the things I don’t enjoy I would likely be too tired for anything else and I would be spending all my energy worrying about how I am perceived by others. Instead, I choose to spend my energy discovering what makes me feel and being ME!
So now’s you’re chance to give it a try! What are some of the habits in your life that aren’t working? Is there anywhere where you feel you are constantly “pushing through” or stressed or tired? And what about alternative habits that maybe you’d like to try but haven’t found time for yet? I realize of course that some things (like cooking your greens instead of eating them raw) can be easier to change than others (like embarking on a new career path) but I’d like to invite you to experiment with just one small habit that isn’t serving you. Use your mindfulness practice to pinpoint it and then DROP it! Just for a little while. And see what other options open up in that space.
So to wrap up this little “your yoga, your life” series I recommend that we all try spending a little less energy working on habits that appear healthy from the outside and take more time to cultivate habits that feels good on the inside FIRST. Let’s practice this – in our yoga and in our everyday lives.
P.S. I’d love to hear what habits or practices you’ve cultivated or let go of that have made your life easier and happier. Feel free to share in the comments below! Let’s encourage each other to find what feels good!