Monday, August 23, 2010

But I cannot control that . . . on well-being

Over the weekend, I attended an attorney wellness study. There were five lawyers there, all women. The first question we were asked was to rate our level of well-being on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being low and 5 being high. One of the women there rated her well-being as a 4. That in itself is not that interesting, but what I found most interesting was her reason. She said that her own life was great, and would have rated it a 5, but because of the outside forces she cannot control, she had to lower it to a 4. Interestingly, this woman also said that she does not do yoga or meditate.

This, of course, got me thinking. To some extent, she is right; we have little to no control over how other people act. (There are many who would argue, and I would agree, that we do actually have the power to change how others act, but we can explore that in another post.) Assuming we cannot control others, or external forces generally, what can we do? We can learn to change how we react to these forces beyond our control.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are considered by many to be the beginning of yoga philosophy and ideas. One of the many translations of the first sutra is, “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.” It is when we learn to still the mind that we can change our reactions to the external forces at work in our lives.

When all we do is react to the external world, then we lose conntrol. Reactions take place from our fight-or-flight response, which is activated when we are stressed. Its purpose is to keep us alive, to ensure our survival. Its purpose is not to provide us with well-being. When we still the mind, we can learn to take ourselves out of fight-or-flight. We can learn to respond instead of react.

Responding takes more control. It requires that moment of reflection before survival. It also allows us to feel differently about how the world “treats” us; instead, we get to decide consciously how we are going to interact with the world. The legal profession, with its billable hours, hierarchy set-up, and faceless clients creates an opportunity for reaction instead of reflection. Even in the grocery store, however, we encounter people who act rudely and who make it very easy to react and be angry, perhaps even justifiably so.

But to what end?

Yoga helps us see that reactions rather than responses do not serve us. Reactions are prime space for misunderstanding and miscommunication and the paths they forge. Responses mean that we take in the entire situation, see it from all sides and determine how best to act . . . or not act. Then, when the external world “forces something upon us,” like an angry boss, we can let it slide, knowing that the person is merely reacting, not responding. By not giving in to their anger by reacting, more often than not, it dissipates. Like fire, anger needs oxygen to grow, and when we strip it of its power/force, it can no longer exist.

But what about the billable hour? What about the fact that lines are long at the grocery store? What about traffic? These are life’s annoyances, and our reactions or responses cannot change them. But we can change how we feel about them. We can use the waiting as a time to reflect, to breathe, to be still. We can let the billable hour be what it is and still serve our clients well because that is why we become lawyers. We can find our own internal force and motivation rather than relying on the external motivation of the ubiquitous bottom line.

Responding rather than reacting is no easy task. But as we take the time to slow down and learn it, it becomes easier. And then we can have control over our own well-being, rather than allowing the external world define it for us.

Namaste and blessings!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The power of community - again

This week I learned another important lesson about community and shared energy. It was more like a review session, actually, because I knew it could happen, but never had I experienced it as a yoga teacher.
I have spoken before about the community of energy, why we might choose to go to a yoga class instead of having an exclusively home practice. (In no way do I want to diminish the power of a home practice; I practice at home most days, or so I would like to think..) That post was about what we gain as students when we practice together. It is rare that we get to see the practice’s effect on the one person in the room not participating in the same way - the teacher.

As I mentioned in my last post, this week was tough. Sunday, I was standing and cooking for about 6+ hours. The only break I took was to eat. Monday morning, when I awoke, I was sore. Not just kind of sore, but very, very sore. I would like to think it is because I went to a yoga class on Sunday, but the soreness was more from stress and working. It was not bad, but it hurt. Then I taught a class yesterday evening.

Yesterday’s class was a yin/restorative class (for many reasons, it was more restorative than yin). But I did not do any of the postures; I did teacher things, such as adjustments, moving props, talking. One of the students, who at first seemed hard to please and forceful, was the last one out of the room. She thanked me for the class and said her lower back was singing. It was not until I got home that I realized what had happened. My lower back was singing as well.

Massage therapists and body workers know that they benefit from working with others. We all know that we gain more than we lose when we give. Therefore, this realization is not so much shocking as a wonderful reminder of the power of community and the power that a strong community can have on those nearby, the gentle onlookers among us. This is also a reminder that your strength and centered focus can rub off on others and make their days less stressful.

Lawyers and others who deal with a lot of people can help those other people as much by changing their energy as by changing their words. Simply holding a space of calm reduces the tension of everyone in the room. In a legal setting, where good people are often at their worst, the change in energy can be the most important dynamic. And remember, it can come back to heal you as well as the "teacher" in the room, you gain that which your students, clients, colleagues, and even adversaries gain.

So, I invite you to share your energy and grow your community. You never know whose life it may change. Have you noticed this in the past? Have you noticed how your staying calm changes other peoples’ dynamics? 

Namaste and Blessings!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wit's End

This week has been busy and stressful. From working to looking for a job to driving over 8 hours to teaching three yoga classes, I have not had a lot of time to just chill. I have not had a lot of time to do my own practice. And each day missed makes it easier to miss the next day.

Like so many people, I am a creature of habit, and when that habit gets interrupted, it is difficult to get back into the swing of things. It is easier to be tired, to be cranky. It is easier to allow external inconveniences dictate how my day comes and goes. This is where the yoga becomes extra necessary.

Today was the last straw. I sat in my car for 4 of those 8 hours this week, plus more just getting around town. I had no alone time today. I was trying to figure out logistics for a big meal tomorrow. And I was hungry. (The irony of that combination cannot go unrecognized.) When I got home, I mindlessly started eating and cooking. I walked over to my computer to read something, trying to do 4 different things at once.

Then I just stopped. It was as if the universe smacked me over the head and said, “you need to take a breath.”

So I did.

I am blessed to live alone in a two-bedroom apartment. The second bedroom is my yoga room (ready to start offering private yoga sessions). I went in there, and I sat . . . and I breathed. My mind was whipping around, but the breath began to take over. I began to slow down. Five minutes later, I felt better. Everything, as usual, was working just fine.

This crazed situation is not uncommon. The habit of frenzy takes over easily, and it is difficult to break away. When I see other people having days like this, I can be a voice of reason. I can, and often do, look at people and say, “take a breath.” The faster people are moving, the slower I usually say it. But when it is me, not always so easy.

The breath, as we know, is always there. We forget about it, but it does not fail us. And when we remember it, we are ripped out of whatever frenzy, and even for just a moment, we can stop. We can put life into perspective. Breaking that habit, stopping it, literally confuses us enough to force us to stop and reevaluate. When we cannot run on auto-pilot, we must stop and think, and usually we realize how caught up and distracted we were.

It really is that simple . . . and it is really, really hard to do. There are so many stimuli, be them family, friends, electronics, driving, plans, fears, hopes, everything.  Why pay attention to the breath? It is always there. It will exist even if we ignore it, so what is the point of paying attention? All those other “things” require our attention, or they disappear, right?

But can we pay full attention to any of them in our frenzied state? Can we experience them? Can we enjoy them? When we learn to appreciate the breath, we learn to appreciate all of life. Appreciating all that life has to offer, from an inhale to winning the lottery to children to whatever makes each moment special.

And then when we are at our wit’s end, we can always come back to the breath and remember that we can always appreciate that moment. For when we breathe, and consciously breathe, everything else simply falls away. Then we can reenter life more focused, more open, and more prepared.

I usually like to finish a post with a question of sorts, but instead, I am going to end this one with a dedication. May all of you who have crazy days allow the universe to smack you and wake you up. May you find the joy in your breath to bring some peace and calm to your frenzied days.

Namaste and blessings!