I once heard a saying by a Buddhist teacher. It may have been the Dalai Lama, or another wise person. Asked how long one should meditate for each day, he replied: “Thirty minutes. Unless you are very busy. In which case, one hour.”
I wish I could say I followed that advice, in meditation or yoga or any other form of self-care. But I don’t. For me, busy begets busy. Right now I have rather a lot on, what with commitments to work, study, friendship, volunteering … and the list goes on. I’ve shaken up my life over the past couple of years, and the pieces as still falling back into place. I tend to bounce from deadline to deadline, scrambling to find time to squeeze everything I want to do in.
This is all my choice, of course. A couple of years ago a health problem prevented me from achieving much more than simply getting up and going to work each day. Now that I have energy, I want to expend it. I fill up my days, mostly, with things that bring me joy, or at the very least, satisfaction.
There’s a price, of course, and it can be measured in the things I let slip. Daily yoga practice. No-reason phone calls to friends. That extra hour of sleep. I can get away without these, for a time. And then I find myself getting faster and faster. I rush from one meeting to the next. I leave my desk at work with half-written emails on my screen, simply because I am suddenly late. At home, bills pile up, unopened. I multi-task – listen to a lecture while walking, make phone calls in the car, eat on the run. These habits creep into my life like a slow-moving flood; unnoticed until overwhelm hits.
But it wasn’t until recently when a friend observed that I simply walk too fast to keep up with, that I got the wake up call. I started to ponder the difference between action and activation. And my thoughts turned to yoga.
My mat is the best mirror on how I am travelling internally. How easily do I balance? How tight is my pelvis? How heavy is my lift to handstand?
The asanas I practice take the Iyengar approach. This suits me as I like the focused awareness. It sends my mind into my body and helps alleviate my tendency to dissociate. But there is another aspect I have only recently come to appreciate: the length of time holding a pose. This is one of the better measures of my inner peace. How long does my patience last? Of course, at the time, I don’t understand it is patience I am lacking. My mind complains: about the teacher having forgotten he’s left us in the pose; or about the pain in my muscles; the fatigue in my legs. Or simply about the pose itself (I have a few “most disliked”).
“Find the stillness inside the pose,” a former teacher once said, after she had left us so long the class was audibly groaning. “Stop resisting”. It is powerful advice, and, applying it, I have learned to search beyond the pain point to that place of peace and effortlessness. Interestingly, it doesn’t always eliminate the intensity of the stretch, but it does soothe it, or perhaps provide a counterpoint balance.
So my motto this month is to apply the yoga to this challenge and find the stillness in the busyness. Can I write two essays, get away a major project at work, begin plans for renovations, spend a weekend supporting a not-for-profit organisation I am a director of, and eat well, practice yoga, sleep well, walk slowly, breathe? Can I shift my focus from the stress to the ease?
Already, there is some success. This very commitment – writing this blog – has been my first conscious attempt at this. As the deadline has loomed, rather than getting stressed and anxious, I have focused on reminding myself that it will come together, in stillness, at the right time. And so it has. Now back to that essay.