To paraphrase Ghandi, if I wake up to a busy day, I don’t meditate for one hour … I meditate for three hours.
What happens when we place ourselves, bodies and minds, under too much pressure for too long without taking a break? We burn out. And what does burn out look like? Fatigue, anxiety, depression, injury, chronic or acute illness and/relationship breakdown, and at the extreme end full breakdown possibly tipping into violence.
In our society it seems that maximising stress and busy-ness is every man, woman and child’s extreme sport of choice. We work longer hours, play competitive sport from increasingly young ages, party into the small hours, combine parenthood and career, while striving for the success and/or income, body weight, car, house, the number of zeros on our income that will make us feel like we’ve made it.
So how do we do it? How do we have it all and not burn-out? Is one holiday a year enough? Maybe an 8-week course in mindfulness will solve all the stress we carry around in our body/mind complex. Maybe a weekly yoga class or a round of golf or a dance class. Maybe we could cycle to work, or walk on a treadmill while on a conference call or reading our emails?
Isn’t that enough?
Well, maybe all of those things are great places to start, improving your state of mind and body but are they really where the daily stresses of life occur?
Stress, anxiety and fatigue occur in the moment life is being lived and ignoring the levels of mental, emotional and physical exertion we are experiencing puts us at great risk of tipping us and our loved ones over the brink. And sometimes the aforementioned tools can deceive us into ignoring our signs because we can feel so much better when we come out of the activity and convince ourselves that once class a week is enough.
I have seen yoga teachers who teach encourage students to relax or meditate while ignoring their own practice because they are too busy and consequently suffer burn-out; or cyclists/sports enthusiasts who become so competitive that it creates as much road-rage and stress as sitting in a traffic jam.
And then what’s the first thing to go when we get busy? I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “I can’t come to class, I’m too busy”. When coming to class would be the best thing to do for their own wellbeing and productivity.
So, how do we do it? How do we reduce the stress we experience in everyday life and prevent our systems giving up and going for a long lie down?
One possibility is to practice mindfulness, relaxation and meditation in your everyday life – in the car, while you eat, before a meeting, after a meeting (sometimes even during a meeting – toilets), every hour (set an alarm), stretch at your desk, wriggle your fingers and toes at traffic lights, take some to breathe at the end of a task, break between projects and slow your breath which will slow your heart-beat and enable you to increase your productivity.
Let me give you an example. Recently I moved house. No biggie you might think, except that I have recently started postgraduate studies in yoga therapy, continued teaching my full class and therapy schedule, participated in a leadership program, had a two-week gap between moving out and moving in during which we had nowhere to stay, and with my partner made the somewhat questionable decision of doing all the cleaning and moving out of the ‘old house’ with a difficult landlord. Oh, and did I mention I have Multiple Sclerosis?
How did I do it and maintain my sanity, health and good humour? I meditated, yoga-ed and breathed, not just in the morning or night, but all through the day. Every time I finished packing a box I took a few moments to breathe, each time I carried something heavy I took the time to breathe and contract my pelvic floor. I stretched my body at every opportunity. Nearly a week of 13 hour days of hard, dirty work interspersed with yoga, enabled by yoga.
My partner and I kept talking and laughing, we looked for creative solutions, like camping and AirBnB for accommodation options. Eventually, I let go of thinking I had to continue studying and writing and being superwoman, and simply focussed on what was in front of me.
The result was that even when we found ourselves in a camping ground on the south coast in the rain without tent poles or gas bottle or light, I didn’t stress or shout. We innovated – camping gazebo with tent lining tied to the frame of the gazebo, firewood had made it into the car so that took care of cooking and, well, who needs light when you have stars?
My mind was spacious and relaxed, and I had looked after my body by my practice in the moment, and my meditation had allowed me to let go of what couldn’t do and focus on what I could. I had survived more physical work than I had done for nearly ten years and thrived.
Two months after moving in and we are happily settling in. I have expanded my idea of what’s possible by increasing my personal practice, a potentially very stressful few months has had no impact on my MS condition and reduced my need to be superwoman, while reminding me of the importance of living my practice.
You can do this too, with the smallest of adjustments and the simplest practices. Eventually you will look at your lifestyle choices and become more discriminating – you might be able to have it all but do you really need to?
Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click on www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8pNE2Qpul0 for Part 1 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SatGo9hV6I for Part 2, and be inspired.