Life Lessons From My Yoga Mat - Part 2 (aka: The Best Laid Plans...)

What's this, you ask? It's Friday! That's when she blogs about books! The world is topsy-turvy and upside-down! So here's the deal. I'd actually planned out exactly what books to write about this week, and then... I didn't finish them. It's been quite a busy week here in Brooklyn, and I just didn't get the reading done that I usually do, or that I'd planned to do. That means that on TUESDAY, when I would have posted this post, you will instead get today's Friday Reads. (Here's a teaser: I reread Lauren Oliver's Delirium and Pandemonium and am about to start the trilogy's closer, Requiem—so you'll get thoughts on the whole batch!) "Tuesday Friday Reads" has a nice ring to it, right?

*   *   *

This past Tuesday, I posted about how steady yoga practice was helping me work on being patient. (Check that out here.) And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that patience wasn't the only benefit. I also wanted to talk about the idea of taking time to be still.

I live in NYC. It's a fast-paced, busy city. I'm a freelance writer and editor, which means I'm juggling several different jobs at any given time. I'm a dancer. I love movement. But all of those things together can mean that I spend my days running around in (metaphorical) circles, frantically trying to keep up with everything on the to-do list. I'm moving, moving, moving, while everyone else in this city is doing the same, swirling around me. Honestly, I thrive on being busy. I often do my best work when I have deadlines and goals and am balancing several different projects. But even being constantly busy with good things can have its downsides.

I'm not always good at being still. There are times when I've had a busy week, and I get to the end of it and it's hard just to sit on the couch and watch a movie—I feel like I should be doing something. So I clean the kitchen. (Which probably needed cleaning, but you see the point.) Or I'll lie awake in bed, mind churning, unable to stop thinking about everything that has to be done. Even when I've accomplished my goals, and I'm home with my wonderful husband, in my comfy clothes, it's hard to turn off the "go go go" mentality and just be still.

Yoga helps.

At the studio where I take class, the instructor often talks for a few minutes before we begin, while we sit, cross-legged, on our mats. Sometimes he talks for more than a few minutes, and it becomes hard to sit still. My body is itching to move. But beyond the physical, it's often a challenge to focus on what he's saying and not use the sitting-still time as an opportunity to let my mind recap my day—what I've done so far, what's ahead on the list. On a good day, I can be still and focused and listen. But it's a challenge.

Sometimes we do a guided meditation or a breath exercise, and it's the same scenario: It's hard to sit still when my body wants to move. It's hard to focus my mind on the task at hand, when there's so much else to think about. Even in savasana at the end of class, when my body is tired from the work we just did and is happy to rest, my mind sometimes doesn't cooperate. I have to think, actively, about not thinking too much. But I've found that when I can really clear out the things that are competing for my attention and just be still, I feel better after class. I've had an actual break from my ever-growing to-do list. I can get back to writing or working with a fresh mind.

How does this manifest off the mat? I've been trying to give myself permission, when the to-do list is done, to actually relax. To sit on the couch and finish that awesome book I'm reading. To watch TV for hours and hours on a Saturday. To not feel guilty or anxious about things that I could be doing, but that honestly can wait. The dishes aren't going anywhere; that email can be sent tomorrow. Everything will get done, and it will get done better and faster if I let myself take real breaks and enjoy the stillness and quiet and calm.

Next up in my yoga blog mini-series: being present. Stay tuned!