I’m blessed to live very close to the beach, but it was a warm and busy holiday, and I had to give up on finding parking. I was frustrated and annoyed, because I love my beach walks. Since it’s a holiday, the gym was closed too. And it was far too hot to take my alternate walk. So I pulled out my yoga mat and retreated to the backyard for a self-directed yoga session.
My heart wasn’t in it, and neither was my mind, but I decided to trust the process and just engage in the practice. I didn’t feel like sitting, standing, or, quite frankly, doing much of anything but Shavasana (corpse pose). But I persevered. I thought my restless mind must be a symptom of internal imbalance – I felt like I must be DOING something, in spite of it being hot, in spite of not being in the mood, in spite of it being a holiday.
I gave myself a push and decided to do Vrksasana (tree pose), which is one of my least favorite poses, because I’m not good at it. I’m strong and I’m flexible, but I’ve always had a problem with balance, and tree pose requires balance. As with most yoga poses, there are many possible adaptations, and the underlying lesson is always tolerance of what IS in this moment.
In some classes, the teacher will suggest placing a finger on the wall to promote stability. I didn’t have a wall, but I had a huge, beautiful avocado tree with a large canopy and a readily accessible knotty knob, conveniently situated just above my stubborn head. So I touched the tree, and the tree stabilized me. Nice adaptation!
As I was lying on the ground, looking up at the tree’s expansive canopy, I was thinking about the nature of the tree. It’s a great tree. It provides plenty of shade, as long as it’s not over-pruned. Some years it gifts me with four avocadoes, and some years a few hundred of the most delicious, creamy, organic Fuertes you can imagine.
It does what it wants, without malice. The tree is heavy, sturdy, perhaps even stubborn. It doesn’t change much over time – it gets a little bigger, a little smaller, a bit more fruitful, or perhaps not so productive. It continues on its path, affected by the elements and its human caretakers to be sure, but essentially unwavering. It expects nothing more of itself. We expect nothing more of it. How lovely. The tree is simply the tree. My tree – my pose – is also simply my tree. Nothing more, nothing less. No judgment from the pose; all the judgment is mine. The focus on imperfection is mine.
As is customary, I ended with Shavasana, a pose that requires complete relaxation and emptiness of mind. It too is a lovely pose, no more or less than the tree pose. And finally, a silent Namaste (“I bow to the divine in you.”) to my partner, the tree, for its guidance and inspiration.
The term “active relaxation” probably sounds like an oxymoron – you’re thinking, “but isn’t relaxation supposed to be about doing nothing?” or, “If I’m being active, then I’m not relaxing – right!?” But active relaxation is a concept, a choice, and a practice that leads to stress relief in a way that lounging in front of the television can never do.
Decades ago, relaxation meant sitting on the front porch with your family, chatting with the neighbors, or kicking back on the couch and reading a good book. All of these activities were human-paced, not machine-paced. We are living in a time when fax machines are already obsolete, and e-mail is “so 1999,” according to social media expert Lorrie Thomas. Every spare moment is filled with checking out the latest business and personal tidbits via your smart phone, or sending out tweets – little time-fillers that contribute to a sense of being rushed, frantic, and always needing to be productive.
Active relaxation is consistent with the idea of being productive, yet counter to it. What do I mean by active relaxation? I mean, choosing activities that contribute to a deep sense of well-being, centeredness, calm, and good health. Yoga, meditation, listening to relaxing music, a lengthy solo walk, or actively connecting with someone you care about in person, without the distraction of your cell phone. And these activities need to be a priority in your life – yes, they even need to be scheduled!
What happens when you choose leisure over productivity? The shift in activity, from hyper-social and seemingly ultra-connected, back to the limitations of the moment, will shock and surprise your brain in a way that rewires it over time. Remember, the human brain evolves much more slowly than technology. And just because we have access to warp-speed communications does not mean that we need to be engaged in them 100% of the time. The brain craves novelty, and responds well to it – and nowadays, that novelty is going to come from periodic engagement in slow, concentrated activities. Although the brain has infinite capacities, in this case, slow is better.
Sounds scary setting aside all of the devices and activities we’re addicted to, to just be with ourselves or one another? Start small, start slow, and experiment with what feels comfortable to you. As little as five minutes per day of simply turning off the phone, closing your eyes, and paying attention to your breath will begin to re-attune your mind to its healthy natural rhythms.
Everyone’s telling you to “just relax and you’ll get pregnant,” or “take a vacation and it’ll happen.” Isn’t that a huge pressure, besides the basic fact that getting pregnant hasn’t proven to be so easy for you? Getting pregnant can be so frustrating when it involves medical procedures, carefully timed intercourse, self-tests and monitoring, medication, and the like. The good news is, Continue reading