Trains of Thought, Derailed

As a yoga teacher, I probably shouldn’t admit that I skip Savasana when I practice on my own.  While “corpse pose” is aptly named because it’s about as physically taxing as pushing daises, I find it more challenging to invite stillness into my practice than to balance on my head.  In the absence of having to concentrate on contorting into a pretzel or reciting an inspiring mantra (e.g., “please don’t fart right now”), Savasana behooves me to clear my mind and observe where my thoughts gravitate.  The mind can be a vulnerable place to explore without the convenience of distractions, especially when uncomfortable emotions or experiences are easier left avoided than processed.  Rather than relishing a moment of respite during the time allotted to Savasana, I tend to grow impatient and preoccupied by my lack of productivity.  I’ll feel the compulsion to accomplish something tangible, even convincing myself to use the time to extend my workout.  I have trouble giving myself permission to slow down when I feel I haven’t “earned the right” to rest.

Having recognized this about myself, I’m trying to spend more time riding out waves of restlessness and observing where my focus drifts.  My first few attempts at mindfulness brought to my attention that my appetite for achievement and productivity supersedes my capacity for self-compassion.  If I subjected others to the pressure I regularly apply to myself, most of my daily interactions would sound like a supercut of Gordon Ramsey’s greatest meltdowns on Hell’s Kitchen…minus the redeeming charm of his British accent.  I also noticed I tend to be more critical of myself when my schedule is particularly busy or stressful. Although I get a boost of self-esteem when I’m generous with my time and attention, sometimes I agree to things I don’t want to do or regard the needs of others more highly than my own out of an aversion to disappointing people.  When I’m spread too thinly, even voluntary activities begin to feel like obligations, and I’m often more concerned about where I’m headed next than enjoying the present.  I’ve learned that when my calendar starts to feel unmanageable, I take solace in regulating other facets of my life to reclaim a sense of control.  Usually, that manifests itself in the form of scrutinizing what I eat and categorizing my food choices as “good” or “bad”.  Assigning value to food in this way can be problematic, especially when my busy schedule inevitably prevents me from adhering to my self-imposed dietary restrictions and I reinforce the cycle of shame by berating myself for another perceived failure.

Until recently, I hadn’t connected the dots between these seemingly unrelated patterns of behavior.  Now that I’ve spent more time observing how my emotions gain momentum and influence my beliefs, I’m more readily equipped to interrupt persistent, inflexible trains of thought.  For example, if I consistently experience resentment after I agree to plans, it’s a sign that I need to work on setting boundaries around my time.  Moreover, with the understanding that old habits die hard and that consistency is more sustainable than perfection, I’d benefit from reacting less judgmentally if I slip-up and say “yes” reflexively when I wish I’d said “no” or if I commit to plans that might require me to eat outside the bounds of what I consider healthy.

Although I’m still inclined to fidget in Savasana, it’s with the newfound perspective that my instinct to fear stagnation and reject imperfection reflects how I’ve been conditioned to think, but my ability to respond to those thoughts with compassion, curiosity, and objectivity is a deeper reflection of my character.