So last time I wrote, I resolved to take my practice off the mat – to see where focusing on the balance between doing and being would take me when I’m not in the yoga studio. And the first thing I’ll tell you is it’s not that easy!
My favourite yoga pose is tree pose. You balance on one leg, the other bent at the knee, foot resting on the balancing leg. Your arms, if you choose, are up in the air, either palms together above your head or, as I prefer, arms up and open, like branches of a tree. We were doing more of this pose recently in my yoga class, apparently because wood is this element of spring (the season we’ve finally entered into). It must work certain areas associated with spring (is it the gall bladder and liver?!), but I can’t quite remember that just now. I assume I love this pose because I’ve always found it easy. And it makes me feel strong and sturdy within myself – and with my arms up and open – victorious as well. How do you react when something great happens – when your team scores a goal? When you’ve really enjoyed a performance? It’s likely your arms go up and you might also jump up and down. (Don’t do that yourself? Watch any sports match and tell me what you see the fans doing….)
Anyway, it’s one of the balancing poses we’ve been doing and I’m loving it. But that’s on the mat and in my yoga class. How am I balancing off the mat? Precariously, I’d say. The first few days of practicing balance off the mat I spent relatively angry. What was balance anyway? Who’s to say that’s what I should be working on? How will I know when I am balanced? Do I need to be balanced all the time? How much is enough? This is my go-to, by the way: get all up in my head and try and figure everything out logically. (This is also my ‘tendency’ – as per Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, I’m a “questioner.” An interesting aside, but I digress....) In terms of balance, is this the best way to balance? I think not.
A few days later, I started to get really busy at work. It’s the end of the year, so everything’s needing finished up. And there’s a deadline. Now, this is actually another area in which I thrive. So, after initially being completely overwhelmed for a couple of days, struggling to figure out where I would find the time to complete all this work, I finally sat down with my diary and worked out a reasonable and achievable plan. That’s when my focus on balance up in my head disappeared. All those questions? Well, I didn’t have time for them now. Instead, I started implementing my work plan.
And that’s when I started to find glimpses of balance – balance that hadn’t been there before. Engrossed in my work tasks, after about an hour and a half or two hours, I would notice my shoulders feeling tense. So I stopped, got up and walked around. I maybe put a load of laundry in, took the garbage out or went along to a colleague’s office to see how they were getting on, but the point is, I stopped. I tend not to do this. When I have something to get done, it generally doesn’t matter how my body is reacting, I plough through until I’m done. These breaks not only helped my body readjust, I believe they helped me focus more fully on the task and allowed me to finish quicker. And if I wasn’t finishing these tasks more quickly (I didn’t really have solid evidence to compare), I can guarantee that I finished my tasks feeling much happier, both in body and in mind, than I usually would. More balanced? Tick!
Given a realistic plan, I was also able to enjoy parts of my day that were not solely focused on work. I got my food shopping done. I made a couple of nice meals. I attended a fund-raiser and went for a nice dinner with my husband. I wasn’t finished my work, but I was confident enough in my plan that I did not have to worry about my timeframe slipping because I was not doing enough. Am I finished my work yet? No. Will I finish it with enough time to spare? Definitely. More balanced? Tick!
As you may have noticed from the things I’ve said I’m doing, I also seem to be finding a better balance between work stuff (which I do actually find enjoyable) and other stuff – ‘life-stuff’, which I find equally enjoyable. So I’m balancing my time more effectively and getting to enjoy things I would normally put off: helping my husband plant potatoes, cooking, reading. And when I say I’m ‘enjoying’ these things, I am truly enjoying them. When I am doing these things – even if it’s laundry – I find I am able to focus solely on that what I am doing. I am not (as one would normally find me) thinking or worrying about all the other things I need to do. When I’m cooking, I’m cooking and enjoying that; when I’m cleaning, I’m cleaning and enjoying that. When I’m working, I’m working and, yes, enjoying that. A better balance? Tick!
So three clear steps seemed to have helped:
Taking regular breaks;
Making a realistic (and balanced!) plan;
Staying in the moment as best I can.
And I believe there is more. Underlying these practical steps, I think there are other things helping me to achieve more balance off the mat:
I am noticing more. Whether this is noticing how my body feels or what emotions I am experiencing, taking a step back to notice what is happening helps. It helps me to choose what I want to do in that moment.
I am accepting more. When I notice something, I can choose to fight it or I can choose to accept it. Generally speaking, when I choose to accept whatever is happening, whether or not I like it, I find that it passes more quickly. This is particularly the case when what I am experiencing is not positive. Those questions about balance? Once I noticed how angry I felt and how difficult it was to actually answer those questions, it felt a whole lot easier to let the questions go – and be able to move on to other things (like the huge pile of work waiting for me!).
This is also the case about balance itself – I am accepting when things do not feel balanced. Don’t get me wrong. There are times when I’ve powered through. Yes, I did work on the weekends – both days. But these were choices I made – choices that didn’t have an impact on my loved ones. I was not working away when my husband wanted to get outside and plant the potatoes. I took a break to be able to Skype with my parents. I still got most of my chores done at the weekend. In the past, I have felt resentful when I had to work at the weekends or work after hours. More recently, when I make the choice to work more, I have not let that choice negatively affect those things that are most important to me – my people and myself. Equally, there have been times when I sat around doing absolutely nothing. You might think that these were the times I enjoyed ‘being’, but let me tell you, playing solitaire on my phone or vegging out in front of the tele is not necessarily my idea of being. If I’m zoning out, I’m not really paying attention to anything that’s happening around me. So at those times, I wasn’t doing or being, and if this happened for extended periods of time, I also don’t think I was that balanced. But that was ok, because that was what I was choosing to do in that moment. I don’t think I can always be balanced, but I can accept those times I find balance as well as those times I don’t. Being accepting of this makes it easier for me to try again later.
I am choosing balance. Everyone makes hundreds of choices about their lives every day. Previously, when I had work to get done, I would choose to sit down and do it until it got done. It didn’t matter how long it took. Now (especially now when I have a realistic plan and an end in sight), I feel able to make different choices that will help me feel better in the long term. I can choose to take a break because I trust myself and the plan I’ve made. And, as I’ve explained above, it hasn’t taken long at all to see the benefits when I choose balance.
So I’m going to keep going. If nothing else, this question of doing versus being has brought me an interesting challenge. And I’m enjoying that challenge of finding balance off the mat almost as much as I’m enjoying my tree poses on the mat. Feel free to join me!