I came back from the yoga retreat in the Czech Republic feeling relaxed and happy. Maybe a little too relaxed as my drive to write entirely disappeared.
The perfect balance of scheduled activities and free time at the retreat left me a lot of thinking space, which included pondering my ambition to write a book. I’ve been mulling over writing about breath and breathing from a variety of perspectives,1 but haven’t buckled down and gotten much of anything done.
No solid outline, nothing drafted, just a bit of research, some scattered ideas, and a few bookmarked websites. My initial goal was to have an outline complete by the end of 2013, but almost 10 months have passed and I have found all sorts of other activities to occupy my time.
With the space to think about my nebulous dream to write a non-fiction book as enjoyable and informative as Mary Roach’s Stiff, I realized that I don’t have the necessary ambition – at least, not right now. I’m unwilling to muster the motivation and discipline to make it happen, which is making me feel guilty and delinquent. Those feelings, in turn, make me less willing to commit to writing and less likely to produce anything meaningful.
So, I’m tossing the idea of writing a book overboard. I’m abandoning my thesis on breath and breathing… and letting go of guilt.
Perhaps I’ll circle back to the idea of writing a book later on, but for now I’ll content myself with posting travelogues and recipes!
1 Possible perspectives on breath and breathing:
- physical – drawing on my own experiences with blocked breathing and nasal surgery
- spiritual – informed by my religious studies and yoga background
- athletic – tapping a network of athletic experts and high-level athletes for insight
I am not a bucket-list kind of person. I do not have lists of things to do before I die, must-see vacation destinations, or challenges to tackle.
I like working towards accomplishments, but often find more satisfaction in the doing than in the completing. As I move farther from the A-typer I used to be, I’m happier being absorbed in a moment. Instead of thinking about what happens at the end, I’m learning to let myself be part of the process and stop devoting mental energy to stressing about what might/should/could happen next.
Most of the incredible and memorable moments in my life happen when I’m not looking for them. I don’t see the wonderfulness coming and couldn’t possibly plan for it.
Our recent vacation to London, Paris, and Munich was mostly without checklists. The things we really wanted to do (eat at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London, climb the Montmartre hill, drive the Autobahn), we didn’t need to write on a list to make sure they’d happen. We obviously needed to plan for the trip, but didn’t need to create false pressure to accomplish things while on vacation.
That’s my problem with bucket-lists: if something is that important, it’s going to get done regardless of being on a list and the list itself shifts emphasis to ticking off items rather than experiencing life and allowing the universe to unfold. Checking something off a bucket-list seems like getting a present that you specifically asked for; it’s nice, but somehow less special. I’d rather go list-free and collect experiences in a way that seems more like getting that perfect present you didn’t even know you wanted; the surprise makes it all the more delightful and special.
The most incredible parts of our trip were amazing experiences I didn’t see coming. Sitting on the grass drinking cider in Greenwich. Playing foosball at a pub in Finsbury Park. Sliding into a pew for mass at Sacré-Cœur in Paris, while my husband sat on the steps and got to see the astonishing synchronization of vendors in front of the basilica scooping up their goods as the police approached and settling back into hawking as soon as the cops left. Getting caught in a thunderstorm after dinner at a brasserie. Making French toast with Canadian maple syrup in Munich. Chatting in German with an incredibly nice church lady before lighting a candle for an ailing relative. Stumbling upon an excellent family-run Bavarian restaurant and finding the best beer of the trip on our last night.
None of these experiences would have made a bucket-list, but they were what made the trip really great. They were unforeseen and un-plan-able… which made them all the more wonderful!
This article about being a Yoga sinner from Recovering Yogi really stuck a cord with me. The author/yoga teacher suggests doing yoga poses while watching trashy TV (Millionaire Matchmaker, to be precise) and her student responds: ”Doesn’t that kind of go against the idea of yoga?”
I think the idea of yoga depends a lot on the motivation behind it.
Some people practice yoga almost purely for physical reasons, some find spiritual solace or emotional well-being. Some just like the chance to lay still in relaxation at the end of a class without anyone poking them. These motivations vary greatly, can change frequently, and certainly affect how students practice.
For example: I generally like tuning into my breathing, letting my brain quiet, and connecting with my body during a yoga practice. Recently, however, I’ve been feeling off and haven’t been comfortable dwelling in my own head. A quiet meditative yoga practice will not work for me right now – I need something to get me out of my thoughts. So I’ve been ‘cheating’ and doing gentle yin postures at home while listening to Vinyl Cafe podcasts.
I’m getting the physical benefits of stretching and relaxing my muscles, but instead of coming into a meditative state (which probably wouldn’t happen right now anyway), I get to escape into the Vinyl Cafe world and laugh hysterically as Stuart recounts Dave’s adventures taking care of six dogs. I suppose I could even call it laughter yoga 😉
‘Cheating’ and being comfortable in my yoga practice is far more important than trying to force myself into something that isn’t going to work.
A dear friend gave me an awesome magnet a while back (shown on the side of our fridge above) that says “I totally cheat at yoga.” It reminds me to wholeheartedly embrace that idea and ensure my practice suits whatever motivation is getting me onto the mat in the first place!
The mid-point of the 40-Day Meditation Challenge (and my corresponding ‘dry’ spell) was Sunday and with it I felt a dip in my commitment. Not to completing the remaining days of sat kryia or going without alcohol, but to exercising willpower in other areas of my life.
I’d chewed my fingernails down to nubs, lost focus in my personal yoga practice, given up any pretense of resisting low-quality chocolate, and settled into a couch potato groove. My rationale was that my willpower was wrung out after letting the wine glasses stay on the shelves night after night and holding my arms above my head for 11 minutes each day.
But is willpower finite?
Psychology Today has a blog devoted entirely to the science of willpower, which explores all kinds of theories and research about self-control. An article on The Great Willpower Debate sums up the question like this:
Is willpower like a muscle that can only do so many biceps curls before it wears out or is it a powerful mental idea that can give you almost unlimited energy ?
I’ve elected to believe in limitless willpower and throw out the excuse that my self-control is exhausted. The Great Willpower Debate concludes with the idea that meaningfulness is an important part of motivation. If we can answer why we want to exercise willpower and make a change in a compelling way, we’re more likely to be able to tap into our self-control.
Being healthy (e.g. practicing yoga and not eating crap!) is important to me, so I’ll file the remaining rough edges of my fingernails, get onto my yoga mat, eat food I really enjoy (rather than whatever’s around), turn off the TV more often… and do 16 more days of sat kryia. And on February 12 I’ll see if I’ve revised my opinion on whether willpower can be exhausted!