20 signs you could use some yoga

1.  Relatively small inconveniences, like not being able to find a pen, make you feel like popping an artery.

2.  Your toe is itchy but you can’t reach it to scratch.

3.  You haven’t done a poo for three days and when you do it takes three hours.

4.  You continue to engage in behaviours that you KNOW make you feel bad (like eating the WHOLE block of chocolate or picking arguments with people or watching Jersey Shore).

5.  You have the posture of a buzzard.

6.  You can never find your keys.

7.  You spend a lot of time looking into mirrors.

8.  You spend a lot of time avoiding looking into mirrors.

9.  You frequently say yes when you want to say no.

10.  You always say no.

11.  Your morning tongue is coated in a white substance that looks suspiciously like perkin’s paste.

12.  You hold the world record for how many colds and flus one person can catch in one year.

13.  Your Facebook status is a perpetual rant about how much life sucks and all the ways you hate humankind.

14.  Being forced to sit in a quiet space with only your own company agitates you to the brink of spontaneous combustion.

15.  You can’t sit cross-legged.

16.  You recoil from hugs.

17.  You often find yourself smiling only on the outside.

18.  You feel unable to change.

19.  You can’t possibly leave a list at number 19 because odd numbers in the context of making lists leaves you with a feeling of profound uneasiness.

20.

Copyright © The Yoga Experiment, 2012

Body, mind, gollum…

Image

I’ve been thinking recently, it’s interesting how the human body reflects mental and emotional states.  Given that the majority of what we think and feel is communicated non-verbally – through our body language – the idea that we hold onto emotion and mental tensions on a physical level is not a mind-blowing revelation.   If we’re having a bad day, we might not hold our head up as high; our chest might cave inward in an attitude of defeat, or of protection; our posture retreats.  On days we’re feeling glorious and impenetrable, we might puff out our chests; walk taller; take greater strides.

Walk with me.

When I was training as a yoga student, I unmasked a previously-hidden fact.   I have always been aware, in a peripheral kind of way, that my posture isn’t fantastic.  But it wasn’t until one of my fellow students photographed my body from the side for a postural appraisal assignment that the reality hit home: I have the posture of a buzzard.

Imagine: head juts forward quite a bit more than is anatomically necessary for a standard human being; the shoulders slump forward, melancholy, as if somebody kicked their puppy.  I look like some forlorn creature slouching around the place with nothing much to live for.  Oh hello Gollum, how are you today?

If I’m honest, my body is an emotional inventory of my life; a snapshot of my mental self-image.  It says, among other things, ‘I am afraid’.

I’m reminded of another phenomenon I experienced during my yoga studies.  Whenever I did shoulder rolls, I felt angry and wanted to stop.  Weird!!??  I’d understand if I was frothing at the mouth during some kind of challenging upside-down- pretzel pose but shoulder rolls?  Gimme a break.  Rolling the shoulders is about as innocuous as taking a breath (unless you’re asthmatic… or have emphysema… bad analogy, forget that one).  But there it was, every time, rage bubbling up from under the surface.

A scientific mind searches for scientific explanations.  But I didn’t have a completely water-tight one, so I blended a little bit of science with a little bit of yoga knowledge, with a little bit of intuition and a chunk of life experience, and came up with a hypothesis.

There are three types of reactions to danger in the human body – one is to fight, one is to flee, and one is to freeze.  I’m a freezer.  I lack the faith in my own strength to either fight or flee; perhaps I lack the self-worth.  Maybe if I stand still enough and squeeze my eyes shut tightly, the cave lion will simply not see me and continue on his way.  Make the body look small, yes!  Now there’s an idea!  Roll the shoulders down, huddle in!  I’m adapting!!

When in danger, in any mode, the muscles in the human body tense up – this is how the muscles prepare to either fight back or to run away.  When you fight or when you run, this fear energy moves, it propels the body into action.  When you freeze, this energy freezes with you.

This is how I hold it.  I hunch the shoulders up and forward, for protection.   I have made a habit of holding my fear this way, mostly unconsciously.  I am always looking out for the cave lion (head jutting forward buzzard-style – is he behind THAT rock?).  This anxiety is temperamental; it was there when I came into the world (hypotheses around this one pending).

When I attempt to roll the tension out of the shoulders, the emotions release.  In the development of human emotion, fear gives rise to many strong secondary emotions, including anger (others include jealousy…hate… sorrow… ).  Shoulder rolls = Jen aka Cujo.  The upside is that this releasing is not a bad thing.  It feels ghastly in the moment but as it finds expression, the tension eventually subsides.  And I don’t even have to punch a cave lion in the face!  Hooray!

So, thank you yoga.  You are my release.  You are my mirror.  You may have shown me that I am a buzzard but you give me hope yet – that by watching the body, by gently working with it, I can change my mind.

Copyright © The Yoga Experiment, 2012

THE SHUTTING UPSIDE – a post for incorrigible natterers

Do you have one of those mouths that just won’t quit?  Does that tongue of yours keeping flapping up and down even when you can SEE the person you’re talking to has switched off and gone to a more interesting place?   Have they nicknamed you Talkus Interruptus at the office because no one can get a word in edgewise?

Welcome to the fold!  Come, my friend, sit down.  Let’s see who can get the most words out in five minutes.

I’m patting you’re hand in empathy right now, actually.  Because I know what it’s like to be stuck in that talking loop, where it seems that a young infant on red cordial has somehow gotten behind the wheel of your mouth and it’s careening out of control.  It’s my modus operandi.

Could you control the talking if you tried?  You might be able to – but would you implode?  Because consider this – compulsive talking is less about actual TALKING than it is about ENERGY.  The energy of compulsive talking is EXCITEMENT and we need to put it somewhere – if not in chattering, then perhaps in walking quickly, or brushing our teeth hurriedly, or rushing between daily tasks and activities.  Excitement is a form of ANXIETY – even though we might consider it a positive form of anxiety, it has the same effects as any anxiety has on the body.  It activates the sympathetic nervous system.  When this happens, the body functions in ‘reactive’ mode – the body floods with adrenaline, the muscles tense up, the mind is hyper-alert, ready for take-off.  Now, this is a handy mode in which to function… if you need to run away from a cave lion.  But if you’re just talking to your pal over a cup of tea, you don’t need to have the adrenaline switched on.  When you constantly exist in excitement, you exhaust the body.  Worse, you condition the body to function in a state of excitability or ‘reactivity’ and it starts ‘unlearning’ how to exist in rest mode – which is vital to restoring and balancing all of the bodily systems (like digestion and sleep) and to creating overall health.

In yoga, this excitable energy is known as ‘rajas’.  Rajasic energy comes in very handy when we need to take action and get things done in life.  But when it dominates, it can lead to an incessant, compulsive kind of drive that creates tensions and imbalances in the body and mind and prevents us from accessing an experience of calmness and clarity of perception.  Being caught up in rajas is like being caught in the eye of a tornado – you become ungrounded and dizzy from all the spinning around.

So how do we tame this wild rajas animal so that it becomes our beloved pet that sits when we tell it to and comes when we ask it to?  How do we create a MODERATE, balanced energy that allows us to communicate and function in a state of calmness?

A good place to start is simply to WATCH.  Notice the sensations occurring in your body when your mouth or actions are motoring at high speed.  Is there a tight ball of tension in the tummy or the throat?  Are your shoulders cranked up around your ears?  Do you feel as if someone injected lemon sherbert directly into your bloodstream?  Are your ears aching (oh no, hang on, that’s the ears of the person you’re talking to… ;)).  Or is there some other feeling?  Simply NOTICE, without judgement, without the need to change anything.

And then BREATHE.  Take a slow breath through the nostrils and guide it deep into the abdomen.  Then let it out – oh what the hell, let it out with a BIG SIGH.  Do this a few times, or many times, until you sense the body relaxing.  Repeat this process, next time you notice those feelings of excitement manifesting in the body.

Congratulations – you just activated your parasympathetic nervous system.  Your body is now at rest, oxygen is flowing where it needs to, adrenaline is subsiding, your stomach can now digest that cup of tea (and your listener can digest what you are saying to them).  The young infant on red cordial is sleeping peacefully and you are back in control of the wheel.

Of course, there are many more yogic practices you can employ to deepen this effect of calming the excitable energy in the body.  We’ll get to those in good time.  For the moment… the simple acts of WATCHING and BREATHING is enough.  Now… if only I could apply my own advice…

Happy Talking. 😀

© The Yoga Experiment, 2012

 The Yoga Experiment, 2012

Can making your bed change your mindset?

What does making the bed have to do with the mind??  What preposterous nonsense is this?

Making the bed might seem like a trivial activity in the broad scope of life but what if we supposed that the smallest actions can create profound effects on the state of the mind?

Let’s explore this idea through the unmade bed.  The unmade bed is dishevelled.  The sheets are tangled.  The pillows are wayward.  We leave our bed this way in the morning, to come back to sleep in at night.  As the mornings and nights pass by, the unmade bed becomes more dishevelled.  The sheets are now turned sideways.  The mattress is exposed.  A pillow seems to have permanently made it to the floor.  The task of making the bed now seems so labour-intensive that we give up on it all together.  Perhaps we have not even noticed the state of our bed.  Perhaps we don’t care.

If we were to stop for a moment and compare the unmade bed to the state of our mind, could we find parallels?  Is the mind cluttered with worries or concerns or problems to solve?  Do we typically feel disorganised?  Do we find ourselves habitually feeling confused or overwhelmed by all the things we need to do in our days (dishevelled)?  Do we view life as chaotic and largely beyond control?  Or have we broken our connection with ourselves and the world around us?  Do we find ourselves making lots of mistakes, being forgetful or absent-minded?  Do we fail to be PRESENT?  Or are we in a state of apathy, where few things seem worth the effort?  Do we have a ‘why bother’ attitude to life?

In yoga, maintaing tidiness and order in our external environments facilitates tidiness and order in our minds.  When the external environment is cluttered, the senses are overloaded and the mind absorbs the clutter.  A cluttered mind struggles to think clearly; it reacts to problems impulsively; it fosters negativity.  When the effort of the mind is on sifting through all the clutter, it is unable to connect with a deeper experience of peace, intuition, and wisdom.  Like the sheets of the unmade bed, the mind becomes tangled in itself.

When we make our bed, we are creating order in our environment.  We are cleaning and clearing our physical space.  By doing this, we give the mental space a chance to follow.  When the mind is uncluttered, we find ourselves approaching life and all its challenges with a sense of calmness and clarity.  Our attitude becomes positive and light; all the things that typically bother us cease to seem so serious.  Our attitude towards people becomes open and friendly.  We feel greater control over our lives.  We’ve cleansed the inner turmoil.

Making the bed might not solve ALL of life’s problems.  But it can be used in daily life as a metaphor for clearing the mind.

It might be worth a mention that making the bed does not mean making the perfect, wrinkle-free bed with professionally-ironed sheets and hospital corners (that kind of need too reflects a conflicted mind – more on that another time!!).  It just means getting up in the morning (or whenever) and creating an intention to clear your space – to start your day with a clean slate.  Maybe try it and see what you notice.

For the sake of experiment – what does your bed look like right at this minute and how would you describe your state of mind?

© The Yoga Experiment, 2012