Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Putting on the Brakes
Putting on the Brakes by Annie Felice
I dragged myself to a yoga class this morning, and with the first few poses in class, I sensed that this was going to be challenging. My body felt much tighter than usual, I had not hydrated properly before class, and my stomach had definitely not digested the breakfast I ate too close to the start of class time. I found myself peering at the clock during class, squinting my eyes to make out the numbers that would tell me how many more minutes of torture, er…I mean bliss, were left in the hour. I heard my internal debate about how much of a scene I would make if I scooped up my mat from the front row and just left class. I noticed myself anxiously looking forward to the next sequence of poses, hoping that it would be easier than the current sequence of poses. And then something made me stop in my tracks. My wishing away of time left in class, planning escape strategies, and fast forwarding to the end of class were not making my experience better –in fact, they were making it worse. I committed to staying until the end of class. To get myself present, I focused my attention on bodily sensations and tried to approach these sensations with curiosity and not judgment or annoyance. Instead of labeling my hips and hamstrings as tight, I simply acknowledged that they felt different. Instead of zooming into the past and wishing that I had not eaten breakfast so soon before yoga, I took extra slow deep breaths to soothe my stomach. And instead of criticizing myself for not making it to yoga class very often recently and feeling the effects in my practice, I reminded myself that I have been busy doing other worthwhile things lately. Did my decision to “get present” mean that I wasn’t relieved when class was over? No. But did I make the most of the remaining time in class? Yes.
It took me 30 minutes to notice I needed to “put on the brakes,” meaning take a few deep breaths and realize that my racing thoughts had taken over. Part of the practice of mindfulness is becoming increasingly able to sense when we need to “put on the brakes,” and without mindfulness, it seems nearly impossible to predict when we really need to slow down and maybe even come to a complete stop. Ever had a conversation and felt yourself getting increasingly upset and reactive, listening more to the chaotic thoughts in your head than the actual conversation happening, and next thing you know you snapped at the other person, said something you did not mean or meant to say in a different way, or reacted in a way that was disproportionate to the tone of the conversation? That’s one example of a situation in which your thoughts and emotions accelerated you quickly to a very escalated state, and mindfulness unfortunately flew out the window. Had you noticed what was happening, you might have put on the brakes, stayed present for the actual conversation occurring, and responded in a way that was not reactive or impulsive.
As we all know from driving or observing others driving, we cannot just put on the brakes whenever and expect that we will save ourselves from a collision. We must realize that we should use the brakes before we actually need them. Depending on the person and the situation, we all have different cues that alert us that we need to slow down...shallow breathing, racing thoughts, zooming into the past or future…the list goes on. So, now the task is noticing those cues. Having doubts you could ever be so mindful/present/centered/objective/etc. to notice? No need to worry. We all have that capability because we all have a true Self or Wise One inside of us that is the source of that wisdom, clarity, and stillness that we search for. As my yoga teacher reminded everyone at the end of class, “Notice this clarity and calm you feel right now. It’s always there…it’s just a matter of accessing it.”