Just before breaking for the holidays I had a coffee with one of my graduate students. During our meeting, he asked about how many pieces of writing he needed to complete in order to be competitive on the job market. My answer to him was a bit of a platitude, but also a reframing of the question.
"Writers write," I told him. By which I meant that he was better off figuring out how to cultivate a regular writing habit for himself that would sustain him over a number of years, rather than setting a goal of an article or two and trying to check those boxes.
Recently, I've had opportunity to reflect on how I might follow my own advice a bit better when I am out in the world.
Like many this holiday season, I spent some time during this break standing in a line at the post office. On the second of my two trips of the season, I became aware of my tendency while standing in line--smartphone out, seeking stimulation.
When I do preliminary internet research on the topic, I find statistics which claim that we spend anywhere between 6 months of our lives to 10 years (this seems like an exaggeration to me) waiting in lines. With the addition of modern technology, it seems safe to imagine that this time is spent on one's smart phone, alieviating the painful waiting.
Given that I'm a line waiting person for 6 months of my life, that makes me want to reconsider how I do my line waiting. As I've noted before, checking email and facebook can have an anxiety-increasing and happyness depleting effect: we actually hold our breath when we check email (email apnea) and we make false comparisons between our lives and others' when we check facebook (Ugh, I am waiting in line, everyone else is drinking Mai Tais at costume parties and hugging puppies).
One of my simple resolutions this New Year is to change my line waiting habit and reclaim those 6 months or more for the person I would perfer to be: a yogi and a writer. To cultivate the writing opportunity that line waiting presents, I'll be tossing a small notebook into my purse, or, for situations in which I can anticipate waiting (the doctor's office, DMV, etc.), I'll bring pages to copy edit. My other choice is to focus on breathing, which I chose to do during my second holiday post office trip. Simply counting my inhalation and exhalation and gradually working from a breath cycle of 3 counts on both inhalation and exhalation to one of 8 counts converted the line waiting experience from one of gathering frustration to a calming activity.
What other ideas do people have for improving the way we spend these days of our lives?
Among other things, this time of year can be challenging because it is a time of great expectations. We have expectations for what time with family will be like, expectations for how restful/productive days off will be, expectations for gifts, and so on. For those on an academic calendar, these holiday time expectations are joined be a series of end-of-semester related expectations, grades, course evaluations, confronting tasks that were (or were not) completed over the semester's run.
The emotional partner to expectation is very often disappointment. Things often don't turn out the way we imagine them in our heads, and even if things turn out well, or fine, the failure to match up to expectation can make the good or the fine feel miserable.
Ram Dass's old title Be Here Now is a good reminder for this time of year. Expectation and its quick curdling into disappointment are ways of not appreciating the now.
Failing to appreciate the now can also be devastating in its aftermath--where did the break go, why didn't I enjoy my time with family?, I'm not ready to go back to work!
While it doesn't solve all things, a simple gratitude practice can help temper expectation and put focus on the fine or good things worth appreciating.
Here's a little pose and mantra to give a try:
1. Get into a comfortable child's position, bottom resting on heels (or a pillow, if your bottom doesn't reach your heels)
2. Rather than placing palms down on the floor (as is traditional), flip the palms up to take a gesture of humility
3. As you inhale, think, "I inhale gratitude; as you exhale, think, "I exhale expectation"
4. Repeat for at least a minute
5. Apply throughout the holiday season
Frustration with Pop Yoga--Thinking Ahimsa and Satya after Mike Brown and Eric Garner
This post has a different flavor than previous posts and reflects my struggle with how people in my communities respond (or fail to respond) to recent news events. As an academic and a yogi, my social media world is sometimes populated by strange, competing notions of the proper way to see and respond to the world .
In the wake of the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, the failure to indict those responsible for their killing (even when video evidence is available), and criticisms of protestors as “destructive” or “not helping,” I find myself frustrated with both communities.
On the one hand, I find myself rankling at what seems to be a contest among academics to appear the most properly outraged. A wiser (and quieter) friend has suggested putting money where one’s mouth is and making donations to the NAACP (link below).
What I find more troubling, however, is the relative silence on the part of the popular yoga news feeds (yoganonymous, etc.) that fill my stream. Instead, popular yoga remains resolutely focused on the self—bringing peace to one’s own mind (certainly of value), strengthening the body (again, of value), and what yoga outfits to purchase (of more questionable value). What I don’t see, however, is the moving of these insights outward to larger society. And this is where I feel a disconnect—what does it mean to “live yoga” when one is only living for the self?
The first two Yamas of yoga are Ahimsa (nonviolence) and Satya (truth telling). It seems impossible now to avoid seeing that we are living in a state of violence that should demand response from the yoga community. To only focus on our own private and privatized practices of self-improvement and to somehow think this counts as changing the world seems like the gravest failure of Satya, the responsibility to be truthful….both for ourselves and for this world we inhabit.
DONATE to NAACP:
For type A people, sitting down and taking time for "just breathing" can be as struggle, as can focusing on the breath once this 2 to 5 minutes has been carved out.
For this personality type (of which I count myself a member), a simple breath technique known as alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) can be a real blessing because you quite literally grab yourself by the nose an use you fingers to manually control the breath.
"Hey dummy," I sometimes say to myself, "we're breathing now, okay?"
Your self-talk doesn't need to be so aggressive to reap the benefits of this breath work (Pranayama).
Alternate nostril breathing helps focus (without caffeine!), is calming to the central nervous system, is thought to balance the body and brain (though you may need a tissue--gross, but you'll see), and can improve lung function over time.
Here's how to do it:
1. (blow your nose gently--trust me)
2. Sit up tall
3. place your middle and index fingers of the right hand on the space between the eyebrows so that your thumb is position to the side of the right nostril and your ring and pinkie fingers are to the side of the left nostril
4. use your thumb to press the right nostril shut and inhale through the left nostril to a count of four
5. use the pinkie and ring finger to press the left nostril shut as you release the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril for a count of four or longer.
6. once the first breath cycle is complete, begin again by inhaling through the right nostril while the left nostril stays shut. close the right nostril and exhale through the left side.
et voilà!--breath work for those who need to be grabbed by the nose!
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote