Pre-Finals Stress Relief!

Karissa Spiller, a resident assistant at UW-Platteville, invited me to teach a yoga and meditation class on December 13th.  It was a great time, and I was encouraged by how readily residents agreed to set aside the pressures of studying to take care of themselves.  So often in our daily lives we get “too busy” to sleep, eat, exercise, or spend time with family or friends.  We learn to ignore the wisdom of our bodies to get more done, not realizing that we are far more efficient, intelligent, creative, and effective when we are rested, calm, and healthy.  These students have a lot to teach us!

I write this conscious of the irony that I spent most of yesterday working on this website, frustrated, delaying my meals, hardly standing up to walk around, and certainly not taking the time to practice yoga or meditation.  While I got back on the horse this morning with my yoga routine and a short meditation, it’s a good reminder about two things in our yoga practice: 1) we generally need it most when we are least inclined to practice, and 2) we will inevitably fall out of practice from time-to-time,  perhaps especially when we need it.

These two points are intimately related because every time we “fail” to do something, including doing yoga, we can stand to learn something, and since we are mostly likely to fail at practicing yoga when we most need it, we are presented with the opportunity to learn every time we find ourselves overwhelmed, overworked, or over-stressed.  We either stay on our schedule and more fully appreciate how yoga supports us in difficult moments, or we fall out of our routine and more fully appreciate how the absence of yoga feels in our bodies and minds.

But perhaps the most important thing is to not chastise ourselves for not doing what we feel we should have.  While we are taught by our culture that punishment corrects behavior, in fact, research suggests that being hard on ourselves actually makes us less likely to be motivated to change and that practicing self-compassion is more likely to help us improve.  This reminds me of a meditation teacher I had who said that meditation is “the art of beginning again”; since we are imperfect and sometimes our schedules and life pressures don’t allow us to be our best selves, we are best served by an ability to accept our failure, learn from it, and start over fresh.  And do it again. And again.  And again.  Eventually we will develop a habit that helps us to change for the better, and when we inevitably fail, we’ll “fail better,” to quote Samuel Beckett, and become more skillful and compassionate with ourselves and others.

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