Last week, I attended a short Restorative Yoga workshop to experience something different than I usually teach or train in and to earn some CEUs. Sadly, my initial motivation for going was not so that I could relax and restore at all. I had bigger goals in mind.
At the beginning of the workshop, the teacher prompted us to remove our watches and set them aside. I have to admit, I had a sudden sense of panic arise in my belly. What?! No watch?? How ever will I know how long I have been here? How will I know how much longer we have before we are done? Truthfully- how will I know how much longer it will take for me to earn the CEUs that I need and move on to that next thing on my list. But, I trusted that this lady knew what she was doing and I took off my watch, cast it aside, and dove in.
And then I had the most delicious experience of a 3-hour workshop seeming like it lasted for 1 hour.
Since then, I have been thinking about this concept of freeing myself from my watch. Of course, there are occasions throughout the week when I need to be informed of the time so that I can promptly start a class or end a counseling session before the next one is scheduled to begin. But, in my personal life, I have started to notice how tied I am to knowing what time it is as a way to focus forward on what is to come.
I am doer. I always have been. You know the type…it’s hard for me to sit still. If I am watching something on TV, I am also folding clothes or polishing my nails. If I am sitting outside, I am reading. During the day, if I am doing one thing, it is very hard for me to not being something in addition to that one thing. I have a general aversion to being still and quiet and doing nothing. Funny for a yoga teacher, huh? I think that is why I am so drawn to yoga. It helps to balance me out and forces me to just be here. That is one of the reasons that it is mandatory for me to meditate as soon as I wake up every morning to just be for a little while before I start all of the doing.
In Sports and Exercise Psychology and in Positive Psychology, there is a concept called Flow. The creator of the concept, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, (pronounced Chick-sent-mee-high) defines flow as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” In flow, there is a balance between skills and challenge and an increase in creativity and productivity is experienced. When this balance occurs, we forget about the world around us and feel happier after being 100% absorbed in an activity. Our sense of time disappears as it did for me in the workshop.
In Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, he talks about the compatibility of yoga and flow in that in both we are practicing mindfulness and allowing ourselves to accept the moment and become fully absorbed in the present. We frequently forget that the universe was not created to make us happy and that we have to make the effort internally through our interpretations of each experience. We often turn outward and attempt to control the world around us, when happiness is really an inside job. Csikszentmihalyi sums it up in saying, “A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the contents of consciousness.” What we focus on, allow into our consciousness, and pour our attention and energy into will have a huge effect on our levels of happiness.
And the more frequently we can get into flow, the happier we will be. So…the goal would be to be engaged so fully in the moment that we would eventually be able to experience flow every day. Remember, for flow to occur, we must have a challenge and the skills to meet the challenge. I find it very challenging to just be, but I have the skills to do it when I apply myself with focus. So theoretically, I should be able to become so focused on the present moment and whatever I am doing that I could be in flow just by being mindful.
In his book about the teachings from the Bhagavad Gita titled The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope talks about John Keats and his desire to become a well known and successful poet. He finally realizes that “his own longing and craving for success may have been undermining the quality of his work. Certainly, he saw how his craving for fame and ‘laurels’ created a kind of anxiety that infected his work.” In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna to let go of the outcome. That “those who are motivated only by the fruits of action are miserable! They are constantly anxious about the results of what they do.”
As I read this, I began to see the genius of the simple directive to take off my watch for the yoga workshop, as I would typically be wrapped up in the next thing on my To-Do list and I would not be fully invested in the moment. I went in to the workshop focused on the outcome- the fruits of my being there. Now, in Keats’ case, he was focused on being recognized and lauded for his work. There are many ways in which we lose focus on what we are doing and project ahead only to the outcome that we want. And in doing this, we miss out on the enjoyment of and possible growth from the actual experience.
I enjoyed the Restorative workshop so much, that I am planning to sign up for a 4-day one in the future. Yep, I said 4-days! And I will be sure to ‘forget’ my watch when I attend so that I can be fully in the adventure of it, content with whatever I am experiencing while letting go of the outcome.
Before then, I will also be practicing this concept off the mat. Another form of living my yoga.
This week, I invite you to explore how much you ‘skip ahead’, focusing on the outcome rather than surrendering to the experience and being absorbed in the moment. Who knows, you may even experience flow along the way and really enjoy yourself.
Take off your watch. Be fully present in what you are doing and pay attention to each detail. Relax and let go of how it will turn out. Just be in it.
You know I will be practicing right with you. Always.
Talk again soon.