Sometimes the biggest challenge is doing less. My instructor in yoga teacher training said this to me years ago and it still resonates. We are always struggling, running out of time, doing more. The years I spent training for and running marathons and ultramarathons were exactly this. Trying to fit everything in. Running, strength training, adequate sleep, yoga, stretching, meals, all in between a full-time job and a social life.
My day was so jammed that if anything ran late the anxiety was instant. I’m sure this is nothing compared to being a single parent or caring for a sick family member or a multitude of other scenarios after all this life was of my own choosing. But I can only speak from my own experience. Some people could handle this exact same level of stress and more with no problems. But I was waking up in the middle of the night, drenched with sweat. Sheets so wet I had to lie on a towel to be comfortable enough to try and return to sleep. I would wake up having dreamed my alarm had gone off, get dressed with urgency and head to the bus stop to go to work before seeing the time was 3 am. I see now in retrospect how the stress hormone cortisol was definitely running the game.
After I decided to take a break from running I was still keeping active. This included more time for yoga but it was always the hardest class. Power yoga instead of gentle hatha. 90 minutes instead of 60. Modifying any pose to be easier was a weakness. If I wasn't sore the next day I didn't try hard enough.
Then I witnessed a completely alternate perspective in yoga teacher training. Many restorative poses where every limb and head was supported by blankets. Nothing was being pulled or worked, it was utter bliss. Setting up was time-consuming but rewarding to be on the floor with the wood fire stove burning in the corner and my body entirely supported. Coming out of the poses re-generated instead of completely spent. We discussed the increased need for this style of yoga as the pace of life was being put on fast forward for many people.
Yoga isn't necessarily the only answer. Finding something that works for us as individuals are key. It may be meditation, quiet time spent reading, tai chi, a gentle walk, cooking a un-rushed meal, a bath. Trends like Danish concept of hygge and time for self-care are undoubtedly so popular because we have realized the value in slowing down the pace of life. Instead of working hard, let’s work easy.
I look back at my times of high stress as a learning experience. I was testing out my boundaries. Now when I see similar patterns in my sleep, thoughts, demeanour I take the time to reflect and address what is going on. Remember that in an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. If we are run completely ragged how much help can we provide others? I have some “me” time, listen to a positive uplifting podcast or music, gentle exercise where the only goal is easy movement. If we practise this kindness to ourselves we might find more focus, more perspective, more gratitude in other aspects of our lives.