Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.
If we never really go completely or stop completely, our batteries are constantly drained leaving us chronically tired. Can we allow ourselves to be fully engaged and to sustain effort even when things get challenging or uncomfortable? Can we allow ourselves to fully stop and relax even when the urge to fidget and figure out comes up?
By going when we go and stopping when we stop, we give our bodies, minds and hearts a chance to energize and recuperate, so it’s worth practicing. Here are 4 simple ways to go and 4 simple ways to stop.
1. Do little things all the way through. Take on small tasks and do them fully without multi-tasking or leaving them partially finished. Make the phone call. Pick up the front hall. Write the email. From start to finish, stay focused on doing it all the way through.
2. Make big things smaller. For bigger tasks, break them into smaller pieces. I love playing with the Pomodoro Technique of setting a timer for 25 minutes and working in a focused way, taking a 5 minute break, and then either continuing on for another 25 minutes on that task or bringing my full attention to something else. Often, I find that even for the most dreaded things on my To Do list, once I get started, I want to keep going!
3. Notice what pulls you away. Pay attention to when you get distracted or when you “run” from what you are doing. Is it when you aren’t sure what to do? Or when it gets difficult or uncomfortable? Ask yourself, when I pull myself away, what is happening? Noticing this can help calm the nervous system so when the urge to run comes up, you can remind yourself that it’s just an urge to pull away, that’s all.
4. Notice where you go. And when you “run” what do you do instead? Do you go online or get something to eat? Do you check email or send a text? In Nia or yoga or any physical practice, do you drink water, fix your hair or start chatting with someone? Notice the difference between taking a mindful, intentional break and escaping or running away.
1. Take small stops all day. Make the intentional choice to stop even for brief periods during the day. As you sit down to a meal, take a full breath before eating or drinking or speaking. Before or after starting a task, pause fully and completely – for five breaths or five minutes (The Pomodoro Technique has a time for this nicely built in!). Sitting still for five minutes has tremendous calming benefits that extend through the day.
2. Stop at the end of the day. Give yourself a little time to be quiet and screen-free before going to sleep. Whether this is meditation or just closing your eyes and being still, your body and mind will get the idea that it’s time to power down. (I sometimes lie on a foam roller for a few minutes to passively stretch my chest and shoulders and get out of the doing mode.)
3. Notice body sensation before sleep. When you lie down to sleep, take a few deep breaths and notice your body. Even as you begin to relax, some parts of your body will likely hold chronic tension. These are the places you are likely holding on all. the. time. Exhale and let even those places fully relax. The more you practice noticing and letting go, the more your body will do it on its own.
4. Pause when stuff goes down. Play with getting still in the face of small irritations and upsets. If the water glass goes over or traffic is gridlocked, give yourself a moment to be still before you do or say anything. Taking even one breath gives the helpful part of your brain that can reason and articulate come online. Practicing with little things when the stakes are low prepares your brain and body to do the same when big frustrations come along.