As I lay in a long yin pose trying to let go and relax, my teacher's words run through my head; do not let the stress of specific become the stress of general. At the time she was talking about the stress on my stretching hamstrings, and how I should not let it influence the rest of my body. But what I took away from that class was much more profound than that.
If you experience stress, do not become it
Maybe you recognize being busy, trying to get a hundred things done at the same time, feeling like you are being pulled into several directions. You have your work to think about, family, relationships, health, and now the approaching holiday season with its own demands. It can be enough to derail even the most balanced of yogis.
When we have additional stress in our lives, it is easy to let that stress take over. Instead of us experiencing temporary stress in one part of our lives, we start to believe we are stressed. There is a big difference in experiencing something, and being something. Instead of just observing the stress, much like we observe a stress of a muscle in yoga, we become it completely. It becomes part of our identity. When we internalize stress or busy-ness like this, it easily takes control of everything we do, and it's far more difficult to shake off.
Stress and calm are not enemies
A drop of softness is all it takes to break the power of stress. The balance of yin and yang is not about excluding each other completely. A little bit of stress can be good thing, it keeps us moving and gives us fuel.
In yoga when we stress one part of the body, when we stretch it and ask temporarily more from it, it is important to allow the rest of the body to remain relaxed. This goes for your life as well. If one part of your life is stretching, focus on keeping the other parts soft. And breathe!
How to bring more yin into your life
That all sounds great, but how can you actually implement these drops of softness into your days? Here are five tips that can help you with your journey to yin!
1. Focus on how you would like to feel.
Regardless of how you are feeling at the moment, whatever we give our attention to, strengthens. Without giving more power to the feelings of stress or busy-ness, try to imagine the feeling you would like to feel.
Make this feeling your goal, and focus on it daily. Love it as if it was already here. When you go about your daily business, observe if you are moving closer or farther away from this feeling. Identify what activities are moving you closer, and do more of them! This means that you will have less time for activities that are moving you away from your goal, and your mood improves.
2. Be aware of the stories you tell.
Especially when we are going through times filled with traditions and rituals, we may take on additional stress regarding how things ought to go. Instead of living in the moment, instead of allowing life to unfold naturally, we want to control it to the last little detail.
Listen to the stories you tell yourself about how things should go. Are you following tradition because you want to, or because you never even thought about doing things any other way?
In the ideal world, if there would be no disapproval and no disappointing looks from anyone, what would you do? How would you spend the holidays? Instead of large family gatherings, would you rather spend some time alone or go on a tropical holiday? What would make you happy? Be mindful of the resistance you may feel bubbling up, and challenge the things that give you grief.
3. Make a distinction between what you HAVE to do versus what do you WANT to do.
We can often confuse these two. Just for fun, make a list of all the things you feel you HAVE TO do. Then write down per item who is demanding you to perform the task? Do you know for sure you have to do it, or have you just convinced yourself of its necessity?
Finally, ask yourself what would happen if you did not do all those things you feel you have to do? Would the world fall apart and spin out of orbit? Or would you just have a bit more free time to, for example, enjoy the presence of your family a bit more?
4. Is it you, or the perception of you?
Sometimes (or rather, often) we do things just to prove something to others. We want to be seen as the kind of person who has it all together, who has time for it all and who can just naturally fall into perfection and whip up creative holiday dishes without even making a mess. It's odd, because honestly, who really likes Ms. Perfection anyway? Wouldn't you rather eat cake with your hands and laugh about the mess in the kitchen? We tend to bond with each other over our delightful imperfections rather than the togetherness we are trying so hard to keep up.
Be mindful of the façade you (may) want to keep up. Don't beat yourself up about it, just observe with loving attention. Who is it for, and why?
5. Breathe. If nothing else works, if you find yourself in a situation that gives you stress, don't sweat it. Breathe it!
Our breath is connected to our nervous system, and the breath goes hand in hand with our body. If you are feeling particularly tensed, stop for a moment and be aware of your breathing. The more nervous and stressed we are, the more shallow the breath. This in turn tells the body that we are in some kind of danger, and the body gets agitated.
Break the circle and focus on lengthening your breath. As you inhale, count slowly to four, and as you exhale, count slowly to four. Close your eyes, if you can, and observe how your body is moving. Keep on breathing, keep on counting. After few minutes you will notice your body (and mind) relaxing.
Remaining soft and open
So next time you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or too busy, take a moment to breathe. Don't let the stress in one part of your life get the best of you, but let it just be a drop in the sea of yin, and keep the rest soft and open.