How do you face your daily challenges? How often do you feel subtle or extreme stress? Are you constantly reacting to your surroundings without awareness, or are you paying attention and discerning your choices?
Let’s take the universal example of traffic. What do you experience when you are stuck in a serious traffic jam? Often the answer to this question is some kind of negative emotion such as anger, frustration, or pressure. But what if you thought of the traffic jam as a small blessing that allowed you some unexpected time to reflect, relax, or enjoy some deep breathing? It is interesting to note that 20 people stuck in the same traffic jam will have 20 different reactions to the situation. This phenomenon offers a simple yet profound lesson – the traffic jam is simply a traffic jam. It is how we react to the traffic jam that creates and sustains unnecessary levels of stress in our daily lives.
This concept that everything is neutral is one of the primary underpinnings of traditional Yoga Psychology. It is a unique perspective, because when we contemplate this idea, we must ask ourselves: If everything is neutral, then why does stress exist? Yoga teachings tell us that anything that clouds our understanding of reality causes a corresponding amount of struggle in life. To understand how to have positive reactions to life requires us to understand the deeper reasons, values, beliefs, and life events that have shaped our approach to living and relating.
The traffic jam is really just a metaphor for any challenging situation we face throughout the course of the day. When we are emotional, it is hard to take a step back and see things as they truly are. Learned emotional responses trigger unaware reactions. When we become aware of our triggers, take a deep breath, and review the situation, the possibility of emotional transformation arises. In those few moments, a situation that might normally bring stress into the mind/body can instead bring about a sense of equanimity.
Six Ways to Apply Yoga Psychology to Daily Life
Every time you recognize and understand a personal stress, there is an opportunity for positive change and personal growth to occur. Use stressors you identify as a way of learning more about yourself. Whatever you learn will be interesting!
This six-step process can be used any time, but for many, the end of the day (before falling asleep) is best. Even the busiest person has 5–10 minutes before bedtime to reflect on the events of the day.
1. Think of one minor stress from the day – something as simple as traffic is better than a profound catastrophe.
2. Think of the emotion you felt during that situation. Refrain from stating the cause of the emotion. Phrase the statement, “I felt (emotion) while I sat in the traffic.”
3. Consider how the situation could be neutral. The traffic is just the traffic. It did not force you to have any specific emotion. You had the emotional reaction to the traffic. Some people like traffic, such as salaried workers who get a break. Notice how your perspective toward a neutral situation affects your emotional response.
4. Understand your underlying belief pattern that creates your reaction to the situation. For example, “Traffic is annoying because I do not have enough time to spend with my children after working all day.” The issue to be understood is not the traffic but the fact that you feel as though you don’t have enough time.
5. Re-evaluate how you can tailor your belief pattern in a fashion that allows you to have your deep values without evoking stress reactions. “I accept that working will alter my life with kids. However, this is my life and I will accept that children are raised by a village – and I trust my village.”
6. Let your stressful situations be permitted. Let self-understanding be permitted. As you understand your situations, see yourself as a wise person and integrate the idea that all things are neutral, and you can reduce stress to a minimum.
As you work through these six steps and apply these lessons, remember that the easier part of the process is recognizing that all things are neutral and that you have the power to react without stress. The harder part of the process is accepting the pain that you find when you examine the “whys” of your reactions. Stay present with what you uncover, and use it as a learning tool to positively transform your experience of daily life.
Robert Butera PhD is author of The Pure Heart of Yoga: Ten Essential Steps to Personal Transformation (Llewellyn, $21.95), publisher of Yoga Living magazine, and director of The YogaLife Institute in Devon, Pennsylvania, where he trains yoga instructors as well as students. Visit www.pureheartofyoga.com for more information.