February 17, 2012

A Little Self-Knowledge Can Be A Real Wake-Up Call.

One Powerful Way To Make Life A Little Easier.

My son is not a morning person. He’s not grumpy or sharp-tongued like some folks (ahem, his sister) are in the morning. He’s just mostly asleep.

He spends a lot of time sitting on the edge of his bed. Then he moves to the edge of the tub and sits there. Then, he stands for an incredibly long time in the shower. (Honestly, we’re considering installing an automatic shut-off for the faucet in the kids’ bathroom.) Once he’s dry, he returns to the edge of his bed, where he sits some more. Once he does get downstairs, things don’t speed up much. His pace can only be described as glacial.

I learned long ago to leave him alone and let him creep through his routine. Nagging or reminding him to watch the time doesn’t help. It only results in making him grumpy, and we usually already have one of those stomping around the kitchen.

To my son’s credit, he sets his alarm to go off a full 75 minutes prior to his departure. While this seemed excessive to me (after all, he’s not a teenage GIRL with hours of requisite mirror gazing to do!), I stayed out of it. But earlier this week, his alarm didn’t go off. My husband found him in bed, sound asleep 15 minutes before we typically leave. Somehow, some way, our pokey guy managed to get himself ready.

In classic “mother hen” fashion, I thought, “Halleluiah! He’s speeding up! Now he can get a little more sleep in the mornings!” When I shared my optimistic take on his morning that afternoon, his response was immediate. “Yeah, I got ready. But the whole time I was so stressed that I felt like I was going to EXPLODE. Extra sleep is not worth feeling like that.”

That, folks, is called self-knowledge.

Understanding yourself like this can make your life a whole lot easier. At the tender age of 14, my son has figured out that he prefers to sacrifice a little, precious sleep to give himself the space and time to move through his morning routine in a way that leaves him feeling peaceful and clear-headed. He came to this knowledge by paying attention to his experiences and his reactions to them. Because he has the foresight (or lack thereof) of a typical 14-year-old boy, it’s safe to assume that his “study” (experimenting with different wake-up times, showers of different lengths, breakfasts, etc.) was not deliberate. But because he has a level of self-awareness that is atypical for a kid his age, he knows that being rushed makes him feel panicky. And there is nothing he hates more than feeling panicky.

Without even putting a toe onto a yoga mat, my son has put into practice a powerful tenet of yoga, called svadhyaya, or self-study. This is the skill of turning the lens of our awareness onto ourselves when we practice. Doing so can lead to some eye-opening self-knowledge.

By observing myself while I move and breathe on my mat, I have learned an awful lot about myself. I’ve learned that it’s easier for me to work hard than it is for me to let go. I’ve learned that, with a deep breath (or 5), I can be surprisingly patient. I’ve learned that my instincts are usually worthy of my trust. I’ve learned about how I handle fear, success, challenge, and frustration. I’ve learned about how I navigate transitions. I’ve learned about how I react when I‘m squeezed for time and when I have all the time in the world. Some of what I’ve learned about myself makes me proud. Some makes me cringe. My practice on my mat has helped me solidify some of my useful tendencies. It is helping me part ways with others.

The understanding I gain from my yoga practice extends to the obstacles I find in my path. Some, like a particularly dreaded asana that seems to come up every, single time I go to a class, are beyond my control. When faced with these, my work is to manage my response. But some obstacles I create myself. These are a little harder to recognize and a lot harder to learn to navigate – the clenched muscles that regularly inhibit my backbend (urdhva danurasana), my recurring negative mindset when I enter chair pose (utkatasana), and my reluctance to take it easy when I’m feeling fatigued. With a little foresight, a lot of consciousness and a massive does of persistence, I can learn to avoid these self-made obstacles.

When we bring this level of self-understanding off the mat and into our lives, life becomes a whole lot easier to live. Clearly, it’s impossible to control what life brings our way. But eliminating (at least some of) the self-made obstacles in our path leaves us with the energy and enthusiasm to approach life’s twists and turns with a peaceful spirit and a clear mind. This is exactly what my son has figured out with his slow-motion morning routine. 

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