January 8, 2014

5 Ways to Stop the Rat Race. ~ Michele Bickley

Some days, before I even open my eyes in the morning, it feels like there is a man standing next to my bed, as if at the starting line of a race, and he fires his gun and yells, “GO!”

My feet have yet to touch the ground and I am off and running.

You see, I have a just-turned-two son and a four-year-old daughter. They are the most amazing little creatures; sweet, precious, loving… and then instantaneously they can turn into little dictators, barking orders for me to answer their hearts’ immediate and very needy desires.

Could it be that only five years ago I would wake up on my own (might I add, after a nice night of uninterrupted sleep), stretch my body like a lazy cat, and then lie in bed quietly pondering what I would like to do that day? I would drop into a silent deep breath and ask the universe to guide my actions. Those days, it was pretty darn easy (once I had the tools of yoga at my disposal) to stay centered in a way-too-busy world.

These days, it takes a bit more work to stay centered and to create a mindful environment for my family.

Boy: “Mama, get up. It’s morning time. All done sleeping. It’s not dark outside. Good Morning! Mama, get up! Get up! Let’s go downstairs now.”
“Mama, I’m hungry. Mama, I want some waffles and some eggies, and some corn, and some hashbrowns. And candy! No, a frozen waffle!”

Girl: “I want some oatmeal. With berries and honey. Not the lumpy kind. And juice. Apple, not orange”

A look from me.

Girl: “Please!” She sneezes and snot stretches down her face.

Boy: “I want some milky. Nooooo, I need rice milk, no cow milk.  Milky, milky, milky!”

Milk spills everywhere.

Girl:  “Holden hit me and it hurt. I was telling him that he couldn’t play with my suitcase and he got mad and hit me.”

Boy: “Nana hit me. Like dis!”

A smack lands on my leg as my phone rings.

Girl: “Can we watch a show? Please?”

Girl: “I smell a poopie diaper!”

Holden, do you need a diaper change?

Boy (laughing):  “Nope.”

And runs away as I hear a text message chime from my phone.

I have now been awake for two minutes.

In this life, in this western world, it takes some doing to undo all of the external stimuli hurled at us. I have fantasies of moving to a commune in the middle of nowhere, giving up all possessions, and living off the land. Then, I remember my amazing family, friends, community and the beautiful work I get to do teaching yoga. I love my life. So, it becomes my job to figure out a way to create the peaceful and content feelings that I imagine would come from living in the middle of nowhere.

My intention lately is:




(Notice how I said it three times? Not so simple. I tend to be a Type A, overachiever, multi-tasker type of person. Simplifying does not come easy to me and I do it imperfectly.)

With that said, I get to laugh at myself and find ways to make my yoga practice alive in my life to help keep me centered and turn things more simplistic. And, numero uno is:

1. Shut Down the Technology.

AHhhhhhh! But, how will I be connected? What will I miss? How will I share?

Truth be told, if I am not connected to myself and to my family as a byproduct of simply being present, then truly no other connection matters or should even exist.

First things first. I don’t want my kids to grow up glued to a screen and preferring that to being with people. It scares me to death that kids would rather play a video game instead of ball and people at restaurants are texting instead of talking to their friends next to them. I must be the change I want to see in the world and show my kids how and when to unplug from the distractions of modern times.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-technology. I have an iPhone and use social media. I think it is a valuable tool that can be an extension of core connection. But, it can quickly become a habit and even an addiction. The need to check-in, be seen, be heard and know what is going on in all corners of the earth can be enticing. Ego feeding. So, I try to remember:

All things in moderation. There is a time and a place.

We have a simple rule of no TV (or technology) while eating. That seems like a no brainer to me, but for my husband, who grew up with 13 TV’s (for real) and all of them were on all of the time, this took some convincing to make it our reality.

I strive to find a balance and make the truly important things (for me, that’s family and connection) the priority.

2. Get Grounded.

I mean this literally and figuratively. In yoga, the asana will be unhealthy and off balance if we are not rooted and set up on a proper foundation. Such is the same with every other part of life. If you ever stop by my house, you will probably find me on the ground from time to time. I like to sit on the floor, and even lie down, whenever possible. When things start to feel chaotic, I try to find a moment to just lie on the ground.

Yes, I lie down. On the floor. There is something about being low down and touching the earth that helps calm the fluctuations of the mind and the nervous system immediately.

Whether I am lying down, sitting or standing, when I stop and notice the parts of me that are touching the earth and take a second to get grounded, I instantaneously feel more centered. When I am standing in line somewhere, sitting at my computer, or waiting in a chair for an appointment, I try to notice my alignment. Are my bones stacked on top of each other? Am I symmetrical? Am I breathing? I let whatever is touching the ground (or the chair) get a bit heavier, I feel myself exactly where I am, and I become grounded.

The physical act of grounding creates a healthy posture to start from. The feeling of being grounded energetically, for me, can come with greater ease if my physical body begins the centering process.

And getting down on the ground makes me eye level with my kids. This is critical for us to have a clear connection. When I get down with them, it is easier to be with them, to remember how to be playful, and for my kids to feel me being a part of their world.

If you have kids or work with kids, try this test: Have someone stand next to you—on top of a chair—and then have a conversation. Next, get down and try talking when you are eye level with each other. The first time I tried this in a parenting class, I was blown away.

3. Stop Multi-Tasking.

There are times when my daughter has had to say my name three times to get my attention because I am checking my phone, cleaning, and trying to plan my classes—all at the same time. I hate that this is true. Sometimes I have to force myself to STOP the madness of rushing about and simply do one thing at a time.

My mom always says, “Be here now.” She has been the most amazing example of being present and doing one thing at a time. By doing one thing at a time, we create quality time. Moments that are meaningful, instead of distracted.

I am actually much more efficient when I do one thing at a time. I have a singular focus and my efforts are stronger because they are not stretched thin. And, once again, what I do on my mat is a perfect metaphor for my life.

I do one pose at a time.

I take one breath at a time

And I set my drishti (gaze) at one spot.

Try doing more than one pose at a time and then looking all over the place. Yikes! With a singular focus, a tremendous power can be harnessed.

This is why it takes me forever to write an article. Trying to work and be there for my kids at the same time is nearly impossible and something that requires a singular focus to be done well. If I ever try to write when my kids are awake, I am guaranteed to have a child on my lap and another one asking me questions—within minutes.

Yet another thing my mom taught me by example, when my kids want my attention, I give it to them. To me, they are the most important things on the planet and I won’t get these moments back. And, as if to prove a point, the little one just came running up to me with a kitchen spatula saying, “Mama, race me.  Come race me.” So, I will go race and try writing tonight after they are asleep. (Maybe I will get to clean the house then, too?) Which brings me to my next point:

4. Prioritize.

Knowing what is important to me gives me clear focus around which to set priorities. This sounds like a simple thing, an obvious thing. However, I’ve noticed a lot of people lately who don’t seem to know what is important to them anymore. Life has gotten so busy that they have been sucked into a schedule packed full of things and a whirlwind of distractions that are not a reflection of their hearts desire.

“This turning deeply toward what you love, saves you.” – Rumi

Getting clear on what is important to me happens when I take time on my mat to practice asana and meditate. I had a woman come to class a few weeks ago—she was stressed and visibly upset, she shared with me how things in her life had become overwhelming and she had snapped at her two-year old daughter and was beyond the point of having any patience.

Throughout class, I watched her breathe deeply in her poses: inhaling with a focused intention; exhaling with great release; twisting to wring out her tension; softening and surrendering in her forward bends and filling her heart space with breath during her backbends. It was beautiful.

She was walking out of class, stopped, came back to me and said, “Thank you. Now I feel like I can love again. I can go home and be there for my daughter.”

That is the yoga. When I give myself over to the practice of my yoga (or insert the thing that brings you back to center), it clears away the stress, the attachments, the emotional baggage and the mental chatter. It makes space for me to be in the world and connect with the things that are important. That presence allows me to remember what is important and then I can make choices accordingly.

One of the challenging things for me about prioritizing is it involves saying “no” quite a bit.

When I hold the things that are important to me at my heart’s center and only move forward in life, it is a reflection of that: I have to let some things fall away. For a reformed people pleaser, this is no easy task. I would love to do everything and be everything for everybody. Yet, we have 24 hours in a day, deadlines to meet, and within each of us there is a bucket of energy that contains varying degrees of fullness based on our individual circumstances.

Some days I can meet the deadlines, pay the bills, be present with my family and take care of them, teach my classes, do my volunteer work, help the neighbor and then some.

Some days, maybe days that are held with an emotional pull of something tragic or deep that is happening, need to be scaled back.

I don’t get to control the wave of life. A swell can come and the waves crash so fast that if I don’t focus on simply breathing, I will get pulled under. Then, there are times when the ocean is calm and still. I honor my heart space, my life circumstances, and do the first things first.

5. Go Outside.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” – Khalil Gibran

The hustle and bustle of life can be balanced organically by simply going outdoors into nature. Over and over again I experience profound perspective shifts when I step outside and take a deep breath of fresh air.

Even when I lived in the city, this tool helped to bring me back to center.  I would find a tree to go sit under and consciously slow down my breathing. I noticed what the tree looked like—the bright green leaves and the dry bark, the roots that burrowed under the ground to soak up nutrients and hold up the solid trunk and willowing branches. I took a few moments to notice the sky, the splashes of white clouds atop the pure blue openness.

At night, (yes, even when it is freezing cold), I bundle up and walk outside, sometimes only for a minute. A minute can be enough time to notice the merging moon and the stars and breathe in the power of the darkness.

When I lived a block from the ocean (oh, those were the days), I would create time each day to go to the beach and sit by the magnificence of the always-changing water.

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” – William Shakespeare

By just getting outside and being in nature, I experience how small our first-world problems are. Luxury problems. Or, if I am truly experiencing something traumatic or big, I feel how we are not alone. I feel connected to the whole of it all. I breathe in something bigger than myself.

And when I do my yoga practice outside, the goodness is almost too much. Mother earth holds many answers if I just get quiet and still enough to listen to what she is saying.

Here is where I get to put all of these good tools into practice and end this article. There are other things, like being present, being together, creating together, making giving and gratitude practices and physically slowing down as we drive and move, but I am going to let those be explored at another time. Right now, it is time for me to close my computer and go take my daughter on a mommy-daughter date to the Nutcracker!

Here’s to stopping the rat race. I’d love to hear what works for you!


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Assistant Editor: Paige Vignola

Image via Wikimedia

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