When I first opened my former yoga studio, YES in Ridgewood, Queens, back in 2018, I was often parked at the front desk to greet students and check them in for their classes.
From this seat, I had gotten to know many of our regular clients pretty well due to our frequent exchanges.
I will never forget a certain morning when one of these regular students showed up early for her class, and upon my greeting her, she responded to me proudly saying, “It’s my birthday today! So I’m going to do everything I love to do, starting with this yoga class.” And then after a brief pause she said, “I don’t know why I don’t do that every day.”
Her moment of self-reflection hit me so strongly, and I found myself asking myself the same question: why don’t I do everything I love to do every day?
This thought was quickly followed up with another question that flooded me with a different set of emotions: do I even know what the things are that I love to do?
At that point in my life, the yoga studio dominated virtually all of my time, and much of my days were filled with required activities to keep the business running smoothly. Considering my own joyful energy was something I’d put to the side, at least until the business became more successful and therefore had more support.
But after that morning, I found myself considering those questions often, not only in an attempt to seek out naturally joyful experiences in my daily life but also to discover how I could potentially approach my required tasks from the perspective of building my joy and energy. Because I believed then, just as I believe now, that it’s not necessarily what you do, it’s how you do it.
Five years later, I still ask myself these questions weekly but with a new twist: What brings me energy? What makes me feel alive? How can I build more of what I love into my life?
In hoping to personalize this experience for you, I’d love for you to ask yourself the same questions:
>> What brings you energy?
>> What makes you feel fully alive?
>> What inspires joy and excitement in your body?
>> What does it feel like to “generate” or build your energy?
To answer these questions, you could simply scan through your days and consider your regular routines. Perhaps certain activities or foods or people really light you up, and you find yourself feeling more inspired or enlivened by them.
Additionally, there are simple answers to these questions, such as getting enough sleep, drinking water, and spending time with those you love, but I also want to note that some answers are counterintuitive. Sometimes there’s an immediate feeling of depletion or exhaustion, but the long-term return is a feeling of pride, empowerment, joy, or just feeling good in your body.
For example, the initial reaction to exercise might be that it is energetically depleting. This is partially true, but exercise is also proven to be an energy booster.
Let’s say you take a yoga class, and you naturally feel a little tired afterwards because you’ve used a certain amount of energy to exercise your body. However, you’ve also invigorated your organs, brought fresh oxygen to your system, and brought your bones more into alignment. You opened up your ligaments, tendons, and muscles, while simultaneously strengthening and stabilizing them.
This in itself might feel more revitalizing, but there’s more! Because your organs have been given a little boost, you might digest your food more easily and effectively. Your hormones will then be brought into more of an equilibrium making your emotions easier to process. You’ll likely sleep better because of the energy you’ve utilized and wake up feeling more rested. All of these effects created by a little exercise in turn will help you feel more energized.
Another more complicated example is that you love your job, but you really don’t like working from home, and you miss the connection of being in person with your coworkers. All or nothing thinking might have you believing that you have to find a new job in order to bring back the joy of exercising your strength of connectedness.
That could be one option, but there is another approach that could be taken. Rather than viewing working from home as depleting, you choose to explore how it can be revitalizing and ramp up your connecting abilities. You start to infuse your emails with more of your personality, you spend an extra minute or two checking in with your coworkers and clients about their kids or pets, or you altogether decide that phone calls and video sessions are better than email and request more of them for deepened connectivity. This in turn reinvigorates your job and your relationships, and your work has the capacity to be more enlivening all over again.
With this last example in mind, it shows how tricky it can be to determine what brings us energy, and what specifically depletes us.
Because sometimes the two activities are woven together, let’s get clear about what is definitely depleting:
>> What brings you down?
>> What makes your life feel less enjoyable?
>> What activities bring you frustration and test your patience?
>> What does it feel like in your body to be “burnt out” or “drained”?
Again, there might be simple and obvious answers to these questions such as not getting enough sleep or eating too many processed foods. But similar to the previous questions, there are likely answers that are perhaps more complicated or multilayered.
Perhaps you’re dating someone who seems to check all of your boxes. A part of you feels excited about the potential of the relationship, and you feel like you’ve met someone really special and exceptional. However, you’ve also been feeling a lot of anxiety since the relationship began, and you find yourself questioning your needs and choices. A part of you feels like something about you is inadequate or you’re not good enough for this other person.
It’s in this type of situation, the answers to cultivating joy aren’t as obvious or are a little more challenging to grasp. Your head might be offering a convincing argument to stay with this person, but your body is fighting for your attention as well. In this case, you might recognize that the aspects of this person are exciting, but the depleting weight of the anxiety and loss of self-confidence are too heavy to consider the relationship to be fully enlivening. It might be a good time to reconsider the relationship dynamics, or perhaps make the hard choice to leave.
Either by clarifying something as revitalizing or depleting, getting specific about how all experiences feel in your body helps you begin to understand the language of your body. Before long, it becomes second nature to know when it’s telling you that it’s magnetized and energized by something or someone, and when it’s repelled or exhausted by something or someone else.
If we have only so much time to live, wouldn’t it make sense that we do the activities and spend time with the people and choose the experiences that make us feel and enjoy most of it? Doesn’t it feel more affirming to choose what excites us rather than what makes us feel drained, and exhausted, and…closer to death? (Okay maybe that last part is a little extreme, but you know what I mean).
Before I stray too far into oversimplification, I want to touch on burnout and responsibility.
When I first opened YES, not only was I building a brick-and-mortar business that required my physical presence and participation, but I was also working full time as a freelance graphic designer to support my budding yoga studio. I was spent—every day, for a long time. There were many moments I felt I had to level up to a new layer of grit to get through the day, and alongside those days were many moments crying on a yoga mat in an empty studio room. It was beyond overwhelming.
When we are in the midst of overfilling our time, responsibilities, and to-do lists, there are a few things we need to consider:
Burnout is caused by applying too much of our time and energy supporting other people’s needs and passions, and not supporting enough of our own. I cannot stress enough the importance of finding small moments throughout our days to consciously partake in what we enjoy. If you have a rigorous job, difficult home life, or are feeling pulled in many directions all the time, setting a few moments aside to luxuriate in something you love is key to reminding yourself that you’re taking care of you.
Perhaps it’s slowing down and really enjoying your morning shower, or lunch, or the music you listen to on your commute. Perhaps it’s taking three deep breaths when you’re feeling overly stressed and feeling how delicious the breath feels as it cycles through your body. The little moments add up, and the more we look to those small moments the easier it is to recognize how much we are supported. Additionally, our more challenging responsibilities lighten the more we restore the balance of how we give out our energy.
What are the little moments that remind you that you’ve got yourself? List a few now and keep the list handy to remind yourself and to update.
2. Asking for help
Delegating and asking for help are the toughest things many of us do not know how to do but are required in order to maintain overall health. Many of us have been conditioned to be self-sustaining—especially those of us with the highest levels of anxiety. The need to control and not let in support is a trauma response, but the good news is it can be challenged and changed.
If you’re someone who has difficulty asking for help, the simplest and most effective way to make it easier is to simply start asking for help. Obvious sure, but easy? Not so much. I’m not suggesting you go out and ask for the biggest and most challenging of asks right away. But I am suggesting that you start asking for help with little things to get comfortable with the process. Asking your partner to help you fold the laundry, or asking your kids to help do the dishes, or asking your co-worker to take a look at your work and help you decide if it’s strong enough to send to the client or your boss.
We’ve grown up thinking that most people don’t want to be bothered, but consider all the times someone you care about has asked you for help—what has been your response? We’re a communal and social species, which means we naturally want to support each other. Asking for little bits of help here and there will make asking for the bigger support that much easier when it comes.
What can you ask for help with today? How can you remind yourself that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it?
Overcomplicating our schedules and not leaving time for mental digestion and down time leads to losing our inner compass and sense of knowing what we need and when. What often also ends up happening is that when we need a mental release, we turn to TV or we overindulge in food or alcohol or something to remove us from our experience.
I’m not saying cut out all the show binging or evening wine time, but I am suggesting that we build in conscious, regenerative mental downtime to give our brains a break. This can mean not doing anything for five minutes but staring at a wall or the ceiling (but not your phone). Or partaking in just one task at a time such as cooking, driving, or cleaning in silence or with music to let your brain rest on just one thing at a time.
At first these types of activities might feel uncomfortable as we settle into the dissonance of silence or stillness. But I invite you to think of that feeling as just that—a settling. Almost like when your body temperature adjusts as you ease into a hot bath—it only takes a few moments of discomfort and before you know it, you’re soaking up the relaxation.
When can you give yourself moments to do less or do nothing during your days? How can you simplify a task so that your body can focus just on one thing rather than multiple?
4. Losing sight of our why
It can be easy to lose sight of the larger vision when we’re in the midst of real-time challenges, and then it can be even easier to become resentful, frustrated, and depleted.
But there is a reason you chose to embark on the journey of having kids, building your career, or entering into any energetically challenging situation. Getting clear on your larger vision and dream is key to staying connected to the motivating force behind your daily struggles.
Consider your most arduous tasks and parts of your life right now. What is the bigger dream and vision behind these? Write this down and keep it somewhere to remind you to zoom out to your larger vision when you’re in the midst of a momentary challenge.
The more we bring mindfulness to what builds our energy and what depletes it, the more we can actively choose the things that invigorate us and oppose the things that deplete us. When we lean into what feels good, we learn that it’s not necessarily what we do, it’s how we do it. Our approach to our responsibilities and challenging tasks could be the key to bringing us more ease and eventually, joy.
As with building any new practice, we will naturally get thrown off and follow activities that are disconnecting and degenerative. We’re only human. However, reminding ourselves that we always have a choice, and remembering that every day is a new opportunity to build our energy and our most empowering life, will guide us to return to those invigorating choices.
Eventually, choosing what is enlivening becomes an instinctual habit, and all of our choices become life- and self-affirming. Our lives end up becoming filled with doing what we love to do—every day.
Try it for a week: each day actively choose what feels good. When confronted with a decision, ask yourself which choice feels the most exciting, which food will make your body feel better, and what ways to approach your work that will feel fun.
What are three to five things that you can apply to get you back to center? Additionally, how can you apply compassion with yourself when this does happen, and also apply a little patience?