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Life goal: be a plumber.
Allow me to elaborate. In 2015, during my first yoga teacher training, the teacher introduced the idea “prana leaks.”
Prana is the yogic term for vital life force energy. It’s the nonphysical, intangible part of the body—the aliveness. It is the sense of internal motivation, the drive to do and interact with the external world. Prana determines whether I feel full or drained.
The yoga tradition teaches the preservation of prana within the body. For example, when performing yogic breathing exercises, typically the lips remain sealed and breath flows in and out through the nostrils. The purpose behind this is to contain healthy levels of prana within the body, flowing freely and supporting the practitioner’s vitality. It can then be harnessed: say, to hold a challenging yoga pose or rise to a challenging moment.
Going deeper, there is a concept called bandhas, or energetic locks. These are specific body positions—for example a drawing in of the chin or the navel—that act like internal valves. The bandhas serve as a means to seal in the energy within a specific part of the body, much like a window that seals against cold air or a sink that is caulked to prevent leakage.
Imagine if I lived in a house where all the windows lacked proper seals: warm air would leak out and cold air would leak in. Imagine if the pipes in the bathroom sink lacked proper connection: the water would flow out everywhere, leaving little or none to flow out of the tap. The house would be incredibly inefficient. I would undoubtedly call a contractor and a plumber to fix the leaks.
Humans can be viewed the same. It can take a great deal of energy to perform a task, accomplish a goal, or work toward a long-held dream. If energy is adequately contained and properly channeled, efficiency and productivity flow; those tasks, goals, and dreams are realized.
Conversely, if the energy is flowing in multiple different directions or being drained excessively toward an external source, the amount that is left for personal use is inadequate to complete these functions.
For example: I sit down at my computer to write my new article. I have my ideas ready, I’m feeling motivated, and I decide to quickly check Facebook one more time before I begin to type. I scroll my news feed, become absorbed in others’ stories, click into YouTube to watch a posted video, and that leads to another video and another video. The next thing I know, 20 minutes have passed. I’m now feeling distracted, scattered, and can’t remember what I wanted to write about. My phone has become an energetic leak in this moment.
In 2015, as a young 29-year-old, this concept was quite foreign. I had yet to define personal boundaries, or dedicate time to self-reflection. I forgive myself for that. I was too busy being 29.
In the eight years that have passed since that time, and as I have gained ever-deepening layers of self-awareness, this concept has continued to sink in and shore me up. It has guided me to step into my power and set healthy boundaries—all in the interest of saving my energy for the person that matters most: myself.
Here are some leaks that I have identified over the years:
My cell phone: As with any tool, smartphones can be incredibly helpful. They can also serve as huge sources of distraction and unhappiness. Once I learned to manage my screen time, efficiency soared. Read more about my experience here.
Alcohol: For some, socializing paired with mindful alcohol consumption can be a source of great joy. For others, it can be an all-consuming energy sap. It’s not about the thing itself but one’s relationship to it. If that relationship is (or is at risk of becoming) obsessive, controlling, or distracting, it is an energetic drain. For me, achieving sobriety plugged a gaping hole.
Sleep: Seven or eight solid hours of rest deliver that sense of vitality in the morning (okay, okay, and it takes a couple cups of coffee, too). Anything less than that, I find my focus and motivation lacking and my attempts at productivity aimless and frustrating.
My kids: I’ll say it. My children are simultaneously my biggest joy and my biggest energetic drain. There are four of them. They’re amazing, intelligent, funny, sweet humans—and they need me constantly. Of course I’ll be there for them, fully. But I have to be there for myself first. I prioritize sleep, yoga practice, exercise, walks, and alone time. It’s like putting on my own oxygen mask first.
My social life: There are varying levels of social need; it is imperative that every individual honor their own. In my current season of life, I prefer one social engagement a week. This balance preserves enough energy for my self-care routine, my writing, my yoga classes, and my family. It also means that I have to say no and set boundaries around my availability. I experience the joy and health benefits of friendship without feeling spread thin.
Certain people: As I age, and my time and energy become more precious resources, I am becoming more and more selective of my circle. I focus on healthy, give-and-take relationships, where both people are seen, heard, and honored.
Multitasking: I carve out specific times of day, paired with a specific seat at my table, where I work. Closing my laptop, putting it away, and walking away from that chair signals to myself that it is time to stop. I never choose that seat at any other point of the day. By compartmentalizing work time and family time, there are defined channels for my energy.
My expectations of myself: Historically, I have often taken on multiple projects at once. This has manifested as a cycle of excitement, overcommitment, juggling, and burnout. I functioned like that water pipe, leaking energy in many directions but never flowing efficiently. I have recently started a new practice: in the morning I ask myself: what is the one most important task that I must complete today? That is what I do.
Identifying these energetic leaks isn’t easy. It takes what I lacked in my 20s: proper self-awareness. Luckily, my yoga teacher offered a more specific practice to get me started, and now I offer it to you.
Write two lists, headed “What brings me joy” and “What brings me no joy.”
Don’t think too hard. Let the words flow. Don’t be surprised or ashamed at what comes out.
In my experience, the “joy” column will be things that feed energy. The “no joy” column will be things that drain it.
Give yourself permission to sit with the lists for a long time. Years, even. It’s 2023 and I’m still figuring out how to manage my “no joy” column.
Want more? Make another list.
This practice is inspired by James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. This time, reflect on an average day. Start from the moment of awakening, and list out every single action.
>> Wake up
>> Check phone
>> Use the bathroom
>> Put on FitBit
>> Go downstairs
>> Check email
>> Do yoga
>> Start coffee
>> Check Facebook and Instagram
>> Sit down to write
And so on and so forth.
This practice illuminated all those moments throughout the day in which I was getting distracted, performing a task needlessly or repetitively, or, my favorite new term: procrasti-working. (I learned this from yoga teacher Shannon Crow). There is a big difference between being busy and being productive; busy work funnels energy away from meaningful work.
These exercises are designed to increase awareness, not shame. Sustainable change doesn’t happen overnight, and is often uncomfortable. It requires honesty and readiness.
Slowly, I’m becoming my own Mrs. Fix-It. I am constantly on the lookout for new leaks, armed with my caulk and a plan.
Eight years of yoga study and practice, and countless teacher trainings later, and I’m still continually in awe of its lessons. Of course, all of them are quite useless to the modern practitioner unless applied to daily life. I started off learning how to hold a handstand and wearing fancy yoga pants while doing so. Now I see that underneath all of that, I’m holding the most precious roadmap to a life well-lived.
Gratitude to my teacher Margo Rosingana, without whom I might be quite leaky. Deep bows.