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It's hard to go easy
Learning to love doing the least
A while back, a friend of mine told me about a 6am Ashtanga yoga class she used to attend. Ashtanga is (normally) a very vigorous and challenging practice. At this early morning session, she was often one of only two students. The other would lie down on her mat, wrap herself in blankets, and weep quietly for 90 minutes.
We marveled at this woman’s commitment to waking up early, paying for a yoga class, and doing nothing but weep. Did she come with the intention of joining in the practice but give herself over to the weeping each week? Or was this her sole objective all along, carving out time for herself in a space she felt safe enough to release something? We’ll never know. But we bow down to the weeping queen.
I think of this person (who I’ve never met!) somewhat often. On days when I don’t feel like exercising, I tell myself, just go down to the workout room and if you want to, you can lie on the mat, wrap yourself in a blanket, and cry. And it was in the spirit of this stranger that when a local wellness clinic started offering yoga classes recently, I signed up for the two most restful options: yin yoga and restorative yoga.
I used to be more like my friend: taking Ashtanga and other forms of energetic yoga that often had me upside down, falling on my ass, and sweating profusely. I liked trying the more advanced versions of poses, especially if it meant pushing my flexibility. Props, pillows, and blankets were rarely used.
This type of yoga aligned very well with the competitive, achievement-oriented side of my personality. It was a physical challenge, for sure. But there was a lot about it that kept me in a certain kind of comfort zone: the doing zone.
As I’ve written about before, self help isn’t known as a genre that encourages one to do less. It’s a very “doing” world! Unless you’re immersed in the more Eastern-derived side of self help that emphasizes acceptance, meditation, stillness, and so on, the focus is on doing rather than being.
Now, I love me some energetic, enthusiastic self help. Sometimes I really enjoy the relentless positivity and action-focused advice of a Tara Schuster or Jen Sincero. I want a book with swear words in the title, damn it! I want to be the best at self care, so help me goddess.
In other words, I easily fall into the familiar pattern of seeking out wisdom that aligns with the way I approach the world already. Whether that means signing up for the fiercest yoga class or throwing myself into a long list of self-improvement resolutions, I’m here for it.
The greater challenge for me is to do the things that look easy from the outside. In yoga, that means classes with the least amount of movement, that emphasize comfort, that encourage you to go no further than the first hint of sensation in a stretch or pose. Soft props are all around: bolsters, foam blocks, and blankets upon blankets.
I’ve had to build up the habit of taking the easier option when choices are offered. A little voice in my head says, “Are you just being lazy?”, but I think it’s good for me to give myself permission to do less. I don’t need to strengthen my “do more” muscles. That message comes at me, at all of us, from several powerful directions every day. The message of taking it easy is a lot rarer.
Even the vacation/relaxation porn that flows across social media isn’t really about doing less. You’re either hiking up some extreme trail to “earn” the beauty of a sunset, or you’re spending thousands for the privilege of relaxing while others work hard to make that possible.
Beyond signing up for some extremely slow yoga, how do we actually start doing the least, at least some of the time? Even while writing this post, I struggled to think of other ways that I’ve managed do less. The list isn’t long. I didn’t wash the floor this weekend… I didn’t over-prepare for my fall classes…
I want to keep looking for ways to do less. I’m pretty good at saying no, and I don’t worry too much about disappointing people. But it’s still hard to take it easy on the things I do choose to do, either personally or professionally. As I’m writing this, I’m only a few days away from a trip to Panama that includes a visit to the sloth sanctuary. I plan to absorb as many sloth vibes as I can. Just call me BSE: Big Sloth Energy.
What I’m reading: Spook Street, the 4th in the Slough House series by Mick Herron. I’m now two books ahead of the Slow Horses tv adaptation, but I have the handy habit of forgetting the plot of almost everything I read, so it’ll all be fresh by the time the new series come out.
What I’m watching: Old seasons of Vera on BritBox. Comfort watching that also reminds me of my dad. Each episode is about 90 minutes so I have really have time to sink deeply into the couch.