Monday, June 14, 2010

How to Take a Day Off

Nothing sets the heart soaring like the idea of having “time off”. Whether we spend our days making money, volunteering, raising children or all of the above, we often spend spare moments contemplating how great it will be once the weekend arrives. “I can't wait to have some time off! Then I'll be happy!” Even yoga teachers think this from time to time.

Yet a truly restorative weekend is hard to find. Often, we schedule our weekends just as densely as our work week, and end up just running from place to place. Monday arrives and we're still tired. Or, we don't plan anything, but we end up feeling restless and fritter away our time on diversions. We get anxious as Sunday ends, unsatisfied, reluctant to return to work.

How many times do you come to Sunday and feel truly rested and rejuvenated for the coming week? Why is it so difficult to allow ourselves relax and “do nothing”?

Consider an insight from physics. Newton's first law describes the truth of momentum: an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. The same principle is at work in humans. We tend to repeat the same behaviors and attitudes unless an outside influence forces us to change. It's the natural result of neuroplasticity, our brain's ability to rewire itself according to patterns of usage. If we do the same thing enough times, that habit sinks into our brain structure, and it becomes harder to change.

From this perspective, we spend 5 days building up a momentum of busyness and stress. This momentum carries into the weekend, and so we stay busy – if just mentally - unless something intervenes. Two days off allows us to slow things down a little bit, but then it's Monday, and we're building speed again. Even a whole week of vacation will barely make a dent, especially if we fill it with sightseeing and activities.

We need a direct and sustained intervention if we want to truly slow down and create a new, conscious direction in our lives. Yoga offers time-tested methods for doing exactly that. Yoga class is helpful, especially if it is designed to change our energetic momentum*. But 90 minutes of yoga once or twice a week can only redirect our momentum slightly. How long does that post-yoga bliss really last? How long before our shoulder tense up again, or we find ourselves stressing out over trivial things?

In order to really STOP, we need to separate ourselves from our normal routine for an extended period of time. This the purpose of a yoga retreat. Over a whole day (or week... or month...), in the supportive structure of retreat, we have time and space to 1) see our momentum for what it is – usually a collection of habits we've picked up unconsciously from parents/friends/society - and 2) consciously redirect our life though the skillful application of yoga.

Going on a retreat is a way to truly take time “off”. Stepping away from our daily life, we dive deep into our practice, and reconnect to what truly nurtures and motivates us.

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