Are you caught in the epidemic of busyness and stress?

Are you busy all the time? Are you stressed out? What does stress feel like to you? What effects does stress have on your body, your mind, and your health? I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot, as I am preparing a talk on the topic for the Tucson Cancer Conquerors’ Soul, Strength, and Spirit day, which is coming up soon! I’m very excited to be a part of this program, btw.

Sadly, stress seems to have become an integral part of our lives and our culture. Some years ago, the WHO (World Health Organization) declared stress the health epidemic of the 21st century (of course that was before Covid). But this just underscores the seriousness of this problem. Stress isn’t just some minor annoyance. It is a serious problem, with real consequences for the health of our bodies and minds (tons more on that in the talk). And while stress affects everyone in our culture, having cancer and dealing with treatment, follow up, fear of recurrence, and treatment side effects can just raise the stress game to a whole new level. I’m not going to get into all the details here today, but I do want to address one aspect of this epidemic of stress, also sometimes referred to as the epidemic of busyness. And that is that we DO have some control over how stressed we allow ourselves to become. And by default, then, the power is ours to change that if we want to.

You know how much I love Eckhart Tolle, who said “It is possible to be busy without stress. If you find it is not possible for you, it is better to be not busy at all”. There are a few important points wrapped up in this quote. First, it may seem hard to believe that we could possibly be as busy as we are without being stressed. They just go hand in hand, right? Maybe not. We all know people who seem to do 1,000,000 things, do them all effectively and effortlessly, and never seem flustered or overwhelmed. So some people can do it. What do those people have, because I want some?!

Second, Tolle points out that there are many of us who may not be able to continue to be that busy without tipping our delicate balance over into the “stressed” zone. No shame in that. There are probable many more of us in this category than in the first one. But we must learn to see it, to feel it, to be honest with ourselves, and admit it. It is only then that we can begin to do anything about it. If we just keep running mindlessly through our lives, busy and overwhelmed, stressed to our breaking points, and refusing to admit that there is anything wrong, we cannot get better. So as always, self-awareness is so key.

And his final point is that we can choose not to be so busy. Just because everybody else is doing it, and it has become almost a badge of honor in our society to say “Oh, I’m sooooo busy” whenever someone asks how you are doing, doesn’t mean that you should strive for that. Maybe we don’t need to take that second job (if we cut our expenses, could we do without it?), or all that overtime, or to be on so many committees, or take on that volunteer work, or so many social engagements, or spend so much time scrolling facebook. Maybe we need more quiet time, sipping coffee or reading a book. Just looking out the window, strolling around our gardens, and just BE-ing. There is a funny meme that says something like “she was just sitting there, doing nothing, just breathing and relaxing, like a total psycho”. But I believe that our bodies and our minds really need that kind of time to decompress, to heal, to balance. When was the last time you just sat around, enjoying yourself, and didn’t let yourself feel bad that you weren’t “accomplishing” anything?

So busyness and stress are big problems. What can we do about it? First, we have to really tune into ourselves and understand how we, individually, are doing. This is svadhyaya, or self-study, in yoga philosophy. Are we truly handling our level of busyness with ease, and thriving? Or are we secretly suffering, stressed, depressed, anxious, or even with physical problems like irritable bowel syndrome, that might be exacerbated by our stress? Be honest. I used to be super tough, and truly believed I was doing just fine, in spite of my busy lifestyle. I wasn’t. And it isn’t easy to admit, but we have to face it if we want to make any positive change. Pretending to be fine, while the dangerous effects of stress are smoldering in your body is no good place to be.

I’ll talk more about the next steps in a future post and in lots more detail in our session at TCC October 2! For those of you who are TCC members, see you soon!


Do you feel at home in your own skin?

“The journey of yoga isn’t about mastering the poses. It’s about finding the feeling of being at home in your own skin” – Kino MacGregor

I don’t usually post these progress over time collages, but I thought this one might be helpful in illustrating a few important points as we all continue to progress in our yoga journeys.

First, this might not look like much progress at all! It is pretty darn subtle. And it is 3 years of slow continuous effort in scorpion forearm stand (aka vriskikasana in pincha mayurasana). What you might notice is that my back is bending ever so slightly more over these 3 years, and my feet are coming slightly closer to my head, due in part to the deeper backbend, but also due to more opening of the hip flexors (front side of hips) and quadriceps, which allows the legs to stretch further back and down. Eventually, the feet are supposed to reach down and touch the top of the head. Obviously I’ve got a long way to go before I’ll reach that point. Maybe 3 more years? Maybe 10!

So the first point is that the practice of yoga is a journey that requires slow, continuous effort over long periods of time. We can’t expect our bodies to just pick up these abilities with one or a few months of half ass effort. We really have to commit some time and earnest energy to give our bodies and minds time to adjust and develop. This brings us to my second point, which is that in order to be able to commit to slow steady progress, we must learn to practice non-attachment. This means that we aren’t so attached to the specific goal of touching our feet to our heads (or whatever other specific pose-related outcome we might be striving for). If we were, we would give up after we weren’t able to check off that box in some period of time. I sure wouldn’t still be working on touching my feet to my head. I might just say, “well I don’t think my body can do that one”. And the truth is, maybe my body never will do that one. And that is ok. But I am certain that I am gaining strength, resilience, patience, and love for myself each time I try. As Kino says above, yoga isn’t about mastering certain poses. It isn’t about collecting certain accomplishments, or checking off the boxes after each pose we learn to do. It is about so much more. It is about everything we learn along the way. It is about realizing our strength and our tenacity and our capacity to continue to try again and again, even when we fall. Even when things are hard. Of course, it is ok to have some goals in mind, so that we have something that we are working toward. But we must recognize that whether or not we ever arrive at that goal isn’t the measure of the success of our practice.

As the rest of Kino’s quote reads, the journey of yoga “is about finding the feeling of being at home in your own skin”. And THIS is what I really thought about when I put together this photo collage of me practicing my scorpion in forearm stand. As I was looking at the pictures, I realized that you really can’t see the biggest difference in this posture over these 3 years. And this is often the case in yoga. There may not be big changes happening on the outside, but profound changes are happening on the inside, and they are actually the more important ones. You can’t see it, but I can FEEL it. The biggest difference in this posture is that I now feel so much more comfortable in the pose. Several years ago I could get up into a forearm stand, partly just out of brute force and stubbornness, but now I feel truly at ease in this position. I can breathe easily, and spend some time here, working slowly on the shape, feeling each part of my spine, my neck, my hips, and my legs. I can actually tune in to what my body is doing, where I need to engage and where I need to relax, and what happens when I explore those movements. Instead of feeling strained and uncomfortable, I feel at ease, graceful, and at home in my own skin. Even though my feet don’t touch my head. Of course I’ll keep working on it and maybe one day they will. Or maybe they won’t. But in the meantime, I’m so grateful that I finally realized it just doesn’t matter.

So next time you step onto your mat, remember that the practice of yoga is a long and gentle journey, that it isn’t about “perfecting” any specific shape or pose, but instead about how you feel as you are practicing, and what you learn along the way. Challenging ourselves on the mat teaches us to truly tune in to ourselves, to our bodies and our minds, as we practice. And as we tune in more and more, we learn to embrace and work with what we have, rather than fighting or struggling against ourselves or trying to be something that we are not (like flexible in the spine for me LOL). In this way, this practice teaches us to be at home in our own skin. This is the true measure of the success of this practice. And AHHHHHHH, what a feeling!

Interestingly, navigating a cancer experience can teach us similar lessons. We learn that we can’t force that year of herceptin to go any faster, or that we can’t expect everything to be perfect once we get that “final” surgery, or that we’ll be done and feel back to normal once we finish xyz treatment. Often things are delayed, complications arise, or plans have to be adapted and adjusted to best take care of our health. Maybe we have to re-evaluate our priorities and bow out of some obligations that we no longer have the energy for, or some friendships fade away as our needs change. So we have to learn to be patient, to let go of our expectations and not torture ourselves if things don’t go just as we had planned. Instead, we can try to take the opportunity to tune in to ourselves, to listen to what we really need, to be loving and understanding with ourselves and know that we are learning and healing as best we can. When we do this, just as in yoga, we can feel the struggle release a little, we can find some grace and ease in the midst of this truly challenging time, and we are at home again in our own skin. And AHHHHHH, what a feeling!

If you want some help developing your yoga practice or need any guidance, please let me know. I’d love to see if the practice of yoga can help you find your own AHHHHHH moments.