Take It Easy, Take It Slow
Stoked on gettin’ fit and zen AF this year, working in a new health routine, dropping your baggage or on making more time for yourself?
SUPER. For real. Kudos to you and the decision to live easier.
But from one formerly obsessive health-nut to (perhaps) another, I’m going to try to steer you in the direction of gradual and patient progress, in order to guard you from an impending “I’ll never be able to touch my toes it’s hard and I’m bored and wtf even is meditation” meltdown. I happen to be familiar with that downward spiral, so I thought I’d offer up some tips on Fitness, Yoga, Meditation and what I’ll call Active Happiness.
Let’s get right into it. You don’t have all day.
I’ll start this one short & sweet: for most people, most of the time, moving more means feeling better. (I’m not taking into account injuries, pregnancies or special populations, so please consult your doctor before taking this as the word of law, and/or jump to “On Meditation” below.)
When it comes to physical activity, some of us need a little extra heat to balance out our bodies’ naturally slower metabolism or our propensity for couch time.
If you’re just getting started, start easy and build. Maybe make an appointment with a personal trainer so they can show you how your body in particular can get stronger, safely.
Or try this:
Hold a plank for 20 seconds.
Tomorrow, do it again.
The next day, hold it for 30 seconds.
Keep scaling up.
Do the same thing with push-ups, squats and sprints/running, if that’s your preference. (Start with 10 squats and 10 kneeling push-ups a day. Do it til it’s easy, then add on.) Watch yourself become stronger, physically and mentally.
If you prefer group activity for motivation/accountability, cool. Me too. But do not judge yourself based on anyone else’s progress. If you’re working out next to a marathon runner, know that they started training somewhere too.
This is your game. Keep it that way.
Some of us need a little less activity and stimulation so our cortisol (stress) levels aren’t through the roof. I fall into this camp. I love circuit training, bootcamps and hot yoga. I need to chill out. I need to sleep better.
But whether you’re vin or yin*, the same principles apply: we try to approach the practice with patience, like we’re learning how to ride a bike. Like, remember when it was fun to try something new? Think Beginner’s Mind — “In the Beginner’s Mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.
We don’t know what’s going to happen when we step onto the mat. Our bodies may be more or less capable than we expect them to be. Things might get uncomfortable. But we will move through it. It will get better.
And when we let go of needing to be the expert, we get to explore opportunities. (The more you do this on the mat, the easier it gets to learn and grow off the mat, too, I’ll add.)
Consider, briefly, all the other tough stuff you’ve breathed through in your lifetime — you’ll get through yoga, I promise. Progress will come, I swear. For quite some time, I couldn’t touch my toes either.
Ah, yes — the art of breathing through it. To be perfectly honest, I’m better at guiding other people through meditation than I am practicing it myself. Which, as a teacher, I think is fine — Mike Tomlin can’t dodge corners as well as Antonio Brown does — and they make out okay.
But as a student of yoga (which all teachers are — please don’t let us tell you differently), as someone who aspires to truly walk the walk, and as someone with sometimes crippling anxiety, I have to work on it.
So, a few tips and a meditative practice I picked up from a trauma training — I do this to fall asleep, and anytime I need to fall back and collect myself:
- Get as comfortable as you can. Sit, lay down, close your eyes. If you’re in physical pain, it doesn’t mean you can’t meditate, you’re just going to have to work a little harder. Which brings me to #2.
- Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If your brain wanders, bring it back. If you fart, laugh and move on. The mind is designed to handle a lot at once, so trading in the multi-task may prove difficult at first.
Don’t overthink it.
Meditation, by definition, is simply the act of focusing on one object. You could meditate on a piece of pizza if you wanted to. Meditation comes before total absorption and release of all control (enlightenment?) in the yoga tradition. Here, the idea is just to practice keeping your mind with one thing at a time. But instead of getting lost in the details, try this:
(Get comfortable. Do the best you can.)
Breathe in through the front of your body (don’t overthink it, just visualize it)
Breathe out the back of your body (again, just picture breathe moving our the back)
Breathe in through the back of your body
Breathe out through the front
Breathe in through the right side of your body
Breathe out through the left
Breathe in through the left
Breathe out through the right
Breathe in from the belly up through the ribcage, then your chest
Breathe out from the chest, ribcage, then abdomen
Repeat the cycle as many times as you want. (Try 2x-3x to start, or until you fall asleep.)
You might also try counting breath (breathe in for 2, out for 2, in for 3, out for 3…) or check out guided meditations (for sleep, focus, energy, whatever it is you need) on Youtube — free! — or yogaglo.com, if you’re down to pay. They’re great.
On Active Happiness
This is where things start to get a little more advanced so, I repeat, do not get overwhelmed. When you do, go back to “On Meditation.” Hit reset. Try again. Because this last piece is, as titled, a bit more active and a bit more involved.
When you’re moving away from things that make you unhappy, toward a state of mind that breeds more content, there are a few things that you can do to become a little more aware of the of the shit that bogs you down:
1. Notice when you’re bored. Notice when you’re unhappy. Notice when you’re self-deprecating or ungrateful.
Write it down, or make a mental note if you must. We want to start recognizing thought patterns, and tying them to particular activities, environments or, yes, people.
2. Once you establish a pattern, re-direct yourself away from the things that bring you down.
Clearly, that’s easier said that done. Last night I watched three hours of TV. I wasn’t even watching good TV, so it was pretty unnecessary. You will find yourself doing these “bad” things anyway, and that’s okay. Having some awareness is better than none... Today, I turned the TV off and wrote.
3. Trade the downers for the the things you like to do. Do them FOR YOU.
Look, I hope this piece helps someone some day feel less stressed out about “wellness” and “balance.” But, honestly, if it matters to nobody at all, that’s okay. I write to share experience and screw-ups and stories — sure — but also because it’s an incredible anxiety-reducer for me. I’m not even sure I’m a good writer. I don’t care. (I also practice yoga for me, despite what many a bar bro may insinuate.) So if you go gluten-free, do it because bread makes your stomach hurt and rice makes you happy, not because it’s a Thing. The Things will change, so stay true to you.
Share away… but you don’t have to. It’s YOUR game.
I think we all want to change, in one way or another. There’s a lot of opportunity out there to become better, bigger, brighter, bubblier versions of ourselves. But perhaps the most important work is this: taking it slow and easy, even when it seems like everything around you is spinning faster.
Keep a Beginner’s Mind. Keep it sustainable. Keep it enjoyable. Try it. Then try it again.
Vin (vinyasa yoga): tends to be a more mobile, active “flow”
*Yin (yoga): particularly calming to the nervous system with lengthier holds, fewer transitions and less physically-demanding postures