Lately I’ve been talking a lot about making small changes. Why am I doing that; is it something worth writing about?
I did some digging and I think it is, both new and worthy. One thing I found is that many people tend to “go big or go home”. If we make changes, the small ones often don’t feel worth the time or worth mentioning. Somehow we have come to believe that we need to do things as hard, as big, as good as we can.
After the announcement of another lockdown continuance (I can’t remember which one) I woke up the next day exhausted, angry and with a headache. I had been exhausted already, but the anger was new. The anger in itself felt annoying. Unhelpful. Because when I thought about it, there really wasn’t anyone or anything to be angry with. We are all doing the best we can; and in the moments where I find that hard to believe, I make an effort to tell myself to believe it. I choose consciously to believe that no one is here thinking “Yep, I am going to keep the country locked up, stop people from doing their work, from hugging their parents and make life harder for everyone because that sounds like fun!” If I’m wrong about that one, I’m not sure I want to know.
I wondered where that feeling of anger was coming from. I drank coffee, journaled, talked to some of my people, the friends I talk to always and even more so when I am trying to figure things out. It started to dawn on me that I was, probably, more in a slump than anything else.
I had been doing quite well keeping myself sane during this past year in a pandemic, and as we often do, when things go well we leave them be. Don’t stir the pot. Let sleeping dogs lie. We say, “Why change things that work well exactly as they are?” I mean, weren’t we dealing with enough as it was?
The thing is: they work well, right until they don’t. Simple, yet frustrating.
For me, apparently, things were no longer working well and that came with anger, a massive headache and an exhausted body. I was angry and I was trying to figure out why. Nothing had changed, Yes, the lockdown was extended, but that meant quite literally that nothing had changed. Then I realized that maybe, just maybe, that was the problem.
My routine had been quite steady for over a year by then. Yes, I’d been away a bit in between lockdowns, And yes, I teach irregularly, my schedule is always all over the place and even more so since Covid. But around those teaching moments everything had been pretty much in a regular routine. First things in the morning had stayed the same, and so had non stop computer work for my online membership and retreats. Evening rituals had not changed. Even the way I work towards a class and unwind after hasn’t changed. Was that where the anger and exhaustion fed? I realized I had to shake it up.
I resisted the urge to change everything completely. That has been my default for so long. I never did things just a little bit, I went all in. I would quit that job. End that relationship. Move to another town. (no wonder I’m still exhausted). Big adjustments can be so tempting, right? But they can also be hard to start (procrastinators raise your hands!) or too daunting to even think about.
Thankfully I found my yoga practice where I learned quite fast that the smallest of changes can have an immense effect. Activating the muscles in your standing leg while in Tree Pose for instance, makes the experience of the whole pose different. I took that knowledge off the mat. And I mention it almost every class: “it doesn’t have to be a big move to make a big difference”.
When I started meditating, one of my teachers (Judith Hanson Lasater) said to start with 5 minutes a day. Don’t say “I need to do 20 minutes every day.” Instead, try 5 minutes and when that feels right and goes well for a few days, consider adding a minute. I try to apply that to all changes and new routines I want in my life. I chose to lovingly shake things up. Just a little bit. And in the long run, it’s the smaller changes that are easy to incorporate in your day to day.
I started by staying in bed after waking up for at least 5 minutes. Just to give my body some time to wake up too. Sometimes I listen to the news or check my calendar for what I am doing that day. Sometimes I listen to a song, other times I just simply lay there.
One change I made had the biggest impact so far. I love my work. A lot. So much so that I get caught up in it. I lose track of time and forget to take care of myself. I can spend 4 hours behind my computer editing videos without feeling even one signal from my body that I need to get up. Handy when you’re on a deadline, totally unnecessary in pretty much any other situation. I tried so many ways to work so it would be healthier for me, none worked. Some did for a short time, but in the end I would always end up doing things nonstop for hours on end.
Not long before that day a friend reminded me of the pomodori technique to use for something else. You set a timer for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break and start over. After 4 sessions, you take a 15 minute break.
Resisting the urge to plan it and overthink it, I downloaded the Goodtime app on my phone. As soon as I sit down to do anything that will keep me stationary (desk / couch / counter), anything work or study related, I start the timer. The fun and variation comes in the breaks! For 5 minutes I shake it up! I choose something opposite of what I was doing in the 25 minutes before the break. If I am doing class prep, or studying by practicing yoga, I will choose to breathe consciously and maybe find stillness. If I’ve been behind my computer, I will most likely get up and dance. I have a playlist of songs to dance to, shuffle play one and dance like nobody’s watching.
I made a list of things I can do. On there, you will find things like: dance – breathe – roll with my yoga tune up balls - jump – lie down for a short savasana. What would you do? Maybe make a (mental) list of things you like and can do, and pick something new every now and then.
Did it help? Yes, all these small changes made a difference. I am still tired. But I feel lighter more often, and more relaxed. I stopped being angry as soon as I realized what I wanted to change; I celebrated with a mini dance session.
Something I hadn’t counted on was how much more productive and creative I feel in the 25 minutes that I work. I think it’s a combination of factors making that happen. I’m not easily distracted because I know I can do other things in just 25 minutes or less. I know my nervous system functions better now that I am also giving my body breaks and rest. Lastly, I think dancing is a big part of it. It brings me joy, I can let go of any built-up stress (even the stress I may not be aware of) giving my body AND my mind all the space they need to focus on the things I want to make, create and share.
Will you join me and Shake it Up with me? Remember: it doesn’t have to be a big move to make a big difference! Share your experiences with me using #yvshakeitup and let me know what songs to add to my Dance Break Playlist! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
edited by Ely Bakouche