Friday, June 29, 2012

Wise Pacing

This week my son had some tough issues come up at work. We talked about it more than he would have liked. While our discussions gave me a good understanding of what happened and what he can do going forward, what's most important is his understanding and how he proceeds.

In one of our conversations, he said he prefers to solve problems in his own way and his own time. Truth is, that's how he's been since he was a baby. He came into the world wanting to be his own man. I like to think Don and I have allowed him the freedom to do just that.

"That's all well and good," I said, "but sometimes you need to speed up or slow down the pace of your problem-solving, depending on the situation."

Learning how to pace myself has been one of my touchstones. For most of my life, the pace has been fast. The maid of honor at my wedding, Cheryl Brown Manning, called me a "driver" when we were students at Montana State. Renay Oshop, the vedic astrologer I work with, refers to my "gung-ho" attitude.

Over the past seven years or so, I've consciously slowed my pacing. I can't say I'm a very good student of the art of slowness, other than to say I'm a slow learner of this particular art.

Teaching others to slow down via yoga has helped me with my own pacing. When I teach pranayama, for instance, it's all about the pacing of the breath. I invite students to breathe in through the nose, slowly threading it past the navel. At the bottom of the inhale, hold it for a couple of heartbeats before slowly exhaling back up the torso and through the nose. At the top of the exhale, again hold the breath for a few heartbeats before allowing the next in-breath. Repeat at least 10 times. It takes maybe three minutes to get yourself breathing at a pace that sustains real living.

In the have-it-fast, have-it-now world we inhabit, the word allowing is probably the hardest to cope with. Back in my gung-ho, driver days, there was no allow. I made things happen. I didn't let them happen to me. But when they did, I got angry, especially at things I viewed as negative or that diminished me somehow. Because I was already so small in my own mind, I couldn't bear to think of losing any more. And forget about savoring the good things that happened. They'd already arrived too late, when I'd given up wanting them.

Being on edge like this took a toll on my nervous system, which yoga master BKS Iyengar says spans 600 miles in the human body. Yowza. That's a veritable superhighway. I've been on road trips, and a lot can go terribly wrong in 600 miles. Yogic breathing goes a long way toward repairing those stress-created rough patches of road.

One of the acharyas at the ashram mentioned a study she'd read about the effects of stress. It takes about twenty minutes of shallow breathing to dump an unsustainable amount of stress hormones into your system. The antidote, of course, is to breath slowly, deeply and consciously.

Sometimes I have to go fast, like when I drove I-25 to Denver on Wednesday night. You can get squashed if you go less than 75 mph on some stretches. But mostly I go slow. It takes some planning. It takes me about eight minutes to get to work every morning, when conditions are perfect. But they rarely are. The stoplights are out of sync, road construction, a pedestrian in the crosswalk. So I tack on another five minutes to make sure I'm not rushing before I get to work. I throw in as many deep, conscious breaths as I can along the way. Try it some time. You'll enjoy the time you have more.

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