A Common Cure For The Hurry Sickness

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The other morning I caught myself wandering in circles as I pottered about my living room doing bits and pieces of of the morning rituals I do almost every morning.

It looked something like this: jiggling my mouse to light up my sleeping desktop, then flipping open my laptop and typing in the password, suddenly getting up to put a piece of incense in a burner, then moving to the kitchen to fill the kettle with water, remembering I originally wanted to turn on my iTunes on my desktop, heading back to my desktop to find it sleeping again, again shaking the mouse, again looking at my laptop trying to remember why I wanted to open it, and then realizing that I still had not filled the kettle or lit the incense!

If it sounds dizzying, it IS. And if you’ve ever found yourself whirling around like this you might (like me) be experiencing a symptom of … the hurry sickness.

I’m not usually a fan of labeling personal experiences as a “sickness” because (at least in our modern society) it implies that it is an immutable condition that can only be cured by one of Big Pharma’s latest products. But the label is humorously fitting of the scenario I just described for you, and many scenarios like it that I experience occasionally (as I’m sure you do too).

Plus, I know a cure for the hurry sickness that doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals or doctors (keep reading and I will tell you about how it works).

I am not making this stuff up. The “hurry sickness” is a real medical diagnosis that was first coined 40 years ago by two cardiologists who noticed a common trait in their heart disease patients: a chronic sense of time urgency.

Back then the cardiologists described the symptoms of the hurry sickness as constantly rushing around, overbooking appointments and obligations, and an ongoing feeling of frustration for not being able to accomplish more. Sound familiar?  

In our modern era of rapid change, social media, and ever present smartphones the obvious symptoms of hurry sickness have not lessened–they’ve actually multiplied.

Do you ever notice yourself getting impatient waiting in a check out line because the person in front of you is moving so slow? Are you constantly looking at your smartphone to read emails/social media feeds in order to “fill” empty time while commuting? Have you tried to multitask so many tasks that you lose track of what you were doing in the first place (like I did the other morning)?

These are all symptoms of the hurry sickness, and so many of us are suffering from it.

It’s like we are addicted to haste. And we are allergic to those moments when we are not being productive and getting something done.

It might sound a little funny, but the hurry sickness is seriously bad for our health. The problem with a chronic sense of time urgency is that it keeps us in a heightened state of stress. You know, the famed “fight or flight” nervous system response that gets triggered when our primitive brain perceives a threat? (I’ve written about this before here). It’s bad for the body and bad for the mind.

So what can we do to cure our hurry sickness?

One word: mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a common topic of discussion these days, so I know you’ve heard about it by now. The word “mindfulness” has many different meanings, but lately it’s most commonly understood to be a type of meditation (once Buddhist, now secular) that is easy to learn and beneficial to practice.

But mindfulness has another meaning that is at once more abstract and more immediate to our moment-to-moment experience.

One of my favorite teachers, the infamous Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was a master at explaining how mindfulness can be a common part of life.

Awareness is the key to Trungpa’s common mindfulness. He would say that being aware during the seemingly insignificant moments of life–like boiling water for tea, getting ready for work, walking through the train station, cleaning our clothes, bodies, and spaces–is the way to be free from the speed, chaos, and neurosis that often oppresses us.

The kind of moment-to-moment awareness that Trungpa is talking about is hard to maintain, but it’s easy enough to incorporate practices into our life that will cultivate it.

Here are a few suggestions of ways you can work on your ability to tap into moment-to-moment awareness on a regular basis (the list is by no means exclusive):

1. Start your day with a pause (or a few) in which you notice your breathing and observe how your body feels. Do this BEFORE you grab the smartphone.

2. Practice mindfulness meditation for 5-10 minutes daily. I always recommend to beginners that they practice right after they wake up (and use the bathroom)–and before they check email or have coffee. But once you get established in a daily practice you can play around with the time.

3. Sprinkle mindfulness pauses throughout the rest of your day, especially when you notice yourself getting harried from your hurry sickness. For example, pause and breath a few deep breaths before you send a difficult email or right after you have accomplished an important task. Let yourself fill up the moment with just being, rather than doing.

4. Eat mindfully. Try as much as you can to eat away from your computer and while sitting down. If you can spare a few more moments, then pause before you dig in, and just notice the colors and smells of what you are eating.

5. Practice walking without looking at your phone. Give your awareness to the experience of walking, and save those emails and texts for later!

Cultivating moment-to-moment awareness is not easy, but thankfully it’s something that anyone can get better at with practice (no matter how busy you are).

And it’s a habit that will sometimes lead to another type of experience I recently had (one that is the opposite of my hurry sickness symptoms).

One uneventful Wednesday evening, I was walking through the subway station on my way home from teaching a class and I was practicing just walking: my phone was tucked away in my bag, I didn’t have my iPod with me, and I wasn’t rushing to get on my next train. All I was doing was walking, and watching everyone around me go wherever they were going. Suddenly, I had an intense feeling of not being aware of anything other than my body, my mind, and my breath. For a few seconds, I didn’t even have any thoughts. Just pure awareness of myself and my surroundings. It was a feeling of incredible freedom from haste, hurry, and worry.

The feeling left shortly after it had arrived, and then my mind started churning out thoughts about what I had just experienced. Of course, I was a little bit giddy from having had such a feeling of union with the moment free from any kind of cognitive judgment.

In those moments after my subway experience, I realized that this is why I practice mindfulness

And this is also why I want to share the practice with you.

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So here’s to curing the hurry sickness! I hope you will try to incorporate mindfulness meditation and cultivation into your life. If you want to know more about how to do it, I can teach you. Go here to fill out an inquiry and get started.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends, because they too might be suffering from the hurry sickness.

I’m working on more great posts about how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness will make your urban life better so make sure you click the “Follow Urban Practice” button below to get the next post straight to your inbox. You can also join my monthly newsletter, where I share even more great tips on incorporating these ancient teachings into your modern life. Sign up here.

In the meantime, join me for daily yoga/meditation/mindfulness tips and musings on Facebook (like me here), Twitter (follow @MyUrbanPractice), or Instagram (follow @zarayoga). Hope to see you everywhere!

namaste

The Incredible Importance of Play (and some pictures from my recent Central American adventure)

This is my favorite time of year! Winter has finally gone, Spring flowers are starting to bloom, and I am feeling recharged, rejuvenated, and renewed.

My great mood at this time of year is not just because the season is changing (even though I am FILLED with Spring Fever at the moment). It’s primarily because, as I’ve had the blessed fortune to do over the last several years, I just returned from a rollicking month-long adventure abroad.

As you know, last year I was in India learning up on yoga, meditation, and all things spiritual. This year I went to Central America and while it wasn’t as earth movingly intense as India, it was so much fun.

I literally felt like a child at times, having an unbridled play session doing yoga on the beach, surfing the waves, hiking forests filled with cute monkeys. 

One afternoon, after I had spent nearly the whole day frolicking in the waves, I remembered a news story from last year that talked about lots of research showing adults (in America at least) need to play far more frequently in order to stay physically and mentally healthy. 

Well, I definitely got my yearly recommended dose of play while I was in Central America.

And this is essentially the reason why I structure my work and my life to make sure I have enough time each year to get out and play. The research I’ve read just confirms what I have known from my own experience: keeping play a priority in my life makes the rest of my life so much better. 

Seriously. I sleep better, work better, and generally feel better when I make the time to have rip-roaring fun-filled play.

I’ve talked before about the importance of making time for vacation in your life (no matter how supercharged your work-life is), and the importance of play is one of the reasons why I push it so much.

Because vacation is a time to let loose and play. Like a child: curious, carefree, cheerful. I certainly did. I hope you will too. 

For some inspiration, here are some photos of my trip. (I’m a closet travel advisor so if you have any questions about these places, I’m happy to tell you more–ask me in the comment section below).

Now I want to hear from you…when is the last time you had rip-roaring playful fun? Share it in the comment section, and post your pictures if you have some. And if you haven’t had any play in a while, then tell me what you are hoping to do soon.

With all my playful, post-vacation energy, I’ve got some great posts planned for you in the coming months–so stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of these places, or about yoga, meditation, and mindfulness in general, then comment below or send an inquiry here.

Plus, more posts relating to yoga and your urban professional life are coming soon and you can get the next Urban Practice post direct to your Inbox – just click the “Follow Urban Practice” button below.

Or join me for daily yoga/meditation/mindfulness tips and musings on Facebook or on Twitter by following @MyUrbanPractice.

Corner Office Anatomy – Why Your Work Gets On Your Nerves

OfficeviewIn this segment of Corner Office Anatomy, I want to talk about one of the most vital parts of your body, but one that you might not think about so often while you are in the office (or at any other time for that matter).

It’s a part of your body that could hold the key to your success or failure as a professional in this modern urban era. Still, you probably power through day after day of your career without giving it a single thought. What could be so important yet so easily ignored?

Your autonomic nervous system, of course.

Unless you are an anatomy buff, you are probably wondering what in the world is that, and what does it have to do with your workaday experiences?

The autonomic nervous system is extremely complex, and it is impossible for me to explain it you entirely in this post. To put it very simply, it’s a system of neurons, nerves, plexuses, neurotransmitters, etc. that is responsible for regulating the involuntary (a/k/a unconscious) functions of your body, you know, things like your heart rate, blood circulation, sweat glands, digestion, and the basic rhythm of respiration. Basically anything in your body that carries on without your needing to think about it.

There are two parts of the autonomic nervous system that are constantly interacting with each other to react to your environment and maintain your body’s essential functioning. One part, the sympathetic nervous system, prepares the body for emergencies—it’s the famous “fight or flight” system. 

The other part, the parasympathetic nervous system, is known as the “rest and digest” system because it supports the day-to-day functioning of your internal organs. The parasympathetic system always working, it’s just that when the sympathetic system kicks in, certain of the parasympathetic functions (like digestion, elimination, basic rhythmic breathing) are altered while the body prepares to deal with a threat.

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So, what does this all have to do with you and the office?

Well, the sympathetic nervous systems gets triggered when you perceive stress (for example, a tiger is chasing you or your home is on fire). In response, your body does a number of things, like increasing your heart and respiration rate, releasing bunches of adrenaline, and slowing down the other bodily functions (like digestion) that are not absolutely necessary to deal with a threat to your survival.

Obviously, this kind of reaction has been hugely effective for us humans as we have evolved through extremely dangerous environments. But even though our modern urban living is (usually) far safer than it has ever been in our evolutionary past, our day-to-day lives are still full of the kind of stress that triggers our sympathetic nervous system.

Especially in the workplace.

Things like difficult bosses, office politicking, deadlines, incessantly beeping electronic devices, and overwhelming task lists frequently create a “fight or flight” response in our bodies. Basically, our bodies can’t process the difference between fighting a woolly mammoth or running away from a spear wielding enemy, and a constantly buzzing phone or preparing for a career-breaking presentation.

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The physiological experience of the sympathetic nervous system being triggered—increased heart rate, dilated pupils, sweating, out of control breathing—is the same no matter where the stress comes from.

Our bodies were not designed to withstand the near constant triggering of the sympathetic nervous system, which is such a common occurrence in the modern world of work (and, thanks to technology that allows you to be connected to your work 24/7, the modern world of rest).

The more the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, the less the rest of your body is able to maintain its regular, peaceful functioning—and the more wear on your nerves. Over time, your overall health will suffer and your ability to handle stress will decline. I know I don’t need to tell you what a breakdown of your nervous system will do to your effectiveness at work, or your ability to handle all the other aspects of your life.

So, in order to counteract the effects of stress, it is vital to learn how to calm the sympathetic nervous system. This is exactly what many of the yoga, meditation, and mindfulness techniques are designed to do. 

There are numerous techniques I could teach you, but in this post I’m going to give you just 3 mini-practices that you can use to calm your sympathetic nervous system particularly while you’re in the office. You don’t even need to leave your chair for these techniques to work!

Seated forward fold

Forward folds are hugely calming (for a variety of anatomical reasons that I won’t get into here). You can certainly stand up, or sit on the floor, and fold over your legs, but that’s not always possible in the office so try this one right from your chair.

Forward Bend_BlueSit about half way between the back and front edge of your chair with your feet flat on the ground and set widely apart (about as wide as the two sides of the chair seat). Take a deep breath in as you sit up tall with your hands resting lightly on your lap. Then, exhale as you  drop your arms in between your legs and roll yourself forward until your fingers or hands touch the floor. If your fingers/hands don’t reach the floor, you can let them dangle, or if that is uncomfortable, then just rest them on your thighs. Stay here and breathe deeply for at least 5 breaths—or as long as you need to feel calm and stable.

Double exhale breathing

Yogic breathing techniques (which are broadly called “pranayama”) have long been known to calm the sympathetic nervous system by slowing the heartbeat, reducing blood pressure, and producing a sense of calm and stability. How it happens is not entirely clear, but it has to do with our ability to consciously control a function–respiration–that is affected by all the other involuntary functions. 

One of the most effective, simple breathing techniques is the double exhale.

Practice like this. Sit comfortably in your chair, with your feet on the ground and your hands resting lightly in your lap. Inhale for a count of 3 (or 4 or 5, depending on your lung capacity and state of mind); exhale for a count of 6 (or 4 or 10 etc.). Continue like this for at least 5 minutes. 

Breathwork - Yogic Full Breath_Blue

Pause meditation

It’s now well-known that meditation (especially mindfulness meditation) lowers your stress levels and calms your sympathetic nervous system. But it’s also well-known how hard it is to spare any time for a dedicated meditation practice.

Worry not—there is a way to incorporate some mindfulness meditation into your very busy day. Just practice this “pause meditation.”

To do it is simple: at different moments in your day, such as before you make a difficult phone call, respond to an email, or go into an important meeting, pause and take 3-5 deep inhales and exhales (take more if you have the time or are feeling particularly stressed out).

You are sure to feel more calm and stable, even after just a few breaths. Remembering to pause is as much part of the practice as the breathing, so the more you train your mind to take the pause, the more you will experience the mental clarity that comes with a focused practice.

Will you try one or more of these this week? Tell me if you do, I want to know how it feels for you.

Of course, there are many, many more techniques that you can practice both in the office and at home—and I am happy to share them with you if you would like (contact me here to set up a class). In the meantime, start practicing what I’ve shown you in this post and you will get a good start on calming your overworked sympathetic nervous system.

As always, if you are interested in learning more about how yogic breathing techniques (pranayama), mindful movement (asana), meditation, and work-life balance can help your life in the office run smoothly then inquire here.

And if you know someone who will benefit from these teachings then don’t be shy and share this post with them!

Want more great tips on how to live a healthy and balanced urban life? Get the next Urban Practice post direct to your Inbox by clicking “Follow Urban Practice” or join me for daily tips and musings on Facebook or Twitter (@MyUrbanPractice)—lots of choices, lots of buttons. Click all the ones you want.

namaste

14 Thoughts to End the Year

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I started this year with an optimistic post about how good life will get if you stick to a practice of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.

But as this year comes to a close, I’m feeling a bit more sober. Not that I am pessimistic – my optimistic nature is just too strong and I know more than ever how good yoga, meditation and mindfulness makes one’s life. Maybe I’m just a bit overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world. And, on a personal level, I’m experiencing some uncertainty in my life, my practices and the directions I am going.

I’ve tried, but I’m feeling uninspired by the usual let’s-make-the-next-year-the-best-one-yet mantras that are ricochet-ing across the internet and social media right now. That attitude feels a bit forced at the moment, and my mind is swirling with more than just what-I-will-do-in-2015.

So to end 2014, I’m going to make a different kind of list: 14 thoughts that are on my mind as the year comes to a close. The list is part reflection of the past year, part musing about the coming year, and part just making a list to put my thoughts in some kind of order (as is my habit, being a lawyer and a hyper-organized Virgo).

1. Learning about the human body is endless. After 12 years of yoga practice, I’m still having insights every other week. This year I learned a ton about anatomy (and I’ve started sharing what I’ve learned with you too!)

2. One year is not enough time to master an advanced yoga posture. At least for me. Although I’m close, I didn’t quite make it to full Natarajasana…(I’ll be working on this one again in 2015).

3. Everybody’s talking about mindfulness. But it’s starting to sound like an over-hyped diet fad. The mind’s version of paleo (which I’m mostly unimpressed by). I still advocate joining the mindfulness bandwagon, but I also advise being mindful (ha!) of what you’re trying. And don’t try to do it alone, find a teacher.

4. Even with great discipline and teachers, mind/body practice is bound to be boring at times. Boredom is a huge distraction. Because it makes me want to skip my practice.

5. Despite the distraction, I keep coming back to try again. That is the practice.  

6. Learning about the world is endless. Like the Rastas say, “traveling is the ultimate education.” This year I learned from India again.

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7. Integrating what I learn from yoga, meditation and mindfulness practice into the rest of my life is no easy task. A practice unto itself.

8. Especially when I ponder life’s unavoidable injustices. Like our society’s latent racism. Or planes falling out of the sky (or simply disappearing altogether). Is suffering really all that optional?

9. On the flip emotional side, I am deeply moved by the union we experience with each other, alternately, through our anger, our fear, our inspiration, our hope. We are all in this together. We all can’t breathe.

10. These times are what they are. But times were different once. I am wondering lately about truth, what it is, why it seems so dispensable in our modern times. Wasn’t there a time when it was unbecoming to tell a lie (you know, like the days of the gentleman’s or lady’s honor)? When personal integrity was more valuable than getting whatever you want when you want it? I will explore this thought more in 2015…

11. Maybe that’s why simple silliness was so popular this year. You know, the ice bucket challenge…what a marvelous phenomenon seeing my FB news feed flow from outrageous allegations by politicians to race riots and bombings to ordinary folks dumping freezing water on their heads.

12. I’m not judging anyone though. I also like silliness relief. That’s why I like yoga selfies. Sooo not what yoga is all about, but so much fun anyway.

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13. The deeper I go into the yoga, meditation, and mindfulness teachings, I’m encountering more and more uncertainty. But this is a good thing. A famous Tibetan Buddhist master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, once put it like this: the bad news is you are falling through space and have nothing to grab onto; the good news is that there’s no ground. We’re all falling through space whether we like it or not. But we’re not going to crash, so we just practice letting go into the falling experience.

14. One thing I am certain of – always – is the great pleasure I get from watching my students learn and progress. And I watched a lot of that this past year! So hats off to all my students: I appreciate you enormously.

Tell me, what’s on your mind as the year closes? Share it with me, below, or send an email here.

Plus, stay tuned for more posts relating to yoga, meditation, mindfulness and how it relates to your urban professional life. You can get the next Urban Practice post direct to your Inbox – just click the “Follow Urban Practice” button below.

In the meantime, join me for daily yoga/meditation/mindfulness tips and musings on Facebook (“Like” my page here) or on Twitter by following @MyUrbanPractice.

 

The Union of Inspiration and Fear

My last couple of months have been busy settling down into the rhythm of fall. Lots of long over due projects and harvest holidays have kept me from sharing my thoughts with you. But there’s been a lot on my mind.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about unity, and how all us humans are united in some (and probably many) ways. Years of yoga practice have influenced a habit that I have to notice both obvious and non obvious connections all around me.

You may not know this yet, but “yoga” is a Sanskrit word that comes from the ancient root “yuj” which means “to join.” The “yuj” root is the same as the root in our word “yoke” that means to tie something together (usually an oxen to a cart or some old school scenario like that). So yoga is most often translated literally as “union.”

Union with what? Well, traditionally, yoga was practiced to bring about union with “God” (whatever that means). But the interpretations have varied over the years and the practice can seek to bring about union with others, union with the divine, union with nature, union with your inner wisdom, etc.

Either way, if you dive deep enough into the study and practice of yoga you will end up hearing about union. And for me, that has made me view the world totally differently than I did many years ago before I started learning all this stuff.

I now look around and, instead of focusing on so many differences, I can often see the ways we are all connected. Even when that’s not the most obvious view to have.

I’ve noticed this union in two drastically different yet similar situations over the last couple of months.

The first was the New York City Climate March (that took place on September 21, 2014). Official estimates are that nearly 400,000 people showed up to march through the streets of Manhattan voicing their concern for what appears to be painfully drastic climate change taking place all over our planet.

I was one of the 400,000 there that day. The numbers included people from all walks of life, all ages, all political leanings and all kinds of personal activist agendas. But we were all united in one thing: our love for our home, this planet.

Such unity is inspiring and so we were also united in our inspiration: to do better by the earth, to be better humans.

The second was (and is) the growing panic and fear around Ebola, which has been building since the first reports of the current outbreak started making headlines here in the U.S.

I have been saying since August that Ebola is the one world problem that I am truly worried about (the rest – political shenanigans and military aggressiveness – I have no doubt will all work out for the best in the end). Ebola doesn’t care if we are black or white, rich or poor, liberal or conservative; all those things fall away in the face of a virus that does its (malign) work inside the human body.

I think we know on a deep level that in front of Ebola we are all the same. That is why many of us – like me – are filled with fear (but not to be confused with panic, which is fear run amok). Interesting thing, though, is that the whole Ebola situation is showing us how we are inextricably united: we all have to work together in order to keep this one under control.

In other words, we are all in this together.

There’s a certain beauty in seeing “union” where ever you look, even in the places where you would rather look away. And yoga teaches you to see the world that way.

If you want to know more about how yoga, meditation and mindfulness shed light on our the unity of our human experiences send an inquiry here.

Plus, more posts relating to your urban professional life are coming soon and you can get the next Urban Practice post direct to your Inbox – just click the “Follow Urban Practice” button below.

In the meantime, join me for daily yoga/meditation/mindfulness tips and musings on Facebook (“Like” my page here) or on Twitter by following @MyUrbanPractice.