Why does sitting around and doing nothing evoke guilt?

That was my day yesterday. Making food and eating too much of it. Practicing yoga and falling flat on my cheekbones. Curiously watching episode one of Downton Abbey on Hulu to see what the fuss is all about, and then getting sucked in for three four more. Running the sweeper as a last-ditch effort to be productive.

“Productive.” Everyone tells us that this means we’re worth something. That because we hold a 9 to 5, or run errands, or feed our dogs or our children (or both) day after day, we’re doing our part.

What should also live inside this Venn diagram? A regular yoga practice and pep talks from friends and time to take ourselves less seriously and sitting on the mediation cushion.

Taking care of ourselves isn’t equated with being productive, though I would argue that self-care fuels the holy grail of productivity more than anything else. Research shows that yoga increases productivity, but what happens when productivity sabotages your yoga practice?

I used to make excuses about not having time to do yoga, just like many of my students lament about not coming to class more often. Without a regular yoga practice, though, I fall apart. I mean, the reason I started practicing in the first place was so I could put myself back together.

There’s no way around it; not practicing is a choice. Writes Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist: “What’s stopping me from doing yoga is that I won’t give anything up for it…. Productivity is about priorities. And if you’re not doing what you want to be doing it’s because something else is more important.”

Are distractions more important?

These days, I’m more interested in the undoing than the doing — in erasing this thought each night before sleep: But I could have done more. It means coming to terms with lazy days that spark creativity and help me recharge, rather than beating myself up about forgetting to buy the garbage bags (which seems to be a routine of mine.)

When you feed doing with doing, you just get more doing. And what does more doing do? It leaves you undone. (click to tweet)

Feed doing with being and you get yoga. Yoga stimulates serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), two chemicals essential for better mood. Serotonin’s the chemical to watch if you want to be more productive (not to mention happy) because “decreased serotonin activity can lead to an inability to create and act on well-formed plans” (via Psychology Today).

Have you ever focused on happiness productivity? My guess is not, because the very tools meant to make us more productive are robbing us of happy-inducing downtime. (Case in point, I checked my phone three four times while writing this.)

“In the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction…. We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection.” —Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen

Belsky says we crave distraction over downtime because when affirmation-seeking information is absent (think “likes” on your recent Facebook post), what’s left is the “uncertainty and fears that plague all of us.”

Perhaps a little melodramatic, but there’s truth here. When we attempt to quiet our minds from distraction through yoga or meditation, not-so-pleasant emotions or thoughts may surface. So we keep busy. We think we’re productive, but really we’re heading toward burn out.

5 ways to stop sabotaging your yoga

Yoga is the union of our seemingly competing selves: the one who knows everything is going to be okay vs. the one who freaks out when things aren’t.

Ensure that “the one who freaks out” isn’t dominant in your life with these anti-productive practices that result in more productivity for the things that matter… You.

1. Be your own sacred space.
Unplug. Disconnect. As painful as it is to not check Facebook, abstain for an hour. A day. Power down your screens and bury your nose in a book. Remember when you used to do that?

2. Declare your “enough-ness.”
Breathe it with me: “I am enough.” Your unending to-do list does not determine your self worth.

3. Act from a place of compassion.
When you finally start day one of your regular yoga practice, don’t wish you had started sooner. Be grateful for beginning now. Keep showing up in this way for yourself because you deserve it.

4. “Protect the state of no-intent.”
This is Belsky’s tip, advising that, “When you’re rushing to a solution, your mind will jump to the easiest and most familiar path.” Avoid mechanical reactions and instead let your mind wander. In fact, sit around and do nothing and don’t feel lazy for it.

5. Take baby steps.
Think: What can I do now that will help me get to X later? Some goals or yoga poses may seem out of your reach… at first. Move toward advanced yoga postures with preparatory poses, like the two hip openers included here.

Try this: Leg Cradle and Leg Over Arm

Preparatory poses for Elephant’s Trunk Pose, Eka Hasta Bhujasana

  1. For Leg Cradle (seen above with Leaping Papillon Pose): Sit in Staff Pose, Dandasana, with legs straight and hands by your hips. Inhale your right foot in to your body. Lifting the foot, snug the knee into the right elbow and the foot’s arch into the left elbow, clasping the hands together. If this isn’t accessible, hook both elbows underneath the shin, making a number 11 with your forearms. Maintain active, flexed feet with straight ankles throughout the sequence.
  2. Lift up from the low belly and soften your shoulders back. If it’s uncomfortable to keep the left leg straight, you can bend the knee or lay the leg down in a half-cross-legged posture.
  3. Gently cradle the leg side to side, increasing motion in the hip joint. Stay for 6 to 8 deep breaths and move on to…

 

  1. From Leg Cradle, take hold of your foot with both hands or your right hand only and begin to move your knee behind you and to the side, like a half Happy Baby pose.
  2. Maintain lift in the low belly and soften your shoulders while breathing deeply. Now, place your right arm inside the leg, palm flat on the mat next to your right hip. Snug the right leg up the arm or over the shoulder.
  3. Plant your left palm next to your left hip if it isn’t already.
  4. Take 6 to 8 breaths, hugging your arm and leg together. Unwind, removing your right arm and sliding the right leg down to match the left.
  5. Repeat the sequence on the other side.

Your turn: How do you juggle doing with being in your day-to-day life? Share below!