Hot Yoga Session 12: Less Thinking, More Doing

This post is part of my January 2012 30 Days of Hot Yoga series. This month I’m taking on a personal challenge to complete 30 sessions of hot yoga at Baptiste Studios in 30 days in celebration of my 30th birthday. Wish me luck!

It seems silly, but I would say that my hardest pose to date, the one I have the most trouble focusing and growing in, is shavasana (corpse pose). We end each practice with several minutes in a calm, dark room, that is nearly silent. The goal of this pose is to be still, clear your head, and earnestly rest before you move on to whatever comes next in your day. This was not always difficult for me, but lately it’s been very challenging. So today when my instructor totally caught us in the act, I thought I would share some of his wisdom because most of us suffer from distracted thinking and even when it’s welcome, it’s not always what is best for us.

Since the beginning of this adventure I have noticed that my approach to class has shifted. In my former life, I would – like most other people – attend class when I wanted to, mostly for the physical practice, but also to sort of check out of life for a while. I didn’t think in class very much, sort of just accepted what was there and did what I could. But now I’m on a path towards.. something. And rather than just attending each class, I consider every hour to be one piece of a larger, overarching experience. I keep unintentionally making marks for myself – assuming class will get easier tomorrow, or the next day. A common phrase is: “by the end of this I will be ….. ” because, of course, I can’t be the same person afterwards, I have to be different – that’s the point, right?

Ah, well, no – not really.

The thing is that I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m doing (each pose, what’s next, are my hips pointing in the right direction? can I go deeper?) and not enough time experiencing the practice, as I mentioned in the Session 9 post. Sidenote: Jenna Marbles has a funny video about this. Today the narration had quieted for the most part. But I couldn’t help laughing when the instructor brought it up.

The thing is, and I know a lot of us do this, we LOVE to think about stuff. Here are two common forms of distracted thinking:

1. You don’t want to do what you’re doing and you seek out distraction. This can either be internal (picture you, staring off into space, in protest of doing whatever you ‘should be’ doing): where you think about what you did last night, plan for weekend, consider something you read recently, think about your pets; or external: check facebook, check your email, text your friend, check facebook again, read an article that’s sort of work-related, write on your blog, do your time sheet, watch that video someone mentioned, check facebook again… When you are successful, you’ll find that you can sometimes pass a lot of time while appearing to be busy and enjoying at least mildly enjoying yourself.

  • In yoga class this kind of distraction comes from allowing your thoughts to wander. Maybe you think about your neighbor or a person near you and what they’re doing. Maybe you think about someone’s mat (that’s a thin mat, I wonder if it’s a rental.. no, not a rental, but really used.. maybe he’s a writer, he kind of looks like a writer..), their water bottle (I miss my nalgene bottle.. maybe I’ll get another one.. i brought it to kenya the first time.. that was a good trip..), or their sweet yoga gear (sweet yoga tights! I wonder if she bought it at Athleta… was that the summer issue or early fall?.. i wonder if they still sell them.. maybe they’re on sale now..)

2. You’re so emotionally connected to a recent event, you obsess about it for hours. This is the worst kind because it can be literally paralyzing. Maybe you got in a fight with your significant other or a good friend. Maybe you had a great date or a recent flirtation that you can’t help but completely indulge in processing it over and over again. I have a lot of friends that admittedly do this, so I imagine that most of us are guilty

  • In yoga this would basically be the same thing as when you’re at your desk, pretending to work. The nice thing about thoughts is that they are so portable. I can take my thoughts from one asana to another. I can take them up and down my sun salutations and try to cast them out of strengthening poses. But when they’re strong emotional thoughts they are really hard to shake. After a while, it feels like they’re following you.

Sometimes distracted thinking can be an asset. Maybe you realize something that will help remedy an issue. Maybe you think of something nice to do for your friend. Maybe you obsess about it until it stops bothering (or exciting) you.

But if you really want to do what is best for you, most of the time that means STOP IT. Stop thinking about it. No more. Cut it out. Give up already. Here are three ways to clear your mind:

1. Breathe. Focus on your breath. Extend the length of each inhale and exhale. Consider rotating or moving with your breath.

2. Turn your thoughts upside down! If you’re thinking negative thoughts, turn it around by thinking of something positive about the person, the event, or something that makes you happy. If it’s positive, consider what you’re missing out on when you spend your time thinking about other things – is this really the best thing for your work day?

3. Listen to music that focuses you. In Ally McBeal everyone had a theme song, something they could listen to that would aid whatever situation they faced. I choose 70s classic rock or Enya. It sounds out of touch, but you can get it loud enough to drown out distracting noises and it’s still not coherent enough to occupy your attention.

Photo courtesy of AleighEdwards.com

Whatever you choose, do what’s best for you at the time. And consider what you miss out on when you’re distracted. Class is a thousand times easier when I don’t narrate every pose, when I’m actually present at each moment, and when I choose to experience it as a whole. And I would argue that work goes by a lot faster (and I’m more productive) when I’m actually in it. Plus, I feel better afterwards.

Breathing meditation is a great tool as well. I use it nearly every shavasana to help focus and calm my mind, or if I’m having trouble falling asleep, and it has helped me focus at work. Select the link to learn more.