LETTING GO OF WHAT SHOULD BE, EMBRACING WHAT IS, AND PERSONAL PRACTICE
Should. v. 1 expressing duty or obligation, or a possible or probable future event.
I should have gone to the grocery store. I should have done laundry. I shouldn’t have skipped that party. I shouldn’t have skipped that yoga class. I should be better. I should be doing more.
The definition above is the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the word “should.” While on the surface, it may appear just an average dictionary entry, upon further examination, it is a stark reminder of just how much “shoulding” ourselves can remove us from the present and prevent us from embracing what is.
Now, it goes without saying that there are some “shoulds” that, well, should be adhered to. You should make time for self-care. You should make time and space for a regular yoga practice. You should celebrate your successes.
It’s when the shoulds take on a mind of their own; it’s when the shoulds become deeply rooted in either the past or the future; it’s when the shoulds become focused on events unchangeable or events not yet occurred; it’s when the shoulds make us question our self-value or our self-worth; these are the times that we should kick those shoulds to the curb.
Examining the latter component of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of should, “a possible or probable future event,” it becomes evident that shoulding is inherently rooted in the sometimes intangible and the often unrealized.
When we should ourselves over past missed opportunities or realities, we are brooding over events that either did not come to fruition, or that came to fruition in ways we are not content with. And more often than not, all of the shoulding in the world will do little to change the past.
When we should ourselves over future situations or circumstances, we are preoccupying ourselves and leaking our energies towards events that, frankly, may or may not ever come to fruition. In fact, in his book The Worry Cure, Dr. Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D. discusses one study that tasked participants with writing down their worries over a two-week period and predicting their outcomes; despite all of their worrying and shoulding, 85 percent of the actual outcomes of the aforementioned worries were actually positive. Not only are we removing ourselves from the present when we should all over ourselves, but we often lose the ability to positively view and embrace future opportunities
Now, if you are anything like this yoga practitioner, writer, and perpetual worrier, you know how difficult it can be to slow down, take a breath, and keep the shoulds at bay. A seasoned and well-versed worrier and shoulder, I have found a few ways to help shut out the shoulds that, while all a little bit different, all fall under one, all-encompassing umbrella: building my personal prana. And harnessing it, hard.
An extremely simplified definition of prana is life force. This life force encompasses and ranges from the universal and transcendental to, more simply, the breath. Examining prana as our energetic life force, we can tap into and cultivate this energy and harness it in ways that positively affect both ourselves and others. Conversely, when we spend time shoulding ourselves and removing ourselves from the present, we are leaking our energy and spending it in ways both futile and, often times, damaging to ourselves and others.
Tapping into, building, and maintaining our personal prana can be powerful way to keep the shoulds away. While cultivating our inner energy can be a deeply individual process that looks different for everybody, here are a few practices that may be helpful in tuning into your personal prana, and finding, embracing, and owning your all-around badassery.
Breathe. Your yoga mat isn’t the only place you can practice deliberate and powerful breath patterns, of which there are nearly an infinite number of types and practices. Ujjayi pranayama, the victorious and powerful breath practiced in most vinyasa classes, such as those at Better Buzz Yoga, entails rich, full, noisy breath dragged into and pushed out through the nose, all while activating a slight constriction in the back of throat. Practicing your ujjayi breath, in addition to guiding you through a yoga practice, can be a helpful tool to cultivate calm, awareness, and presence when the shoulds are creeping in and threatening to yank you out of the present.
Lion’s breath is another breathing technique that is often practiced in the yoga studio that entails opening your mouth as wide as can be, sticking your tongue out, and letting out a loud, no-holds-bar, big-ass exhale. Yes, it sounds silly. Yes, it can look silly. But, more importantly, it can be an immediate release of tension and a beautiful representation of forcefully letting go of any excess “stuff” you are holding on to that you want to get rid of.
And, if all else fails, give yourself time and space for some good ol’ fashion inhales, and exhales. Laying down on your back in supta baddha konasana, with soles of feet touching and legs open wide, place one hand on your heart and one and on your belly to help you tune into and feel the cadence of your natural breath. It sounds simple, because it is; a few moments spent in this position, with all ends of your body sealed and fastened in, can be a powerful representation of sealing in any areas of energy leaks, allowing you to find and harness the calm within and silence the mind of the shoulds.
Yoga. There is so much that can be written on the benefits of yoga, specifically in regards to finding touch with oneself physically and mentally, where to even begin? In addition to the nearly innumerable studies that demonstrate how yoga benefits our mind and body, from an increase in emotional stamina to an increase in physical stamina, at the most elementary level, yoga forces us to make time and space in our day to simply move and breathe in synchronicity. Whether practiced in the studio or at home, yoga invites us to take a step away from the world of external stimuli and into ourselves to find a heightened sense of awareness. A regular practice is a powerful tool in cultivating and harnessing your personal prana.
From beginner to advanced, from power vinyasa flow to yin, Better Buzz Yoga has got your yoga needs covered. In addition to our regularly scheduled badass classes, we offer workshops and trainings, such as our Dive Deeper series with Devyn Ashley, that allows you to dive deeper not only into your practice, but into yoga philosophy, history, and anatomy. Visit our events page for details on all of the workshops we have coming up.
Journal. Whether it’s a full narrative of the day’s events, or simply jotting down what you are grateful for, putting pen to paper and expressing yourself non-verbally is one way to name and release those shoulds in an expressive and healthy way. Depending on your approach, you may find that some of the “stuff” you are holding on to, and consequently releasing, may not be pretty; in fact, some of it might be pretty damn honest and squirmy. It’s important to be kind, gentle, and easy on yourself as you release elements of yourself you have been at battle with.
Meditate. Five minutes a day. Ten minutes a day. Fifteen minutes a day. Start small and work your way up. While there is no doubt that meditation can be challenging, a simple search on Google reveals a plethora of resources “out there” to help guide you through, and help you establish, a meditation practice. The simplicity of sitting in silent stillness cannot be overlooked as one of the most significant ways you can truly tune in with and build your personal prana.
(I would be remiss here not to mention one of the most useful meditation tips I have ever received. As you are sitting down and settling into seated meditation, if you find your mind beginning to wander, rather than attaching to the thought and letting it derail you from your meditation, try simply repeating in your head the word “thinking” three times: thinking, thinking, thinking. Apply this trick to any sensory distractions that arise. Hear faint, but distracting, background noise? Repeat the word “hearing” in your head three times: hearing, hearing, hearing. This simple trick often, amazingly, can you bring you back to center. And quickly. Special thanks to David Michael Scott, one of the badass teachers at Better Buzz Yoga, for this meditation trick. Catch David on Thursday evenings at 6:00PM for a level 2 -3 vinyasa flow class and immediately after from 7:30 – 8:30 PM for yin.)
Unplug. From television. From internet. From social media. From your cell phone. It goes without saying that this is easier said than done, especially when we, for better or worse, live in a simultaneously technologically advanced world and the world of the 24 hour news cycle. But, taking a step back and consciously making an effort to spend less time staring at a screen, particularly at our cell phones, not only gives us back time in our day, but some studies suggest that less time spent our phones decreases our anxiety. One psychology professor found that most people check their phone every 15 minutes or less, and consequently, that the compulsion to check our phones increases anxiety and interferes with our ability to focus.
Small steps like turning off notifications, limiting yourself to a set amount of time on your phone per day, and ensuring that your phone is not the last thing you see before you go to bed and the first thing you see when you wake up are just a few small steps towards healthier phone habits. Spending less time plugged in opens up time and space to be truly present in our lives, rather than living through the lens of a screen.
Kindness. Practice a daily random act of kindness. Be it to a friend, a colleague, or an absolute “stranger.” It doesn’t have to be an exorbitantly grand gesture. It can be as brief as holding the door for someone, to dedicating a day to volunteering with a local organization. Whatever avenue you choose, serving others in even the smallest of ways is a humbling and rich way to stay human and connected, both to others and to best version of ourselves.
If you are interested in volunteering, websites like VolunteerMatch not only connect you with opportunities to volunteer in your area, but also allow you to match your interests with organizations in need in your community, from animal shelters, to children and youth, to disaster relief, with a little bit of everything in between.
Self-care. While this may look different for all of us, the principle remains the same: take time to take care of you. Think about the one “thing,” one hobby or activity that you often find yourself wishing you had more time to do and make time to do it. So much of our energy from day to day tends to be directed towards the things we, simply put, have to do. It can become easy for us, as individuals, to get lost in the shuffle, sometimes leading us to lose our sense of self.
Make time to take time to reconnect with you, whether that’s in the studio at Better Buzz Yoga, or hiking on your favorite trail, or reading a book at your favorite coffeehouse. Making the space to do what you authentically and genuinely love to do is a replenishing and effortless way to build up your energy reserves and keep you balanced, especially when life tends to pull us in so many different directions.
Self-love. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. It’s all too often that the “I should be ______” thoughts catch up with us and negate our sense of self-worth and self-love. Truly getting to know, understand, and embrace who we are, in all of our strengths and all of our glorious imperfections alike, is one of the most important journeys we can take. And while it can no doubt be a difficult journey, it is one that must be taken. Let go of societal expectations of who you “should” be; of what your life “should” look like; of what you “should” be doing. Embrace who you are; embrace what your life looks like right now, knowing things are constantly shifting; embrace what you are doing; and celebrate every fiber of your being every. Single. Day.