Change – it is said to be the ‘new’ normal. But is it really? Our lives and the world around us are always changing. Think of the world of our grandparents compared to now – even that of our parents? Life is constantly evolving, shaping, and shifting. If change isn’t really new, what is causing us so much stress and fatigue?
The pace of change has certainly increased. We are being asked to do more, faster, and be in many places at once with our family and work commitments often competing. There is much more on our minds with different pressures, decisions, and even just keeping up with the simple things in life.
As the calendar ticks over into September – soon to be October – with Christmas decorations in stores and still so many things to be done before even thinking about the Christmas shopping, we need to be really taking care of our ‘self’.
Life events are always going to happen; there will often be tough times as well as the joyful times. How we deal with these times is what will determine our long term happiness and health, our ability to breakthrough and bounce back from adversity, or get through stressful situations.
Did you know that our brains are always looking out for how we can protect ourself? Think of our ancestors adapting to living in dangerous situations, always on the lookout for prey or predators! We haven’t advanced much more from that, with our brains always looking out for potential threats in our environment. While there are many who are suffering in dangerous and threatening situations, others will be experiencing stress due to different perceived dangers. Uncertainty of job security, having to move homes, relationship troubles, additional stresses in the workplace and health challenges – all of these can trigger a similar fear response to that of a sabre tooth tiger coming directly towards us! From this arise many emotional responses such as fear, anger, criticism, jealousy, and so on. Even just feeling plain exhausted can result in this fear response. I can certainly relate to this at times when there have been many challenges, either in the workplace or in my personal life. How do we feel when we are in this state? How many of us actually even realise what is happening?
The good news is that we can change this cycle of events. How? Starting with our thoughts and our state of mind. There are many things we can do in our program of self-care such as yoga, exercise, eating well, connecting with others, and taking time out to reflect and relax. However, without changing our minds and our thoughts regarding the situation we find ourselves in and towards others, we will find it difficult to be resilient in the long term.
It is not easy to change how we are perceiving a situation, but it is possible. And what we think directly affects our behaviours and our experiences. Think about your own life. I am sure that we all have those examples whereby changing how we thought about the event we were able to have a less stressful time, even possibly a positive experience? Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, is widely known for her work on mindsets and personal success and growth. Most simply, fixed mindsets are those in which we can’t see any possibilities, are risk adverse, and resistant to change. Growth mindsets are those in which we approach a situation with curiosity, a willingness to learn and also not just focused on the outcome – the effort and journey are rewarded as well. Carol Dweck’s research shows that people with growth mindsets are also more resilient. To me, a fixed mindset is similar to the fear response, a mindset wanting to just stay with what is comfortable and control what I can. A growth mindset is a more constructive state of mind – better for the brain and the body and our overall wellbeing.
We all have fixed and growth mindsets so, with practice and some simple strategies, we can all learn to have more growth mindsets. Yoga is a wonderful tool for us to examine our mindsets and the patterns we carry. In every moment we can examine our thoughts, our feelings and the actions we take. When I am in a posture that I find difficult, this is where I can stop and reflect. How much am I resisting? Is my breathing tense or too fast? Is my body and my brain in a fear response, wanting to get out of this twist as soon as possible? I can use this experience to look at things differently; look at where I may need to soften, to pull back and stop striving for the picture perfect pose. Changing our perspective takes time and practice. We may not always be able to change the outcome of a situation, but we can lessen our suffering and even grow through the challenges that will arise throughout life.
There are many ways to do this and I too am exploring the path of inner change just as our wonderful teachers before us have shown. This practice of active reflection and looking at my mind has been very helpful for me, personally. I hope that this small piece of sharing has been of some benefit to you, also. May your practice both on the mat and in daily life bring you and others happiness and well-being.