Sunday, August 17, 2008

Inflate detachment and deflate your ego to avoid stress wrecks!

I took a two hour level 4 rope class from Nuvana at Sunset Yoga. A combination of backbends, standing poses and inversions on the ropes - I was thoroughly exhausted and so was the class. Most of them were senior students and teachers themselves. I realized how much of my ego I have let go in these last two years. I was most challenged as I am most tight everywhere - except for my head I hope. I didn't push to hard - but I did scrape my ankle while attempting a hand stand while holding the ropes. The sharp edges of the wood planks that hold the ropes the culprit. I left energized but tired at the same time.

There was a stress management class at work right after and I couldn't have picked a better time - immediately following a yoga class. I have been encouraging my employees to take yoga and have only been successful in convincing one - she takes Nuvana's back care class. Our medical insurance company United Healthcare offers free classes on wellness and despite themselves, this is probably one of the best things they do for their members.

I have taken stress management classes in the past, but this one simply brought it all together - summed it up for me. Everything we learn in Iyengar yoga, the whole body-mind connection, it all made sense. The instructor talked about the stresses in life. Most of us are stressed by work. Isn't that incredible. We get stressed by this very crucial activity in life and its caused by what she described as myths we live by. Do these sound familiar ?

- I must never make a mistake
- I must never fail
- I must never look foolish
- I must work hard all the time
- I must never get angry
- I must always play safe
- The customer is always right!
- I must live up to expectations of my _____(wife, kids, father, mother, boss, employer, customer)
- I must always deliver on time
- I have to be the best _____________(worker, mother, father, husband, son, daughter)

These myths haunt us in every aspect of our lives and it is these myths that have been ingrained in us since we were children, is why we get stressed. Stress is unavoidable. Experts discuss "good stress" and "bad stress". Any stress will increase the amount of endorphins in our bodies. Stress is addictive and we are addictive to our routines by nature. It went on.... I was listening with rapped attention till the question came up about what caused the most stress in our work place. My answer "when there was an unhappy customer on the phone". That is when the blame game starts. Egos are inflated, fingers are pointed, customers are wronged and stress levels rise to incredible levels.

There are many other events, especially for me, as I sit on the top of the pyramid - all roads end in my office and with me. This is not an ego statement - just reality of someone in a position as the head of the business. My head is only the chopping block when things go wrong. I can't blame anyone but myself. I used to be bogged down by stress - employees, investors, customers, board members. Even a benign phone call from an investor would stress me out. I had set myself for a burnout.

As I sat listening to this instructor talk I realized how much I had changed in the last two years. She talked about how to handle stressful situations, about breathing, tightening your muscles, about a short timeout to calm down. All these concepts were so familiar - I was practicing them without being aware of them and I attribute this all to the yoga practice and the readings of books by Mr. Iyengar and others. I finally had something to say to my employees and that had nothing to do with inspiring them to work harder, faster and make more money. It had to do with dealing with anger, emotions, our addiction and infatuation with success and abhorrence to failure. The instructor put the final word in my mouth; "DETACHMENT"!

We are addicted to adrenaline and the rush that comes with it. This causes stress. Whether its anger because of failure or unmet expectations, or the rush we get from success. They are both culprits. Why can't we just be neutral I asked the group! Why be addicted to anger or happiness? Why not detach from both? I am not suggesting we don't try to be happy, but isn't being happy all the time stressful. How can you be happy and pleased constantly. But we spend enormous energy and time seeking "happiness". I realized how much of "I am not happy" I had heard in the last 12 years and how sick that had made me. If you can't be happy, why not just detach from the damn happiness and take a deep breath for a change. Your quest for happiness without learning how to detach will drive you crazy and everyone else around you. That has been my experience, now that I have developed some clarity of mind and thought.

So today, I don't seek happiness - I just seek less stress. Less stress means more detachment, less ego which results in more neutrality in life. So many of us are constantly chasing happiness and the meaning of our lives. In the most animistic words and this is with utter humility and respect - the purpose of our life is to "live", reproduce and then die. To live means to survive and survival comes with stress. It is no different than the lives of the mice that have moved in my basement, and visit the garbage can every night for food. There lives have been disrupted by the construction and deforestation. We are in constant battle, they want survival, I want them out. Living is stressful. And stress can kill us before our time is up. It can destroy all the work we put into our survival and will never make us happy. So why not live our lives in ways that doesn't cause too much of it! We will be healthier and more peaceful. There will be less war!

I watched Michael Phelps win 8 gold medals at the Olympics. I am certain it gives him utmost happiness. He deserves it. He has worked for it as a child. You see his mother weep on TV every time he wins a gold medal. I am sure they are tears of joy and happiness and accomplishment. His father is absent. Where is he? Why isn't he part of the success? I went on the net and found out that he is no longer speaking to his father. That must be stressful and bigger stress than the expectation the world set for him to win these 8 gold medals. I am uncertain how this will impact Phelps in his future... but I had to detach from those thoughts. I watch the destruction in Georgia and the troops from big brother Russia destroying a small country. Why? Because of Ego, power and inability to remain neutral. All this stresses me out! I have to detach; fast.....

Many of these stress management trainers, therapists and experts tell us to breathe. The instructor did the same. She concluded with words like time out and breathe! What she didn't offer was how do you breathe. All of the attendees were sitting slouched over the table. How could you breathe properly when your chest is folded and lungs collapsed. I gave a small tip (and thank you my Iyengar Yoga gurus for constantly reminding me of this...)

- Lift up your sternum and lift from the sides of your chest
- Straighten your spine
- Roll your shoulders back and pull your shoulders down to create the space to open your chest
- If you are on your chair - straighten your arms
- clasp your hands and stretch your arms back to create even more space
- Now close your eye and BREATHE!

At the end of the class I asked the group how many of them would be interested in taking an easy yoga class at work that included breathing. All hands raised! I felt I had made a difference. Thank you BKS Iyengar for guiding me and making me more neutral. Two years of yoga had also taught me something else of great value that I share - it was on how to breathe!


The Yogi

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