We all know that one person who seems to have it all together. She never seems to be in a rush; she always has time to answer a question or lend an ear; she always has a thousand things to do, but never appears flustered; she makes a decision and runs with it; and even though she ran out of the house without her shoes because it was super early and she had to teach yoga, she just smiles and says she’s thankful that she didn’t really need shoes anyway.
And we also know that person who doesn’t seem to have it together at all. Her moods are constantly changing; she complains a lot and never seems to be satisfied; she’s always running late no mater how early she got up; she can’t make a decision even when it’s crucial to her well-being; and she gets overwhelmed and flustered when she has too many things to do.
Full disclosure: I am one of the later. My emotions run the show. I’m never satisfied with anything for long. I’m always running late because my internal clock seems to be five minutes off (it’s a Matrix thing). And I stink at multi-tasking, which means I get overwhelmed when I have more than one thing to do. I’d rather not be like this. I would rather be a calm, steady person who takes life as it comes and doesn’t let much throw her off kilter. So when I was asked to write an article about steadiness, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, because steadiness is something I struggle with every day.
Since I’m a word nerd, I turned to my well-worn Webster’s New World Dictionary. It defines steady as:
v. 1. firm; fixed; stable. 2. constant, regular, uniform, or continuous. 3. not given to sudden changes. 4. not easily agitated, excited, or upset; calm and controlled.
I also looked up antonyms for steady. Some good words are imbalanced, unstable, weak, and wobbly. Bingo! There’s the word I was looking for. I’m wobbly. I’m knocked around by my emotions. One minute I’m happy as a lark, the next, my mind grabs hold of one of those well-practiced negative emotions, and suddenly I’m in the depths of despair. I have a hard time even siting still. When I’m anxious, I pace. When I’m siting, my knees jump around like they’re ready for me to cut and run at any minute.
What would it take to go from wobbly to steady? I struggled for days trying to figure out how I was going to approach the subject of steadiness, when I came upon a quote from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard that said,
“In Zen archery, for example, you forget about the goal – hitting the bull’s eye – and instead focus on all the individual moments involved in shooting an arrow. (…) If you’ve perfected all the elements, you can’t help but hit the center of the target. Te same philosophy is true for climbing mountains. If you focus on the process of climbing, you’ll end up on the summit.”
I had a bull’s eye to hit: steadiness. What I didn’t know were the elements I needed to to perfect. As I often do when I have something on my mind, I turned to yoga. My teachers say that how you deal with things on the mat is how you deal with them in life, so what better place to learn about steadiness than the place that purposely throws you off balance.
It’s not hard to believe from what I’ve just told you, but I stink at standing balance poses. I’ve struggled with it for years. Some days I’m calm as a cucumber. Other days, I can barely lift a toe off the ground before falling over. My teacher tells us to let the wobble happen. It’s okay to fall out of a pose, because falling out of a pose teaches us what we need to know to stay in the pose.
Standing balance poses are often asymmetrical, which automatically throws you off balance with one leg standing and the other leg off in an entirely different direction. The first step to achieve balance in an unbalanced pose is to provide yourself with a firm foundation with your standing leg. It has to be straight like a pillar. If it’s bent or your hip is jutted off to the side, your body wants to correct itself and it does so by wobbling form side to side and front to back, like a bad attempt at the Hula Hoop. With a firm standing leg, there’s less need for correction.
The next step is to find a focal point, a stationary point on which to concentrate. When you were a kid, did you ever stand on one leg with a bunch of other kids? I’ll bet it was pretty hard to keep from falling over or dancing around on one leg while all the other kids were wiggling around as well. When you focus on something fixed, like a spot on the wall or the floor, your mind can’t think of anything else and everything else falls away. With that pointed focus, your body relaxes and becomes stiller. What naturally follows when your mind and body are still and relaxed is that your breathing slows, which in turn calms your mind and relaxes your body more. It’s a deliciously, vicious cycle.
You may wonder why relaxing your body is so important. Wouldn’t you want your body to be tense so that you could control it and stay in the pose? Imagine standing on one leg with the person in front of you swaying and trying to stay in their own pose. They distract you and soon your arms try to help you keep your balance like a man on a high wire. You tense up trying to use your strength to stay upright. You wobble from side to side like a Weeble. You may actually even fall down. (What the heck is a Weeble, you ask? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFzhjnjXc2o) I’ve found that when I start to lose my balance, I find a spot on the floor or the wall to focus on. I take a super deep breath, bring my arms closer to my center, and consciously make my body relax. Soon I’ve slowed the wobble to a manageable level.
How does all this translate into steadiness in our day to day lives? The most important thing is to be able to recognize the wobble. It’s not as easy when you’re in your car or behind a computer screen as it is when you’re standing on one leg, but the signs are still there: your body is tense, you can’t concentrate, and you feel overwhelmed and anxious. When you feel yourself getting wobbly, take a few deep, full breaths. It’s okay, too, if the breathing thing doesn’t work right away. As with the standing poses, if you fall out, you can always try again. As you continue to breathe, you can find something to focus on like your breath or your heartbeat or the air moving against your skin. Soon, your heart rate will slow, your thoughts will slow to a nice meander. You’ll feel calm and relaxed. Steady.
You don’t have to be a yogi or sit cross legged on the floor to fix your wobble either. Anything that gets you “in the zone” will have the same affect. Being “in the zone” doesn’t just happen in sports. It can happen while playing music, gardening, cooking, taking a bath, or even cleaning out the garage. Being “in the zone” is the ultimate in steadiness. When you’re doing something you enjoy, you’re focused. You’ll even think about other things while you’re doing it, but the thoughts come and go without needing your attention. You are relaxed. The residual effects of that relaxed state will last for hours afterward.
I’ll give you an example from my life. I recently took an art class and one of our projects was to make an interesting drawing by using Zentangles®, which is a method of doodling that promotes meditation and stress relief. (For more information on Zentangles®, go to www.tanglepaterns.com) I liken it to making my own adult coloring book. I decided on a drawing and picked a few tangles, and got to work. As I began drawing my tangles, I noticed that I was focused, yet unfocused. I was simply drawing patterns, over and over again. I probably had a thousand thoughts, but they came and went. I was super relaxed and definitely felt steady. Nothing could rock my boat. The next thing I knew, it was several hours later. Where had the time gone and how had I not noticed that the sun went down? I felt so good though, that it didn’t mater that I hadn't done the dishes or made my bed.
But what if you start to wobble at work? The good thing is that the main element in our process toward steadiness is breathing. You do it all the time anyway, so no one will notice if you’re putting a little more emphasis on it or not. Instead of opening Facebook or surfing the internet, why not sit still, do a little intentional breathing, maybe focus on the elephant figurine on your desk or even the stapler for that mater, and just let all of the busyness around you fall away. Or if possible, go outside on your lunch break. Find a nice, out of the way spot to sit quietly for ten minutes. Take some deep breaths, notice the people walking by. You’re not likely to run up and grab one of them by the leg and make them drag you along with them like you did to your dad when you were a kid. You’ll simply notice them and let them walk on by. The same goes with your thoughts. Notice them and let them pass on by. When your ten minutes is up, you’ll feel calm, cool, and steady as a rock.
It‘ll take some practice, but soon you’ll notice that you’re steady more often than not. Te most important thing is to recognize when the wobble starts. It’s much easier to steady yourself before the wobble gets too big.
I’m certainly happy that I was asked to write this article. I’ve struggled with the wobble most of my life, but it wasn’t until I sat down to write that I realized how much of a struggle it is for me. I even wobbled trying to write about the wobble. Jack Kerouac famously said “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” Today, after all that struggle, I found the right words and they are simple. Notice. Focus. Breathe.