As a professional organizer I have found that yoga provides a perfect metaphor for the balance we are all seeking in our lives. Balance helps us organize our space, manage our time, and improve our relationships with ourselves and others.
Here are 7 lessons I have learned from yoga class. They are all based on, but not limited to, Bikram yoga, an intense 90-minute workout consisting of 26 poses, done in 105 degrees, and 40 percent humidity. The idea behind the heat is partly to sweat toxins out of your body, but it also enables you to go deeper into the poses, getting greater benefit from each one, without hurting yourself.
2020 NOTE: This post predates the 2017 conviction of Bikram Choudhury for sexual assault and harassment. Ugh! (I totally believe the allegations.) But the principles in this blog post are timeless and universal.
1. Be. Here. Now.
This is my yoga mantra: Be. Here. Now. (pauses intentional)
I need it most to help me concentrate during Standing Bow Pulling Pose, when I am literally trying to keep from toppling over. “Be”…(reach my arm out and focus on my eyes in the mirror)…”Here”…(kick back with my leg)…”Now”…(lock my standing knee). Otherwise my mind wanders (“…don’t forget to stop at the store…must call Lonna…what time is that meeting?…”). Not only might I fall over, I also will not get the full benefit of what I’m doing now. The same applies to keeping balance in one’s life, don’t you think? Be…(being is enough)…Here…(where else?)…Now…(now is all there is, no need to worry about the past or the future).
When I coach my clients on time management my goal is to help them clarify their goals and priorities, so that they can eliminate items from their calendars and to-do lists that don’t serve them well, or serve them any longer. We schedule important activities, and set up systems for getting stuff done. Once a reliable system is in place it is much easier to relax, focus, enjoy, and be present with what you are doing now. Be. Here. Now.
2. Take Time for Savasana
Ah…Savasana! In yoga, Savasana is a relaxing posture that rejuvenates one’s body, mind and spirit. (In Sanskrit savasana means corpse pose.) In Bikram yoga it is done repeatedly, but only for 20 seconds (2 minutes max.), between active poses. The trick is to be completely still, breathe deeply, and refrain from fidgeting. Without it, I can’t imagine getting through the 90 minute routine! I like the way one instructor puts it: “Find the stillness between the poses.” If we relax as completely as we can, we will have the energy to continue working hard.
What do you do for Savasana in your everyday life? Do you schedule short breaks throughout your day to take a breath, meditate, go for a short walk, or enjoy a cup of tea in silence? Hobbies and entertaining activities are important too, but I’m talking about times where you just do nothing. My favorite way to unwind is to relax in my hot tub in the back yard. First I float on my back, with my eyes closed (jets off), and think of 10 things I’m grateful for. Then I open my eyes — and my other senses — and appreciate whatever I notice around me: birds singing, trees swaying in the breeze, clouds floating by, or stars sparkling in the night sky, as the case may be. If I don’t stay too long, and the water’s not too hot, I am refreshed and ready to begin, resume, or complete my day. Ah….Savasana!
3. Don’t Panic…It’ll Be OK!
On my first cruise, to the Caribbean, I signed up for a jungle hike excursion. It was hotter and much more humid than I was used to, not to mention the steep grade of the trail. I was huffing and puffing, sweating profusely, heart pounding; I thought I was going to die of heat stroke or cardiac arrest. At the very least, I was sure I’d faint and have to be carried down the mountain by my fellow hikers. All of a sudden I realized: This feels just like Bikram Yoga! OK…think now, what do they say to do? Breathe. Breathe slowly and deeply. Breathe in and out through your nose, not through your mouth. It cools and regulates your nervous system enough to calm down that panicky feeling. And it works!
So, what has this got to do with organizing?
Well….my clients often report feeling overwhelmed and panicky at the mere thought of tackling that pile of papers in their office, or their cluttered garage. Which is why they usually just close the door and go watch TV until the feeling passes. So I give them a formula (coined by Julie Morgenstern) which I try to repeat often enough for them to remember it in times of need: S.P.A.C.E. (Sort, Purge, Assign a home, Containerize, Equalize). I use it myself all the time. Whenever a pile of papers, or stuff, starts to make me feel anxious at my house I think to myself: “OK, now what do I do? Oh yeah…. S.P.A.C.E…. Sort…..Purge….” and pretty soon I feel calm and back in control. Don’t panic… it’ll be OK!
P.S. So, why do I do Bikram Yoga if it reminds me of nearly dying on a jungle hilltop? It’s simple: Before yoga I feel as though I could really use a massage. After yoga I feel as if I’ve just had a massage!
4. Focus on Yourself
My yoga teachers say, “Keep your eyes on your smiling face in the mirror.” I’ve always thought of it as a polite way of saying, “Mind your own business!” Stop wondering about that woman’s tattoos, and where the man next to you got his nice yoga mat. And especially don’t worry about how you are measuring up to your neighbor. Focus on yourself, and be present with what you are doing. If you don’t, you will miss out on all the benefits!
I can’t tell you how many friends have claimed they could never do yoga because they aren’t flexible enough. What!?!? Does that even make sense? And are you one of those people? Yoga is not about already being flexible! It’s about becoming more flexible…over time…possibly a good, long time…and getting stronger…and improving the overall health of your mind and body. I can’t promise you won’t end up next to an advanced yogi, or yogini, who has, indeed, twisted themselves into a pretzel. But that has nothing to do with you and the benefits you stand to gain if you try it yourself!
I wonder…would you seriously not take Spanish lessons because you aren’t already fluent in Spanish? Or, um, not hire a professional organizer to help you because you aren’t already organized? If so, you are probably also intimidated by your sister-in-law’s/ friend’s/neighbor’s perfect-looking house too, aren’t you? Well, think about this: Have you ever actually looked inside her closets and drawers? Do you know if she can find her scissors/tax return/address book when she needs them? Maybe, maybe not. Don’t worry about her…focus on yourself!
5. Follow Your Plan
“Where your eyes go, the body will follow.” In yoga we are told that if you just look a little farther up, over, or down with your eyes, you will find that you are able to stretch your body a little farther in that direction. And it’s true!
The corollary in life (and organizing) is that you have a much better chance of getting where you want to go if you set your intention, define your goals, follow a plan, and visualize success. If you don’t have a plan, isn’t that like setting out on a road trip without a map? How will you know when you get there? I’m not suggesting that you should hop on a superhighway without any exits and drive like mad until you skid into your destination. The approach I prefer is more like motoring down a country road on a summer day with the top down…the road might meander a bit, and you are welcome to take side trips, and stop at scenic vistas, but with your map/plan handy you can easily find your way back to the main road!
So, what’s your plan?
6. Just Try the Right Way
My yoga teachers assure me that if I just “try the right way” I will get all the benefits of a pose. “Trying the right way” means listening to, and doing, what they say, to the best of my ability that day. It means going to the edge of my flexibility…and just a little bit beyond. It means giving myself a break if I can’t do as much today as I did yesterday. I have noticed that even when I’ve heard it all before and think I know what I’m doing, I can always pick up something new if I really listen, and stay “in the moment”. I have also realized that if I am having trouble keeping my balance, the pure act of trying to keep my balance — tensing my muscles one way, then another — is a great workout in and of itself!
The same goes for getting organized. It’s a skill like any other. You can’t just “get organized once and for all” one day and expect to stay that way without a system, which must include maintenance. Practice your new organizing skills until they become a habit. And don’t think you can do it “when you find time”. You will never just accidentally find the time. You must schedule time on your calendar to maintain your new system. It only takes a few minutes a day, an hour a week, and maybe more for projects. If you get busy or tired and forget one day, don’t give up! Just get back on track again the next day. Really. Daily chores like clearing your kitchen counter or desk can become as much a habit for you as brushing your teeth or feeding your pets. Schedule weekly and monthly tasks like grocery shopping and paying bills the same way you do mowing the lawn or getting your hair trimmed. Don’t forget to schedule time for less frequent tasks such as doctor’s appointments and purging your file cabinet. If perfectionism, or fear of doing it wrong, is keeping you from taking action, just listen to FLYLady.net, who says, “Housework done incorrectly still blesses your family.”
Just try the right way.
7. Enjoy the Journey
Yoga is not a competition. We are all just practicing, and making tiny, continuous, incremental improvements. Progress equals happiness.
Life is not a competition either. It’s a journey. Don’t wait until your final destination to enjoy the journey!
Are you so focused on worrying about the past…or the future…that you are missing out on your life right now? Are you hanging on to the past with more “memory clutter” than you have space for? Are you worried about the future, collecting too much “but I might need it someday” clutter? When your space and time are organized you can remember the past, and look forward to the future, while living more fully in the present.
Are you so busy comparing yourself to others, fearing that you don’t and can’t measure up, that you fail to take action? Give yourself a break! And always believe in yourself.
Just take a deep breath. Be Here Now; Take Time for Savasana; Don’t Panic; Focus on Yourself; Follow Your Plan; Try the Right Way; and….
…Enjoy the Journey!
Have you practiced yoga? What lessons have you learned from it? Please share in the comments below!
This article originally appeared as a seven-part series in Org4life News, 2009. Updates: 2012, 2016
The title is a nod to the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.
Copyright 2009-2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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