Here are some personal musings on my ‘stop’ practices – how they came about, and how they still help to save me from my sometimes reckless self.
There are some in our practice suggestions, they’re extremely helpful; try some yourself?
My natural enthusiasm can make me excitable, sometimes impetuous. This has landed me in the soup more than once!
And yet some of my best decisions have been spontaneous. Perhaps they were made by a more perceptive, more attuned self.
What I now call my ‘stop’ practices have been gradually forming over years. They are my own attempts to restore equilibrium and tap into this right-minded self.
I think of these ‘stops’ as conscious pause from action: breathing space to reflect on something specific or nothing very much, which can take only moments.
A pause is as natural as breath, but unlike breathing we can forget to do it. A pause can ‘reset’ an overwrought brain back to a restorative default mode, like a pleasant daydream.
At times, life may seem too busy to stop… so we don’t, which is a shame. When not-stopping becomes the norm, a habit is formed.
When we start to feel the benefits of a regular pause, it seems crazy that we haven’t done it more. But then we’re human – complex and, yes, a bit crazy!
Sometimes we need to consciously practice something we’ve neglected, until it’s part of our life again.
Regular stops can make us more skilled at improving our mind-state. This skill is especially handy when the mind is anxious and we lack mental equilibrium.
Sometimes a short pause is all that’s needed to produce better immediate responses.
It creates mental space for a wiser choice – as against a knee-jerk reaction, which may be later regretted. A mental space to step into, helping us to do or say the right thing; a chance to step back and see the bigger picture, or even to turn and choose another direction. Of course ‘think before you act’ is a wise maxim, but when we’re not in the best state, responding in a wise and measured way isn’t that easy.
I find my stops so useful that I pass the method on whenever I can… call it yoga – or plain common sense!
In hindsight I can see how it all started. My stops began to form in early childhood. I can see my teenage self – chewing sixteen times, pausing, then swallowing, because (and guess what, it still happens!) she bolts her food like a gannet. She snacks whilst she’s waiting for a snack. When eating one meal she’s thinking about the next. And she’s quite capable of finishing the whole packet – bang, it’s gone! What was that about a pause?
Our past colours our present; our present colours our future.
The river of instant sensory gratification runs right through me, and it can easily break its banks.
Childhood compulsions can grow into habits, leading to needy, addicted adults.
So, managing desire is obviously a big part of yoga.
Small personal challenges are part of being human – but the scale can vary a bit!
The child breaks a toy, the adult crashes a car. The child has a tantrum, the adult commits murder. The children have a gang fight, the adults wage war.
Aiming for a more attuned self-awareness will help our self-management, making better citizens and a more harmonious world.
Some stop practices come from my early childhood. STOPPING TO THINK ABOUT SOMEONE is a personal favourite and stems from my catholic upbringing, where stops for reflection and prayer featured much.
I never liked the religious tendency to mark anniversaries of deaths, but I love my mother’s version, which focuses on the living: think of someone for whom this day is important, and say a wee prayer.
The prayer seems more potent if you say it at the exact time of a situation – (marriage, starting a new job, a medical procedure, imminent birth, imminent death… the list is long.)
I still like it and I still use it.
Children tend to adopt the behaviour of the adults they mix with.
As a child I learned from my mother the joy of ordinary daily splendour.
But, (like her in fact) I was much preoccupied by anticipation of future gratifications – birthdays, holidays, Christmas, or just some sweets. That’s why I now dislike the expression, ‘something to look forward to’.
Much of my personal yoga is about countering any yearnings and dissatisfaction with present situations.
Dissatisfaction is big, big business. Advertisers and media thrive on it… convincing us that we’re somehow broken, so must need fixing, that we need a makeover, that our job is boring, our home is inadequate and in the wrong place, that we won’t be happy till we escape to the country!
Yoga helps toward a clearer, less skewed picture of ourselves and the world we occupy. And one way of starting this is by stopping.