The famous French scientist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal said way back in the 1600s that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. When I look around now, four hundred years later, his statement still rings true.
A survey carried out in 2021 found that more than half of India’s (55%) employed professionals feel stressed at work . Waking up with work anxiety, battling stress at work, and coming back home to a burden of family responsibilities just drains us out. We hope to compensate and relax on the weekend, but most of us are so exhausted that we just want to stay cooped up in bed. Balancing work-life and family life has indeed become a tight rope walk. Looking at such a scenario, I am not surprised that stress and mental health has become a major health challenge.
But, what can we do at our own, individual level, and how can Yoga help?
Traditionally, Yoga is understood as adhyatma shastra – the science of self. It is not merely about physical exercises like asana and pranayama, but a way to live with an awareness of our body, our breath, our mind, our thoughts, our environment, and the people around us.
Yoga is often perceived as an ascetic practice, something for which one has to go away to some ashram in the Himalayas and so on. But this is far from true. In India, traditionally, there have been many inspiring householders (Grihastha) Yogis too, the ones who have done their duties efficiently, taken care of their families, and yet managed to reach spiritual heights.
Here are four simple practices for busy Grihasthas that could help regulate the mental buzz and create bubbles of pause and joy.
Imagine a bottle of water. When you shake the bottle, the water within it moves. When you keep the bottle steady, the water settles down. At times, to slow down a buzzing mind we need to slow down the busy body. Many people often tend to walk fast, even when there is no urgency or rush. This happens because the mind that has locked itself in a fight or flight response is always on the run, even when there’s no danger or emergency. Such a restless mind keeps draining our energy making us exhausted throughout the day. This is where the practice of conscious slowing down comes in. The practice of slowing down is a gradual process. But one can start with simple things like eating slowly, talking slowly, walking slowly when there’s no rush, doing household chores at a slower pace, and just enjoying whatever one is doing rather than being in a rush to finish it. The process of slowing down feels like dropping down the gears of activity and cruising through the journey of life. Such an experience gives us a breathing space to become aware of the witness within, the sakshi.
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We live in times where multitasking has become a norm, thanks to a society that glorifies busyness. Many people thrive by equating their self-worth with their productivity, pushing themselves off the edge in the bargain. Such ideas have created a generation of stressed, anxious, sleep-deprived individuals. This is why simplifying life has to become a priority. One of the best ways to do this is by focusing on doing what is important to you, and then going about finding easier and more joyful ways to do it. This will help clear the clutter, both, from your desk and your mind. It will also help bring clarity as to what matters to you in life.
Traditional Yogis have given tremendous importance to the practice of becoming quiet and tapping into the inner silence. Such a practice is called Mauna. When the mind becomes quiet, we realize how much mental resource is wasted just because our mind is all over the place. That’s why even a self-realized mystic is called Mauni, the one who has become quiet internally. Mauna (silence) can be practiced gradually. One could start as gradually as being quiet for just 15 mins a day. Here, the term ‘quiet’ means not talking to anybody. If this feels comfortable, the period can be increased by one minute per week. Just because the mouth is silent doesn’t mean the mind will be too. But here too we use the same principle as in point one, – quietening the mouth, to quieten the mind.
As a Grihastha, Mauna sadhana could also become a family sadhana, a beautiful ritual that all family members do together. We used to do it at my home during the pandemic. Every Sunday, we would be silent for a few hours in the afternoon. I feel it would help if our kids realized the value of pause and quietness. The time of silence can be used to rest, relax or even reflect. Being able to be quiet, and taking a step back from busyness is a big blessing. Silence has a lot of power, as the Sanskrit proverb says, ‘maunam sarvartham sadhanam’, silence accomplishes all.
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This is the most crucial component of mind regulation. Breath and mind are like two sides of the same coin. When the mind rushes, the breath becomes fast and shallow. When the breath slows down, the mind too calms down. Due to this correlation, the Yogis have used breath as a vehicle for calming down the mind for ages.
What I usually prescribe is something called a ‘breathing break’. Through your busy schedule make sure to create small pockets of breathing breaks. It could be as small as a ‘breathing break’ of ten deep breaths every hour. Those ten deep breaths (inhale and exhale) can relax your mind and help you think clearly. As you focus on your breaths, the mind will also be positively distracted, giving your mind some rest from incessant train of thoughts.
One more reason why practicing ‘breathing break’ becomes important is that, while the other three techniques mentioned above may take time to be adapted to our daily schedule, breath modulation can be deployed immediately, in the here and now.
With these simple tools, it is possible to find moments of pause, enjoy the present instead of wondering about the future, appreciate the joy of small things, and find more time to be in your heart and less in your head.