Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Living a Yoga Life: Cultivate Opposite Virtues

When you start the day, what are you facing? Do you consider the feelings you have as you get yourself, and possibly your kids, ready to leave the house? Do you dread preparing meals that picky family members might refuse to eat? Do you stand in front of the closet and hate what your choices are? Do you anticipate a stressful commute? A meeting with colleagues that you're nervous about? Are you looking ahead to a task or chore that makes you feel miserable? Are you worried about that person you'll run into at a playgroup or in the break room at work?

Then there are the unexpected things you might not have on your radar: an accident that harms someone you love, feeling jealous over some one's accomplishments that they share with you, or being caught off guard by someone asking you to do something you're not prepared for.

So many emotions are experienced throughout the day. Some of our responses are automatic, and some are habitual. For example, let's say you accidentally touch the hot stove while preparing dinner. Your body automatically draws your hand away before you even have a chance to think. On the flip side, maybe you habitually roll your eyes and sigh audibly when your kids bicker for the billionth time in one day.

To cultivate opposite virtues means to consider all the experiences you may have in a day, and prepare to feel the opposite of what may come naturally. Maybe you need to make a tangible list of the things on your schedule. Write down the response you usually have to all the tasks, and thoughtfully decide to feel the opposite.

Wake up early: feel irritated you didn't get to sleep in.
-Opposite virtue: be respectful of who you're getting up early for (your children, your boss, your self).

Big meeting at work: feel anxious about how it could go.
-Opposite virtue: feel calm because you made it this far, and feel brave as you continue to show what you're capable of.

A friend announces news that she accomplished something she's worked hard for: feel jealous it didn't/hasn't yet happened for you.
-Opposite virtue: feel acceptance that someone else's accomplishments do not diminish your own. Be content with your own life.

You're in bed at night, unable to sleep: feel anxious about how many hours until the alarm sounds and you have to get up.
-Opposite virtue: feel gratitude that you're physically resting at the end of the day, and feel peace that eventually you will sleep.

Do those examples help illustrate what I mean by cultivate opposite virtues? It's about retraining the mind. Instead of just reacting blindly to experiences, we thoughtfully respond. And not just respond, but anticipate our response.

Try it at the beginning of the day. Try it while in bed, snoozing the alarm. Try it while in the shower. Try it while seated at your desk with your to-do list sitting in front of you. Try it in the car on the drive to work.

Eventually, you can train yourself to thoughtfully respond to stimuli instead of instinctively or habitually reacting to it.

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