I was at a wonderful event last night organised by The School of Life to kick off the launch of their new series of ‘How to’ books. The event featured topics such as ‘How to find a job you love’ from Roman Krznaric and ‘How to think more about sex’ from the always enlightening and very funny Alain de Botton, who is also the founder of the school.
One of the talks, from the only female presenter Philippa Perry, really struck a chord with me. Philippa is a psychotherapist and writer and has written a guide for the School called ‘How to Stay Sane‘. Her talk of the same title focused on her observations from her work and she shared four keys ways to stay sane: self-awareness, relationships, stress, and stories.
Let’s take a look at each of these areas through the lens of yoga:
This one is a no-brainer. The essence of yoga and mindfulness is developing self-awareness. When we practice focussing on our breath we start to develop our ‘awareness’ muscles. As our awareness grows, we can then start to bring our awareness to other areas – our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions. Instead of ‘being’ our thoughts, feelings and actions, we can start to become an observer of them, and this can open up more space and choice in our lives.
Relationships are one of the five major sections in the book (along with Starting, Challenges, Progress and Focus). While we may think of yoga as more of a solitary, inward focused practice, the deeper we go into our practice, the more we start to see how we interact with others on a daily basis. Yoga can teach us to listen, to question, to challenge, to be quiet, to speak up, and to love.
What does the word stress bring to mind? Is it negative or positive? I have to admit that until recently my ideas of stress were all negative. But reading Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement recently, as well as listening to Phillipa last night, has started me on a re-discovery of the word. If we live a life with no ‘stress’ in it, we atrophy. If we think of ‘panic’ at one end of the spectrum and ‘catatonic’ at the other end, in the middle is our ‘comfort zone’. This is where life is easy but if we stay in our comfort zone all the time, we never challenge ourselves or grow as people. What we need to do, is be at the edge of our comfort zone, with one foot in knowing and one foot in not knowing. In yoga we call this going to the edge of your potential. We go to our edge (which is different from everyone else’s edge), breath there, and then play with going a little further.
We all have our mental models and stories of how the world works. We all have our back stories and our narrative of how we are. I am not good at x. I don’t like y. But do you know the best thing about stories? They can be edited. Word by word. Page by page. We don’t have to be stuck in Version 1.0 of ourselves. We can upgrade. It just takes a little self-awareness and work.
[image courtesy of The School of Life]