Aligning to Greater Health and Ease..
I admit I am a long-time perfectionist. When I was in primary and high school, this meant extra credit, staying late after class and extra reading to make sure I had straight As. Later, as I joined the workforce, it meant networking, practice interviewing and applying until I got the right positions at the right organizations. When I got the position, I often worked 2 jobs, while volunteering and running marathons.
It’s great to have ambition and hold ourselves to a high bar, right up until it’s not. For me, it was a burn out in law school. Overworked and exhausted, I would sneak off to my twice weekly yoga classes and at least for the hour-long class, feel like I did enough and was enough. Luckily I learned fairly early in life that the qualities my yoga teacher held were far more admirable than what I was learning in school and soon thereafter I followed in her footsteps.
For a long time I thought I had put my perfectionist self to rest. I worked as a full-time yoga teacher, controlled my own schedule and had far more free time and holiday time. I meditated and practiced yoga every day, read inspirational texts, and attuned my lifestyle to align more with nature’s rhythms. I helped students find greater balance, happiness and ease through retreats and workshops. Sounds like a relaxed and ease-filled life, right? Outwardly, yes, but I could never silence the “do more, be more” voice in my head.
It wasn’t until I heard several fellow yoga health coaches say they didn’t feel they could offer health/wellness advice unless they followed healthy habits 100% of the time that I realized this absurd expectation was my own. I thought back about the times in the past I had set health or self-improvement goals only to give up shortly after when I fell short of perfection. I tried giving up chocolate, coffee, sweets and wine “cold turkey”. I swore I would meditate 30 minutes daily. Social media? I was done with it, forever! Television? Never! This never worked. It was too extreme to go from 10 or 8 to 0 overnight and at the time I didn’t understand how habits were formed or sustained. When I couldn’t meet my goal, I wavered between beating myself up about it or defaulting to some lame excuse like, “I didn’t really want that anyways,” or “that wasn’t really my thing” which I knew in my heart of hearts wasn’t true. I wasted years giving up on realizing my dreams/dharma because of insane expectations and then fear of failure to realize these dreams. The dream wasn’t wrong. My mindset and method was.
When I started studying Yoga Health Coaching, I dug into behavioral science studies on habit change and habit evolution. I fell in love with Kaizen – a dream method for a lifelong perfectionist. Kaizen is a Japanese word for “improvement” and is a daily process for implementing change. It is based on the idea that big results can come from making a very small change. Kaizen has been used by many international companies to increase their own productivity and growth, but the more interesting thing to me is how it is applied to personal evolution. How we can use Kaizen to either develop a new habit we want or let go of one we don’t.
I’m going to use better sleep and energy as an example, since most of my clients cite energy or sleep depletion as one of their top health concerns. They aren’t alone. The National Sleep Foundation found that 45% of Americans said that poor or insufficient sleep affected their daily activities. This is not just an American problem, but equally concerns Germany, my adopted country. Over 30% of Germans sleep less than 7 hours a night, with 9% sleeping less than 6 hours per night.. far less than the recommended 8 hours per night! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that insufficient sleep is a public health problem, linked to car crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. People suffering from insufficient sleep are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity. Why we are sleeping less is associated with living in a 24/7 modern lifestyle with high work and personal stress, an imbalanced relationship to food and alcohol and excessive use of our devices (phones, computers, televisions).
Back to how Kaizen can help to change this.. As a chronically troubled sleeper myself, I knew that the earlier I got to bed, the deeper and less interrupted the sleep. I was used to going to bed after 11, usually after looking at the bright screen of my phone and perhaps winding down after a glass of wine. Not only did I have a hard time falling asleep, but I also couldn’t stay asleep. I would wake up physically and mentally groggy and dragged myself through the morning. When I discovered Kaizen, I gave it a try on my sleep. I dialed back my bed time by just 5 minutes, and then another five minutes, and so on until getting to my current bedtime of before 10. Starting with a 5 minute change, and then seeing how easy it was to implement that and how good it felt to be “successful” at it made it much easier to keep on adding another 5 minutes over and over. Once I got an earlier bed time dialed in, I could look at the other things that were preventing me from a good nights sleep - coffee, wine and looking at my phone or a series close to bedtime. I did the same small changes with both and can now joyfully say that my coffee use shifted from 2-3 espressos to one cup of decaffeinated coffee or tea. Wine is now limited just to special occasions, and most nights my phone is off before 9pm. Now I sleep better and feel much more alert and peppy in the morning and am getting so much more s*#!t done than I could have imagined.. It’s hard to realize your dharma and have greater capacity in the world if we are too tired to get out of bed, isn't it?
Any time we want to challenge ourselves, try something new or improve on an existing skill there is always a steep, and often non-linear learning curve. How we approach this mountain makes all of the difference.. What is our mindset? What process are we using? For me, the shift from nothing-but-perfect to making small, doable changes on a daily basis was a total game changer. When we invest in maintaining our bodies, minds, and spirits every day, our personal capacity and capacity in the world to care for others expands exponentially.
I hope you enjoyed this read. If you want to explore how you can create awesome changes in your own health and wellness that are sustainable, carpe diem! The year is new and offers so many possibilities. And I can offer a few..
Join me to Align your 2017 on Monday January 23 from 18h to 20h at Lululemon Munich. We will review the last year for what felt in and out of alignment with our personal evolution. We will journal, draw and share with other like-minded yogis.