By Jordan Rosenfeld
The other day I made it to the yoga class I’ve taken up again after several years of being too busy for the practice of relaxation. As we sat there in the opening meditation, cross-legged and allegedly calm behind our closed eyes, my mind raced in familiar ways toward all the work waiting for me. Research for freelance assignments stacked in a teetering tower of colored folders; phone messages lined up my phone from sources I was likely missing in this 75 minute class; how to keep my 8-year-old busy for the rest of the summer. I don’t have time for this damned class, I thought, heart rate racing, knee bouncing in agitation despite my teacher’s soft suggestions that we allow ourselves to relax.
I never thought of myself as a workaholic in my twenties or early thirties; I was just ambitious, active, a go-getter. I enjoyed filling the blanks in my calendar and did not need down time. It’s only in the last few years, as my drive to work has risen in direct correlation with my desire not to face certain feelings, that workaholic keeps settling around my shoulders like a heavy shawl. Like any drug, a little is good at first, but after a while you need more and more to achieve the same effect. I become conditioned to working as a way of being, as a way of life, a replacement for all the other more complex aspects of the human condition.
So there in class, where I was not working, the actual yoga practice of holding poses in conjunction with my breath was not nearly as hard as forcing my mind to accept that there was absolutely nothing it could do while I lazily stretched. Not to mention real people are suffering at this very moment and I’m just hanging out in downward dog doing nothing! My super-ego is very critical, you see. For every pose I contorted my body into on the outside, my mind twisted into way more complex shapes inside. I began to see just how very loud and unruly and unkind my mind can be. 75 minutes of stretch and bend and flex and breathe, then repeat. 75 minutes for my mind to shut up, for the addictive pull of work to soften its hold on me, to pay more attention to sound of my breath and the burn of awakened muscles than anything in my jabbering mind.
I’m not going to tell you that my work magically did itself like Mickey’s accidental magic buckets in Fantasia. I’m not going to even tell you that yoga made the work itself any easier. But for 75 minutes I wasn’t running on adrenaline, my blood pressure wasn’t thumping in my ears. For 75 minutes I gave my brain the suggestion that there are alternative ways to be, until I could all but feel the timid pathways of new neural networks laying down tentative tracks.
Then I did it again: carved out an hour that did not feel free to have lunch with a friend last week. And again: attended a meeting that offers me tools to cope with challenging feelings. And again: went to an actual theater show. Each hour bartered away from work offered me a respite from this stress posture that is the only one I know how to hold like an expert. Each hour I carved out felt like two, or more—time expanding outward in the pleasures of lived experience.
The work does not go away, and the stress will wait for you like your own imprint left in a mattress if you let it. It’s true there is never any time. Unless you make it. Literally. You make time through infinite recipes where there wasn’t any before—it’s comprised of infinite ingredients: of good conversation and sunlight on your face, of the space between fingers on a yoga mat, of hot coffee in chipped cups, a favor for a friend, a match for your suffering that eases rather than hurts, and endless other iterations.