The Art of Not Thinking
I’ve been practicing the art of not thinking. I challenge myself to turn off my mind. I tell myself not to panic. For the next span of time—whether it’s five, ten, twenty minutes, or an hour—my only task is to breathe in and out, to trust my body, and to go along for the ride.
It can sound counter-intuitive. Why not focus on the good things? I practice yoga because it makes me stronger and more flexible. It makes me feel good because it’s good for me. And the more I give—if I wake up early, drink a nutritious breakfast smoothie, write an ultra-efficient to-do list—the more I’m able to enjoy doing something with so many positive benefits.
But I’m not a robot, or a social media influencer. I have bad days. You know, those days when you wake up and wish you could bury your head under the pillow until it’s all over. Days full of deadlines and expectations and spilling coffee on your clean white shirt. Days when you don’t even have any clean shirts left. And on those days, if “good for me” is the only incentive, well, I’d rather not even bother. I’ll leave “good for me” to the influencers and turn on the next episode of the latest binge-worthy series in my line-up.
So, what’s a better reason? What gets me on the mat every day? After a lot of trial and error, I’ve figured out the key that works for me: the art of not thinking. I get up. I eat a good breakfast. I ride my bike to the yoga studio. And then, I turn off my mind. I put the next ninety minutes into the hands of the teacher, and my own experience. I trust that the process of breathing in and breathing out will work its own magic. I’m not there to impress anyone, including myself. I’m there because it’s proven useful to practice giving up control. I was there yesterday, I’m there today, and I’ll be there tomorrow.
Sitting on the mat, with my palms resting gently on my knees, I close my eyes. The muscles in my face soften. The creases in my forehead un-furrow. My shoulders rise and sink with each breath. The back of my neck is long. My belly moves in and out. My seat is grounded into the floor. My breath makes a soft rushing sound, like waves rolling on and off-shore. And as though on cue, I’m in the zone. It doesn’t matter how I feel that day, or how I look, or what I have to do later. It doesn’t matter that yoga is “good for me.” This precious time spent with myself has become a necessity. Without it, I’m lost.
The funny thing is, after a while practicing detachment on the mat, I noticed it popping up in other areas of my life. Didn’t get that job I applied for? It must’ve not been the right fit. Concert tickets were sold out? That leaves more time for a picnic in the park with friends. Someone cut me off in line at the supermarket? Go right ahead, I’ve got time to spare. I’m not saying I’m a martyr, or that I don’t still have moments where I get seriously frustrated—I haven’t morphed into a robot. But little instances tend to surface where things just don’t matter as much as they used to. “Good for me” might not resonate, but “It’s all good” seems to do just fine for now.
I’ve got a long way to go. Sometimes you can’t avoid wanting to bury your head under the pillow. But in the meantime, as long as I’ve got this body, and air moving in my lungs, I’ll show up on the mat every day. Maybe my studio will be my bedroom floor. Maybe I’ve only got five minutes. But whatever the details, I’ll give myself this time everyday. I’ll turn off my brain and tune in to the rest.