“Go to your room!” “Sit still until I tell you to move!” “You need a time out!” For those of us who grew up hearing these words when we misbehaved, is it any wonder that as adults we have an aversion to being still, to being quiet, or to being alone? When stillness, time-out, and alone time are used as forms of punishment, how likely is it that we would look forward to, much less be able to delight, in stillness?
Even though this may be unconscious, on top of associating being still with being “bad,” many of us associate being still with doing nothing, and we associate doing nothing with being lazy. As children many of us were criticized and made to feel ashamed of being lazy. No one wants to be judged as being either “bad” or lazy so we keep busy. A lot of the time we are not really accomplishing much, we’re just busy being busy to avoid the unpleasantness we associate with being still.
Take Sunny for example. Busy all the time, she rarely takes time out for herself because there is always so much to do for everyone else. As the primary caregiver for her aging parents, full-time teacher, wife and the mother of three school-aged children, she has her hands full–which is the reason she gives for not being able to slow down and relax. She wants to enjoy taking time out for herself, but never seems able to manage it.
On the surface, given all that’s going on in her life, it makes sense that Sunny is in perpetual motion. When she began to dig a little deeper to find why she was unable to enjoy being still, she noticed that whenever she tried to relax she became physically and emotionally agitated, which to her way of thinking defeated the purpose. So she avoided being still and relaxing even though she knew it would be good for her. “It makes me feel anxious and guilty,” she would say.
When Sunny began to practice yoga, she felt calmer until the final pose of the practice, savasana, which she regarded as a waste of time. This is where you lie awake in stillness, tuning in to your body, your emotions and your mind, letting go completely as you enter into a state of profound relaxation. Sunny was quite unfamiliar with this state of mind. Inevitably, her unconscious “stuff” would come to the surface. The good thing about that is, it allowed her to become aware that she associated being still with being punished. This awareness helped her understand her resistance to taking the time to be still, both on and off her yoga mat. With this awareness she was able, with intention and practice, to learn to associate stillness with something positive that could enhance her life.
If you have trouble being still and relaxing unless you are asleep or distracted by television, music, or some other passive activity, here are some suggestions for making stillness a pleasant experience.
While you practice being still:
Engage your imagination by visualizing a game from childhood that requires stillness. Freeze tag, Statues, or Red Light/Green Light are some examples. Remembering how much fun that was will help you associate stillness with something joyful.
Imagine all the good things you have to look forward to, or recall all the good things that have happened to you during the day.
Remember a pleasant time of being still, a day alone on the beach enjoying the warmth of the sun with no place to go, and nothing else to do.
Envision holding a baby close to your heart, feeling his/her warmth and synchronizing your breath and heart beat with the baby’s.
Come up with your own version of what makes stillness a delight, and soon dropping into relaxation will become a pleasure.
Relaxation is not a waste of time, and the benefits are worth it. Decreased heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and anxiety are just some of the benefits. Relaxation also increases your energy level, stimulates memory, improves your ability to focus, enhances sleep, strengthens your immune system and gives you an overall sense of well-being.
Make time-out a reward, not a punishment. Remember, just because you seem to be doing nothing doesn’t mean nothing is happening.