life balance,  managing stress,  mindfulness,  personal rhythm,  self-care

You Got Rhythm

Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

My mother loved to dance. She taught me how to listen and feel the rhythm of the music. “You can’t dance if you don’t have rhythm,” she used to say.

She taught me the waltz and the tango and some folk dances. The Flamenco from Spain, the Kalinka and the Cossack from Russia, the Tarantella from Italy, and of course a number of Greek regional dances. 

Music and dancing were a big part of my childhood and the main form of entertainment during
family gatherings, national holidays, seasonal celebrations, and informal gatherings. 

Folk music and dancing are deeply rooted in the collective experience of the people in world regions. They tell a story — of how people lived and loved, of hardship and triumph, love and betrayal, desire, disappointment, and heartache — and when the music begins you can feel the emotions in your body. The story takes over when you dance. 

When I became a mother, my daughters showed me that there is contentment in personal rhythm. They were two of the happiest babies and children I had ever seen. My husband and I attribute this to the rhythm we’ve always had as a family. Not that we had much of a choice as working parents of twin girls. It was either rhythm and consistency, or chaos. I don’t do well with chaos.

There’s rhythm to everything.

The cycle of the seasons, the 24-hr day, the comings and goings in our lives, endings and new beginnings, and of course our breath.

I often talk about personal rhythm with clients. People tend to go, go, go. Too busy to stop and check in with themselves to see how they’re feeling.

Doing is what we live by. “Busyness” is what defines us. There will be time, in the distant future, to do the “soft stuff,” or so we tell ourselves. There will be time to take care of ourselves, connect with the people in our lives, read a book, listen to music, take a walk without a destination or sit and watch the sunset.

As for now, there are places to be, problems to solve, calls to answer and emails to reply to. Life keeps moving and we have to keep up.

We’re all busy. Even when we get the chance of much deserved down time, we look around for things to do and fill the gap. We don’t have to look hard. There’s always something to do.

Stress is something we identify with; a badge of honor. This is the 21st century after all.

Most of us have routines we fall into.What we forget to do is to review these routines and make adjustments when needed. What worked well a year, a month, or a week ago may not work as well today or tomorrow. It’s like dancing the same old dance, when the music has changed. 

We fail to listen to our bodies and the way we feel and understand its messages. 

Think of how you treat your car. You drive it every day and you become accustomed to the way it handles and sounds. One day, you hear a strange sound. You tune in and realize that something is out of sync, out of rhythm.

What do you do? You take your car to your mechanic because you depend on it and you don’t want to get into an accident or allow something small to become a bigger problem.

Now, think of your body as a vehicle. It takes you places every day and allows you to do what you want. Listen to it the way you’d listen to your car. What is it telling you?

  • Are you on edge lately? How is your tolerance level?
  • Do you find yourself feeling out-of-place or out of sync with whatever is going on?
  • Is your mind so busy that it’s keeping you up at night?
  • Do you feel tired all the time?

If you answered yes to most of the above, then you’re due for some changes.

Make time to pause and reflect on the changes you’d like to initiate. Begin by taking a breathing break. Breathing is something that happens without us even noticing. 

Most of the time, we’re not aware of our breath. The breath that sustains us and keeps us alive . . . and we don’t even notice it. Like our heartbeat or the waves of the ocean, our breath follows a rhythm — in and out and in and out — all day long, for as long as we live. 

Focusing on the breath — as it moves in and out of your body — has a calming effect. It can slow you down enough to clear your mind and make you feel renewed.

What if you were to give yourself 5 minutes and experience your breath, right now, right where you are?

Mindful Breathing Exercise

Let’s begin by taking a few deep breaths. Take a deep breath through the mouth, feel your lungs expand, and bring the air all the way down to your belly.  

Pause and slowly begin to exhale. Focus on your breath as it comes in and out. You can count to five as you breathe in and as you breathe out, if that helps you.

Take 3-4 slow, deep breaths and then, let your breath settle into a comfortable rhythm.

Scan your body mentally. Where do you hold tension? Gently breathe into the tension until it dissolves.

Now turn your attention to your thoughts. Do not engage with them. Let them come and go, like clouds in the sky.

What kind of self-talk is going on in the background of your mind? What kind of word do you use to talk to yourself?

You don’t have to do anything — just watch it all happening.

As you continue breathing, notice how your body feels. What has changed in the way you’re holding tension?

As you practice being with your breath, your awareness will increase. You’ll begin seeing clearly how certain behaviors and choices don’t work for you. The more you recognize what doesn’t work for you or has a negative impact in your day, the easier it will be to make the changes that matter.

He who cannot describe the problem will never find the solution to it.

Confucius

As you identify the discomfort you’ll want to take an honest look at the choices you make daily.

  • Does your body ask for more rest, a healthier diet, and more exercise?
  • Evaluate how you schedule your day. Do you tend to go from one activity to the next without a break? How does this rhythm affect your effectiveness?
  • Can you fit ten minutes of quiet time in your day? Even ten minutes can have a positive effect on your mental clarity, focus, and energy level.
  • What about going outside for five minutes and breathing some fresh air, looking up at the sky, or taking a short walk?

I’m sure you have some ideas of your own as well. What can you do to honor your personal rhythm and restore your sense of personal balance?

Yota works with women who are in the midst of personal and professional changes and milestones. Her approach is deeply influenced by her cultural roots, work and life experience, and her long-term practice of mindfulness meditation. In addition to her work with individual clients, Yota speaks and writes on mindful living, overcoming self-doubt, and the art of letting go.

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