Do you feel the need to do something all the time? That you need to be productive and you almost feel bad to take the time to prepare a healthy meal, to have a good workout, or even to sit down and really take a rest?
If yes, you are not alone!
Especially for ambitious people, mothers, not to mention equestrians (that most are very ambitious), it can be a daily habit to overwork all the time.
From my point of view at least, and all connected to horses and/or kids is super work intense but also super fun so we try always to have it all…
In different stages of life, it happens that we need to work longer days, that we must ignore tiredness or hunger for healthy food. The younger we are the easier it is to cope with a higher workload but the older we get the more marks this high workload will leave on us. The problem is that this overworking is becoming like a program in our inner computer - it's becoming a HABIT, and we do things automatically without thinking (and often without realizing).
I was practicing this for many years, while I was educating myself, getting recognition in my job, raising kids, and keep on training horses at the same time. I was in my early 30s and I was unstoppable curious about everything, I was happy to be able to work in my field of interest and I was a mom of two little, healthy and active kids. I pushed myself so many times through calls from my body, mind, and soul to slow down. I ignored the tiredness until I stopped feeling it. But the thing is, if we do this, we quite often also stop feeling joy and happiness from within ourselves. Then, unconsciously we try to seek some quick joy in outside things like eating sweets, shopping, social media overuse, or even alcohol. Our minds start to push us from one dopamine rush to the next not realizing that this is just a “fake” satisfaction. With a lifestyle like this, we lose the connection to our inner self, we get stressed out, depressed, or even both until we finally burn out.
It is 10 years ago since I had a severe burnout and the feeling is hard to describe with words. My body felt heavy as a rock, I was so tired even thinking of the minimum things I needed to do and daily tasks felt totally unbearable. I felt pain all over my body, developed irritable bowel syndrome with the result that I could not eat all kinds of foods anymore. I went from doctor to doctor without finding anything physical explanation.
After searching for the solution to my problems on the outside without success, I needed to start the journey within.
For a coincident, I was introduced to yoga practice and started to adopt yoga as a lifestyle. There I learned again to listen to my body, I needed to get friends with the voice in my head that told me all the time to do something productive otherwise I am unworthy and unlovable. I needed to learn to listen to the voice of my soul again, which is so gentle and far from being as loud as the voice of my mind. It is said that if you stop listening to the voice of your soul you start to get ill. What illness depends on the weakness in your body and mind.
Finding again this gentle voice of my soul I realized that it has always been there and very consistently - but I didn’t listen to that unforceful whispering. Instead, I let the voice of my mind run the show and that voice is noisy and very inconsistent. Through proper breathing, asana practice, meditation, proper food, and sleep I started to connect to myself again, realizing that thoughts are shaping my emotions and that I am actually can (and should) shape my thoughts. In short words, your mind is like a small kid, and if you don’t have a loving but strict discipline on it, it gets easily out of control and a cranky approach. The mind is speaking to us mostly in our head but the soul is more like intuition, this gentle voice in our heart that actually knows all the answers we are ever seeking for.
Our daily lifestyle in the western world is really pushing us away from staying in connection to our soul - and that I realize so strongly during my stays in India or Nepal. People are mostly not so driven by commercial life, many of them don’t have so many material things BUT they have peace in their heart and a smile on their face. That was quite inspiring for me. I realized myself and from many other people that did also a yoga journey in an eastern country, that it is easy to adapt to this slower pace and the search within in this surrounding and in the company of people on the same path. But back in the western world, it is getting more and more difficult not falling back into old habits. It’s said that people tend to adapt to the habits and believes of their peek group (people you care about and spend the most time with). So we can at least show our peer group a good example by having good habits and cultivate positive beliefs. But if this gets too hard or our people don’t want to improve their lives, we are either forced to adapt to them again or we need to find ourselves a new and more positive peek group with similar interests. That can be quite painful but sometimes short intense pain followed by a fresh new start is better than long and steady suffering with no improvement in sight. Everyone has here a choice.
Building the bridge between a yoga journey and daily life
After my yoga journey I got a quite different awareness toward daily things and realized all kind of bad patterns and habits:
As many professional equestrian I had far too many horses to keep all of them in the best shape without training day and night. That made me feel quite bad and stressed out for a long time. I was rushing from one horse to another and if we had a “bad” training day” it really frustrated me. The more frustration, the less fun the training was and the less I wanted to train. Actually, it was the same with my kids, the more frustration about all kinds of small things the bigger the tension was between us.
Driven by a constant lack of time, negative thoughts, and unpleasant emotions I lost the connection with the most empathetic beings around me, my loved ones, my horses, and most imported myself. Finding myself again and at least a part of my inner peace helped me to look at my interaction with my kids and horses in a different way so I could change my approach.
Another simple but quite interesting thing was that I started to realize that my house didn’t need to be super shiny when friends are coming to visit. Before the “mess all-around” was almost unbearable in my eyes, but now it was ok that the house doesn’t look like in an IKEA magazine since friends are mostly so happy to meet that they are actually not paying any attention if the house is shiny or not. So now I can give all my attention and good intention to my guests and I allow myself to feel happy about their visit.
(Believe me or not consciously or unconsciously we can all feel how the person or the animal that we are dealing with is feeling! So they feel if they have our full attention or not.)
So the key things in this transition are to improve awareness, self-care and the CHANGE of HABITS! As I said before: In different stages of life, it happens that we need to work longer days, that we must ignore tiredness and so on. BUT we must take care that it is not becoming a habit. A habit occurs when we are doing the same thing over a longer period of time. So to change that costs some effort and endurance.
Awareness and monitoring of what's going on
Bad habits can develop anytime and even though we manage to get rid of them they can come back since they are once installed in our system. Important is to become aware of them so we can take the right actions.
One of my biggest issues is my habit of being a workaholic. In general, working hard is not a bad thing but overdoing it can easily become unhealthy.
I started to keep a journal and at the beginning of every week I write down all tasks that must be done. Then I put them on a priority list and choose only 3-5 things that I will do the next day (ATH must be a reasonable workload!) The other things I put down in a timeframe that is fair to myself and others involved. After every day I check everything I managed to do and maybe rearrange the tasks of the next day. That gives me headspace in the evening, I can accomplish the progress of work and I have a manageable plan for tomorrow instead of an overwhelming mountain of tasks ahead of me.
One of the hardest things was (and still is) to organize resting time, food time, and workout time. It is the same as having no time to take patrol on your car - I don't need to explain that further. All the work is so much easier done if you are rested. By resting I mean a good 8-hour sleep, at least once a day a session of 10-20 min meditation or deep relaxation. If I am tired but have a lot of tension meditation can be quite hard, so I have some guided relaxation audios that help me to relax.
Instead of being frustrated about all the horses, I don’t manage to train, I focus on fewer horses and choose the most important ones. I organize a time-windows to train them regularly and with all my senses so that I can really connect to them and feel their mental and physical needs and support them according to that.
Good habits are like muscles that you need to train regularly, if you don’t train they will get weaker. Sometimes you need to prioritize other projects and can’t do your workout or can’t train your good habits, and that’s ok! Just remember that even a superhuman has only 24 h a day! The good news is: Tomorrow is another day ;-) So if you miss a day out just go back to your good routine as soon as possible and keep on training your good HABITS until they get your nature.
Today is Sunday and even though many of us lost the religious connection to this day that orders us to take a day off, we should practice self-love and take this day (or another day the week if that fits you better) and make a difference to the rest of the week. So take a rest, be lazy, have some healthy food and do something you really enjoy.
Wish you all a happy Sunday!