Time Out: Finding Peace in a Harried World
by Eva Herriot
You know the telltale signs. The traffic is slow on your way to work, there’s a wait at the doctor’s office, or you get snowed in. But instead of taking advantage of these opportunities to relax into uncluttered mind space, you are glued to your cell phone, checking e-mails, and looking through the day’s schedule of meetings on your Blackberry. Perhaps you regularly skip your lunch breaks altogether. Maybe you continually postpone family time. And when was the last time you took a real vacation?
Life in the Fast Lane
It used to be that living life in the fast lane was something altogether truly cool—a sign that you had arrived or were at least well on your way. Lately, however, the speed of life has accelerated to a point where we all seem trapped in the fast lane—whether we want to be or not. In fact, most of us find that we have less and less time and are experiencing increasing levels of stress. Instead of truly enjoying life, we end up racing through it.
Our professional lives are often replete with time-related stress. According to one survey, about one third of American employees find their job responsibilities so pressing that they have no downtime at work, and about one third try to save time by working and eating lunch at the same time. Another survey commissioned by Expedia.com, showed that approximately one third of Americans suffer from vacation deprivation—they are so busy they just don’t have time to take all of their vacation days. And even when we do go on vacation, almost half of us engage in some work-related tasks, says a study by the American Management Association.
Do you often get upset if you are forced to wait for something? Do you usually feel pressured about time? Do you feel you haven’t accomplished enough at the end of the day? A sense of time urgency dominates the lives of too many Americans.
The Importance of Downtime
Downtime is essential for staying healthy. Studies have shown that feeling chronic pressure about time can be associated with developing high blood pressure and related health risks later in life. A telling study of 12,866 men aged 35 to 57 found that regular vacations help ward off stress-related illness and improve health over the long term. Compared with men who took no vacations, those who took regular vacations were 21% less likely to die over the next nine years and 32% less likely to either have a heart attack or die of heart disease.
Not taking downtime not only has adverse effects on your physical health, it has significant psychological and spiritual costs as well. Experts warn that when you are constantly on-the-go, you risk losing track of what’s important in life.
"Setting aside time to recuperate and to reconnect with yourself is important for reconnecting with your inner self and building spiritual energy," says psychiatrist and intuitive Judith Orloff, a regular Kripalu presenter and author of Positive Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress, and Fear into Vibrance, Strength, and Love. "To build spiritual energy, you need to be quiet and to connect with your heart center. If you sever that, you risk ending up with a frenetic connection to life, in which you feel frazzled, off center, and chronically exhausted. Ultimately, taking time out is really about protecting and nurturing your life force."
The Yoga of Time for the Self
The ancient contemplative traditions likewise emphasize that while it’s important to live in the world, it’s equally important to occasionally retreat from it in order to stay connected with the deeper parts of the mind and spirit. This time for integration and renewal may come in any number of ways: through relaxation at the end of a yoga class, during a regular meditation practice, or on an immersion retreat.
"From the point of view of classical yoga, when one is more quiet, the wisdom of the deeper parts of the mind, the illumined mind, naturally reveals itself," says Kripalu scholar-in-residence Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. "That deeper part of the mind has a panoramic view of life beyond time and space and concepts. It is this wisdom part of the mind that is capable of making good choices and discerning how we should move and act in the world. So, according to the yogic tradition, if you are interested in attuning yourself to the part of yourself that is really wise, you need to occasionally slow down, be quiet, and listen in to what happens when stillness occurs."
Let’s face it, the pace of life is not going to slow down anytime soon. The best option is to develop a series of conscious coping techniques to nurture and protect yourself and to create a more balanced relationship with time. The tips below can help you slow down and take control of your time.
Change your attitude. Stop feeling guilty about taking time for yourself. Remind yourself that being productive requires a proper balance between rest and activity. Your mind needs quiet time for you to stay creative and alert. The difference between being tired or rested often translates into the difference between being overwhelmed with challenges at work or finding creative solutions to them. Looking at it this way, you can’t afford not to keep a balance.
Set a healthy pace. Experiment with what works for you until you find a rhythm that is sustainable and doesn’t deplete you. Align your actions with your natural energy flows; some people have more energy in the morning, some later in the day. If you find yourself getting frazzled and stressed, s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. A healthy pace does not compromise your performance. In the long run, it lets you do better work.
Structure time out. Take five-minute mini-breaks regularly during the day. Stretch in your chair, walk around to get your blood circulating and energy moving, look out the window, or find something else to look at that inspires and relaxes you. If you are multitasking, take 10- to 15-minute breaks several times during the day where you focus on just one thing. For meals, carve out space and time for eating in a relaxed, peaceful setting, really paying attention to and savoring the food you eat. Nothing taxes your digestive system more than mindlessly gulping down a meal while you’re doing other things.
Connect with your center. Take up a practice such as yoga, qigong, or meditation that can help you turn off the constant chatter of the mind and open to the timeless peace inside. Go for a walk in nature, perceiving not with your eyes and head but with your heart and your being. Cultivate gratitude and seek out opportunities for wonder in everything you encounter.
Schedule time for your relationships. Love takes time. Never get so hurried that the demands from people in your life become unwelcome interruptions that leave you frustrated and irritable. Create quality time with your partner, children, and friends—time when you can be present, give them your full attention, and open yourself to knowing them in richer ways and connecting more deeply with them.
Give yourself a break. Taking a vacation or retreat away from your daily routines can bring tremendous therapeutic and healing benefits. Meeting new people, experiencing new environments, and thinking fresh thoughts not only helps you recharge your batteries, it can be a catalyst for personal growth and help you realign your priorities.
Slowing down and taking time out to tap into your own nurturing is, in short, not just a good idea; it is essential for staying physically and spiritually healthy. Downtime can help restore your ability to enjoy life and to give more fully to those around you. What may appear like unproductive time is, in actuality, a key to staying effective, warding off stress, and retaining your energy and well-being.
Eva Herriot, PhD, is a health educator and freelance writer who specializes in natural health and related topics.
© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in the January 2006 issue of Kripalu Online. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.