Despite being of the general stance that gym memberships are far from a frugal person’s prerogative, I have had BlackTag Membership at CorePower Yoga a few times in the past, typically when my schedule was most full and I needed the external stimuli to help dedicate to myself some form of self-love. Out of all the classes CorePower offered, my favorite was a class called Restorative Yoga, which was essentially nap-time yoga. The class was only offered once or twice a week per studio, but I made sure to attend those classes religiously. Instead of the more popular classes with weights or high-temperature yoga sessions, the restorative classes were always held at night, in the dark, at room temp and on our backs (well, mostly). The teacher guided students through a series of poses, sometimes in candlelight, all of which were held in stillness for five minutes at a time.
For beginners, this could feel like eons. Some postures were more painful than others, depending on how your body best contorts, but in that darkness and quiet, with your mat facing away from the other students and towards the wall, you must sit through that discomfort and pain in solitude. There always comes a point where you think you can’t hold the posture any longer and you have no option but to relax into it and let yourself go, and in that letting go, one may find themselves suddenly waking up after having slept through the rest of class or sprawled out, off the mat, in complete relaxation. The classes were generally never full, and there was always space to stretch out, which is unfortunate, because as a fellow yogi exiting a restorative class once expressed, “this is the best class this studio has to offer. It’s a shame not more people go.” A sentiment with which I concur wholeheartedly.
This is the class the world can use more of.
Now, I would wager that there is a group of people in this space wishing to do a bit of restorative work themselves during this stay-at-home movement. So careening towards the other side of the spectrum from productivity, I decided to focus today on ways to make quarantine time productive in generally socially less accepted ways.
While life pre-COVID had us running around with shoes to fill and duties to perform, the current state-of-affairs presents the world with a rare gift of a lack of responsibility – a state which many of us haven’t experienced since childhood. This lack of responsibility frees up much needed time for introversion.
I would liken a majority of the population to living as if sleepwalking, unknowingly performing tasks that are pre-determined by a social upbringing, without any form of individual choice on the matter. This may offend some, but all truths have the potential to cause pain to the unknowing. However! If you’ve been suspicious of this for some time but haven’t had the head space to figure it all out yourself, maybe what you seek during this period of slow isn’t productivity at all, but rather, an awakening.
Socially unaccepted forms of productivity are my personal favorite, not only because I have always had a soft spot for going against the grain, but also because I find them to be ironically more successful in living a meaningful life. By socially unaccepted forms of productivity, I am referring to a slew of activities that are thought to be a general “waste of time” by modern standards, but actually have many life benefits that we have under-valued, for parts of ourselves too-long ignored.
If restorative quarantine is what you seek, then here are some easy activities that will help you tune in to your true self, perhaps the same self that you lost along with your childhood, as adulting became the center of your being and you forgot who you were to begin with… Isolation is the perfect setting for self-discovery.
- Sleep – My most favorite activity since birth. My parents can bore you to death with an endless array of stories that begin or end with me falling asleep. Every aunt and uncle can only seem to recall one unifying memory about my childhood – that I would fall asleep at every gathering, at restaurant tables, on neighbor’s couches, through any noise, commotion, or movement. Even my husband will comment, “Boy, you sleep a lot”, after a ten hour night of rest. As I grew older, my sleeping became less and less as my energetic self started accumulating roles, titles and projects. But when work suddenly became non-existent (was it really only one week ago?!), I reverted back to my restful state, sleeping by ten P.M. and waking around eight in the morning. Sleep is the most under-rated restorative practice and is arguably the most helpful activity to our well-being. Sleep is the state where you process all of your daily observances into something with meaning, as it pertains to you. Sleep is closely tied with memory formation, which essentially forms our entire reality. We constantly live in the past or future, the past which is no longer existent except for in memory, and the future which is based on past experiences but which also is not in existence. This is what Deepak Chopra talks of when he says that humans live in a continually dream state. Our reality is dependent on sleep and until we can create that reality will we be able to start separating ourselves from the past and the future, and start living in the “vivid now”.
- Meditate – Meditation is a practice in staying in the present moment. When I first started doing yoga, I had a completely different expectation for meditation. Namely, I thought meditation was the ability to sit in complete zen, without thought or feeling or motion. I thought it meant complete nothingness, and required utter silence, empty rooms, devoid of any and all distraction. After much practice, I realized that meditation brings up a lot of observances that could act as distractions – noises you never noticed before like the ticking of a clock, the hum of a fridge, or the silence itself; and aromas that you never smelled before such as last night’s dinner lingering in the air, the age of a book’s page, the must of an old couch, the smell of a fresh breeze – distractions such as thoughts that stubbornly make their way into your mind’s eye, an elephant in the room. Meditation is not the separation from all these things but rather, the physical connection to their presence without any emotional or mental ties. In essence, its having a free-flow state of mind and physical surrounding without any sort of affect. You notice a thought and let it come and go, without any emotion after it. You hear a sound and think or feel nothing associated with it. This disconnection is what connects you to your present moment. It is when you unlock your being, separate it from past and future, from surrounding and your physical body, and you see yourself in complete clarity.
- Dissociate Time – Time is a mental construct. Someone once decided for the rest of us to divvy the day into twenty four hours, each with 60 minutes, each with 60 seconds, et cetera. But how long does a second really last? In my opinion, it lasts as long as you perceive it does. You have external stimuli (such as a clock or a watch or a phone) telling you when one second is up, but what each person experiences in that one second can be completely different things. One person may experience a slew of emotions, another may experience nothing at all. One person may experience a life-changing event which registers in their mind as so impactful that they recall that second lasting what seems like forever. I have been recently obsessed with this idea of expanding time by controlling my consciousness’s perception of it. I came across this idea during a slow living experiment, when I realized that my slowest days felt much longer than days where I was busy with to-do-lists. Think about a day of work. When you are busy, work flies by, but when you are slow, work drags on. Everyone has experienced this. So I have been conscientiously taking note on how certain slow-living activities expands the time I have to experience, well, life. Yesterday in particular, I did an activity which I think is perfect for quarantined folks without work (or children, or worries, or distractions seeking your attention). I covered up every single indicator for time in my household. I took blue packing tape from the garage and covered every clock present, including the one on the bottom-right side of my laptop and the one underneath my camera on my I-phone. I wanted to know what it would feel like to experience a day in the life without any time restrictions or time indications. I wondered when I would wake, when I would get hungry, when I would feel like going to bed. I wondered what I would be interested in doing, and for how long. Let me be the first to tell you, yesterday felt like ages. I did everything I wanted to do and noticed the sun was still up. I ate whenever I felt like eating, and the only indication to sleep was my eyelids resisting the reading I was doing. I wondered to myself multiple times, what else shall I do? Which proved to myself that we can, in ways, expand time. Try it for a day. See what you learn about yourself.
- Avoid Mirrors – Our self-perception is heavily altered by external markers. Self-confidence is tied to how we see others perceive us. Our self-worth comes from the titles and roles that we have been endowed or earned. When someone asks for a definition of self, most people answer first and foremost with their occupation or profession. It is these same external definitions of the self that prevent us from truly understanding who we are. So another personal experiment that I heard of previously in Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit that I highly recommend is to remove or avoid all mirrors. There have been many times where I am out and about (and have been for quite some time) and suddenly wondered, “What do I look like today?” Which in itself is a useless thought if you are trying to live a life of YOU-ness, but that’s how socially trained I am (and you are, and we are). Sometimes I’ll get through an entire day and then realize in the evening that I never once saw a mirror, never once brushed my hair, never once wore anything more than chapstick. It’s a really REALLY good feeling to have.
- Live without modern conveniences – When Mike and I signed up for the Banks Peninsula hike in New Zealand one year ago, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. There were no modern conveniences to speak of during one of the nights. Hardly any modern conveniences during the entire trip. It was a terrible time, mostly caused by dreadfully rainy weather. We both slid on slippery rocks and landed our behinds on sharp stones. We treaded fearfully past at least a hundred cows, which look innocent enough standing on the side of the road but which are extremely intimidating when in a horde at arms reach. I shed many tears and whined in disdain. We never finished the hike, because the storm eventually became so bad. There were seven of us travelers huddled in a hut, all seven debating on calling a ride back to town rather than hiking through the third and final day. We were on farmland with nary a sign of civilization nor electricity. The shower was outdoors underneath a spider’s web inside the trunk of an old tree. We lit our rooms with candlesticks. We huddled around a furnace fed with acorns. We cooked meals over a gas stove lit by matches and sat together on a rickety wooden dining table, telling stories although we came from all over the world speaking different languages. There was a tub heated by a furnace fed by wood that needed chopping. You had to sit on a plank to avoid burning your stone-poked-bottom on the porcelain. It was where a family of three took a nice bath underneath the rain that fell from the sky. I wielded an axe for the first time, was scared of the storm not for the first time, hated spiders and bugs more than normal, loved fire more than normal, slept like a baby through the dreadful night. Your deepest demons and fears come out to play, and after it was said and done, your biggest strengths carried you through. (I did mention that sleep was my strength!) All of this to say that in retrospect, it was the most romantic moment of my life. They were the deepest connections I had ever formed, with strangers no less. It was a different universe and time altogether, separate from this one. And I learned a lot about myself. Now I know that the current COVID recommendations do not include running off to a cabin in the woods, but ways in which we can spare ourselves of modern conveniences include spending a day without lightbulbs, forgoing a shower, or avoiding the microwave and using a stovetop to reheat left-overs. For people who always dine out, it could mean prepping your own meals, and for those who drive down the street, it could mean taking a walk and lugging groceries back. Spend a day trying to live without modern conveniences, and see what rises up.
- Read Fiction and Poetry – When I was a child and teen, I only read fiction and poetry. When I became an adult, I preferred to grab non-fiction, in order to “improve” myself. I started to view fiction and poetry as unnecessary, nonsensical blathering that was not worth an ounce of my precious energy. Recently, I’ve decided against my original decision. Fiction and poetry is necessary for the soul. It is the reason I have been able to shape the world around me into what it is. It was my best friend in my youth, and it reveals to me what we already know but forget. I say, read fiction and poetry, even if you don’t have the time.
- Listen to Music – If someone asked me today what I like to listen to, I would most likely reply with, “I don’t listen to music.” Which is true. And extremely peculiar coming from a girl who sang in the church choir for a good 17 years and who took voice lessons until she was 27 years old, who locked herself in her room with a microphone and who showered with the radio on. But three (-ish) years ago, I stopped listening to music. At all. In the car, in the shower. I preferred silence. I valued my thoughts more than my feelings. I wanted my mind to focus on tasks, not sounds. When you make decisions like that, a part of you dies. But with the advent of the quarantine, I decided to put music back on my radar. I still haven’t picked up a guitar and am thinking of donating my recording studio to a friend. But on my to-do list, I added “listen to music” in the morning somehow. This one is a personal restorative activity. I’ll let you know how that goes.