Holding Pattern

So far this year has brought me a great deal of fantastic work and business travel – I’ve been busy but I’ve loved it. On a recent business trip, the plane circled the airport in a holding pattern for over half an hour as it awaited permission to land.

The movement of the aircraft made me think about holding on and how we hold on. So many of my clients can’t sleep and are exhausted from the effort of holding on without even realising that they’re doing so. As a yoga practitioner and one who tries to pay attention to what my body is doing, I know something about my own holding patterns: my tendency to try hard – sometimes too hard – and how this causes me to lean my body forwards thrusting my chin out, clench my jaw, stick my neck out. Increasing the effort level. Holding on too hard. And I do this even when I love what I’m doing; sometimes even my passion makes me try too hard.

So I thought I understood my own holding patterns. But do I?

In my most recent trip I returned to the idyllic yoga retreat of Vale de Moses, nestled in the mountains of Portugal. In the first session we lay on our mats noticing our breathing, noticing the body, how it wanted to move, how it didn’t want to move. Mostly I noticed how my body didn’t want to not move (I want to practice handstands!) How it didn’t want to be still. We moved (or rather didn’t move) into a yoga nidra session – a deep relaxation session that prepares you for sleep. Here I noticed deep layers of holding on that I hadn’t even noticed until now. Tension held in muscles, tissues and joints. Tension from having to be places on time, the effort of getting it right, not getting it wrong, pleasing, role playing, trying hard, doing my best, mustn’t do this, must do that, endless doing doing doing. And here I was doing relaxing – and the frustration bubbled up.

Waves of anger, frustration, worry, fear, sadness and who knows what else rose to the surface. I found myself weeping silently, tears streaming down the corners of my eyes, dripping and pooling in my ears.

And then a curious calm…. Almost against my will, I felt the tiredness. Or rather, I accepted the tiredness. I allowed myself to feel it in my bones until I felt so heavy that I could have been lying six inches below the floor.

One week after the retreat. Back to demands and email chaos (broken keyboard and mouse, unhappy inbox) and I wryly remind myself of a basic law of Physics that everything moves towards maximum entropy and disorder. That’s life isn’t it? I notice the urge to quicken and hold on. Actually, I noticed this from the moment I stepped off the plane once we’d finally landed. Why does everyone walk so slowly?!
How do you hold on? From the moment we wake up, the mind has a tendency to accelerate into the day. We grip with the jaw, shoulders, stomach, buttocks or the breath. What is your holding pattern? Do you know? Do you notice? Standing on the train platform – stomach tense, elbows out, shoulders hunched, solar plexus protected. We’ve armed ourselves for the commuting battle and whatever else the day brings. Good or bad.

Where else in life are we holding on? And if we’re holding on in response to every tiny alert, every challenge real or imagined, how much do we hold on when the big stuff hits? The birth, the death, the collapse, the illness, the tragedies?

Isn’t it time that we started holding on for the things that really matter? Or, better still, isn’t it time that we start practicing not holding on? Constantly noticing and letting go, releasing as we go about our day? So that when the Real Work of life hits we might actually have some slack, some spare capacity to respond from a more gracious and resourceful place.

And, who knows…we might:

Fall asleep quicker

Return to sleep faster

Stay asleep longer

Awaken with more energy.

(I am called a ‘Sleep and Energy Expert’ after all ☺)

I wrote my last musings as the Captain announced that we’d been given permission to land. We left the holding pattern and the aircraft taxied smoothly and effortlessly onto the tarmac. A collective sigh of relief…it feels good to stop holding on.

Yours in amazing health and energy

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