Dancing with Fire – How to Get Things Done without Burning Yourself Out
Rewind to ten years ago. A typical Wednesday evening would find me exhausted and fighting a migraine. I would take some ibuprofen and retreat from my family to the bedroom where I could sleep off the overwhelm and fatigue. Another “Burnout Wednesday” under my belt, I finished out the work week. Every Sunday I would press “repeat” and start again with inspired energy.
Fast forward to last week. I’m developing two businesses, parenting teens, recovering from a recent surgery, and preparing for a major move. Life is full. And I am calm, focused, healthy and happy.
My secret? I’ve learned how to be more productive, present and effective by taking care of myself better. And one of the ways I learned to do this was by learning a new language.
The 5 Elements of Ayurveda
When I started my yoga training 10 years ago, I knew we would be learning the traditional sanskrit names for yoga poses. Triangle is trikonasana. Forward fold is uttanasana. But it was the language of the five elements from the philosophy of Ayurveda that I really came to love.
The five elements are used to describe the natural world around us. In yoga and its sister science Ayurveda we use them to describe our constitution- the way we show up in quality of our physical body and our mental processes. Earth, water, fire air and space each reflect a different way of being. Earth- solid, grounded, steady, patient. Water- flexible, receptive, sensitive, accommodating. Air- creative, initiating, diverse, active. Space- open, expansive, subtle. And then there is fire. Passionate, ambitious, bright, focused.
Fire: Friend or Foe?
In the world of yoga, fire is a transformational force. Fire cooks our food, and metaphorically it helps us digest our lunch. Fire gives us light. With it we can see clearly. When we can “see” we are able to look ahead, make discerning choices and execute our move towards our desires. Fire is also the driving force in how those of us who are “workaholics” navigate our projects, our choices and our drive to succeed. It is what we use to push ourselves.
Fire has helped me get things done. It has been the driving force in everything from triathlon competitions to creating a new business and running a non-profit. Fire has also been the root of many of my challenges in both my physical and mental health- my injuries, asthma, and temper are all part of my relationship with fire.
The Price We Are Paying
I’m all fired up. Burning desire. Fuming with anger. Burned out.
Our language is filled with references to the power of fire. We communicate daily in ways that refer to both its value and its price. “Burnout” is a particular favorite both in the work world and in the world of caregivers. Google search results yield over 53 million links to articles from psychiatry, psychology and business magazines. Stress, exhaustion and anxiety are signs of burnout- as are illness, anger and brain fog.
Sound familiar? In a world where getting things done is prized and resting and reflecting a luxury, burnout is having a serious effect on our modern day lives. In the absence of time to develop self-awareness and create change, many of us live with the health and relationship outcomes of a fire-driven life. We are paying a high price as we push ourselves to get things done.
Shifting our Relationship to Fire
Where do we begin? For me, the shift came through my yoga training when I started to develop a language to understand how I was showing up in the world. Learning that I could describe my energy using the word “fire” give me the ability recognize that I was driving myself too hard and that I was doing more harm than good. But in the end it was some serious self care that gave me the awareness and tools I needed to stop the cycle I was in.
Fire needs to be balanced. The massive output of energy that helps us create and execute can deplete us quickly. The good news? We can use simple daily habits of self care (Dinacharya) and nurturing to create a sustainable version of ourselves.
Here are my three favorite habits that will help you get things done without burning out:
1. Sit in Silence
For many of us, it is a real struggle to stop what we are doing and cultivate awareness. When we play on the edge of burnout it’s often because we don’t allow ourselves time and space to notice what is happening in our lives. When we pause, we can start to ask questions. Where is fire are showing up in my life? Is it helping me make positive shifts forward- creating focus and helping me execute what has value for me? Is it showing up in my life as a reflection of trying to do to much?
Developing a practice of sitting in silence is one way that we can wire ourselves to pause more. When we come into a place of quiet, we open ourselves to a deeper wisdom that is not accessible when we are pushing ourselves. Neurologically we are wired to do rather than be, so this takes practice. Sitting in silence daily is a proven way to create that space for ourselves.
2. Go to Bed!
Fire needs fuel- and one sure-fire way to keep the fire of burnout growing is to work in the evenings and late into the night. Night owls love the energy that arises with the evening’s second wind when the energy of the day shifts from the heavier earth energy of Kapha to the fire energy of Pitta. Riding this surge we can be tempted to finish a project or make plans for a new offering, but when we feed the fire day and night we pay a price. I learned to go to bed before 10pm, when my energy starts to wind up again with Pitta energy. Going to bed earlier lets you push the pause button, and gives you the ability to wake up earlier in the time time of day that is spacious and reflective. A perfect time to sit in silence and plan the day from a space of perspective.
3. Nurture Yourself with Self Massage
My favorite way to replenish in a loving way is to do a daily self-massage with oil before I shower each morning. Abhyanga, as it’s known, is a sweet ritual that can be done in the morning or at night. It is a way to develop gratitude for a healthy body, to care for an ailing one, and to shift from a mode of giving to one of receiving. It requires slowing down and taking time to offer some self-love and it is a perfect way to create a conscious ritual of calming and presence.
As a busy mom, business owner, and community builder I value what I’m able to create in this world. My studies in yoga, Ayurveda, and Yoga Health Coaching have taught me that the only way I can be effective is by living from a space of ease. I have to play carefully with fire so that I’m not on edge, I’m not feeding it too much or too little, and I’m not letting it start to chip away at my health. Learning to care for myself by using daily habits from the world of ayurveda have become my go-to way to manage my fire.
So here’s to fire – my friend and foe.