Friday, November 4, 2011

Which comes first? The Chicken or the Egg? An Action or Emotion? Choices and how they affect our lives.

While yoga won't resolve the chicken or egg dilemma, an exploration into the origin of emotions or feelings is helpful for not only our practice, but our larger perspective.

About six years ago, Dr. David Burns published Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, his insights into motivation and emotion. One of the most recommended books for helping those who suffer from depression, Dr. Burns findings prove useful for everyone, whether diagnosed with a mood disorder or not. Here’s how:
Dr. Burns asserts that our emotions and moods are influenced by doing, not by feeling. Waiting for the urge to act could take a long, long time. When we perform the action, the emotion or feeling arrives during the action. Here's a quick example to illustrate this transaction:

If you've ever stood in a grocery check-out line with an unknown baby in the cart in front of you, it's a sure bet that, if you smile at the baby, the baby will smile back. In that moment, your frustration with waiting in line is forgotten. The pleasurable interaction with another person, without words, with pure positive emotion has been triggered by your action of smiling.
In other words, first the doing, then the feeling.
We know this, to some extent, to be true. We always feel accomplishment crossing an item off the to-do list, our mood is much lighter when we leave the gym than when we walk in, our hearts are lifted after a vigorous practice on the mat. This could be the effect of exercise producing those mood-altering endorphins; it could be our actions and emotions are congruent (in other words, our physical actions match our emotions); it could be we are pleased with ourselves; or it could be any combination of these, perhaps more. Whatever the cause (or causes), we know we feel good.On the other hand, when confronted with the choice of blowing off a disagreeable chore or unpleasant task, we can justify our inaction by telling ourselves that we’re just not “in the mood” to do the job. We rationalize that we “don’t feel like it” and will wait until a better time. Let’s be honest with ourselves: another name for this psychological tug-of-war between doing what needs to be done now and opting for a later time is procrastination. The effects of procrastination are niggling guilt, a sense of dissatisfaction, and the sure knowledge that the job still needs to be done. Keep in mind that while I am typing this blog, I am aware that I have a long personal list of procrastination items: financial matters to be addressed, floors to be cleaned, a sink of dirty dishes, a dryer of wet laundry, unanswered e-mails, a half-finished sweater on knitting needles, and piles of uncut yardage waiting for projects. Life is complicated and filled with choices, we prioritize our tasks and work them out accordingly. More jobs than time--that is part of the condition of living
Finding motivation in action, setting priorities, and avoiding the spiral of procrastination--all of these are part of our yoga practice. Sometimes the toughest part of our practice is getting onto the mat. 

Once we complete our pranayam, we settle into the here and now. For that hour, we experience the focus and discipline that is yoga. And after savasana, the positive emotion and bliss carries us farther through our daily routine to that we can achieve more, do more, and enjoy the emotions that achievement and doing bring.Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Not sure about that. But I do know that doing almost always precedes feeling. Acting gracious often comes before feeling gratitude. A gentle touch or word can ignite kindness.

Within NPC’s Yoga Community, we see that positive actions ripen into positive emotions. The warmth, regard, and support that we share with newcomers and regulars alike is proof that in our practice, in our doing, we create a positive place. Applying this principle--doing preceding feeling--can enrich our lives and those who surround us. And now, better tackle those dishes, floors, and some laundry!
Until next week, namaste,

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