Choosing Nothing - Be Kind, Please Unwind

This piece was originally written and published for The Pastry Box Project

Every day, we make decisions on how we want to spend our time. I choose to keep coding and designing away, while watching tv. I choose to listen to audiobooks more than I curl up with a perfect-bound novel with a musky smell, just so I can also clean up the kitchen or chop some veggies at the same time. I choose to multi-task and feel more productive because of it. I feel like I’ve ultimately hacked “the system”. I keep myself busy, because I like doing things. But, I’ve realized something: I’ve forgotten how to unwind. Or rather, I had chosen to not unwind properly. I don’t mean unwind in the spa or vacation sense, but in a molecular sense of just a day, on a regular basis. Something that is routine, not something I wait to do weeks or months later once I’m utterly exhausted. An unwind that is a not a bandaid, but a regular process that isn’t packaged with another action. Rather, it’s a little bit of time every day that is reserved for choosing to do absolutely nothing.

A few months back, a coworker from NC was making arrangements to visit The Iron Yard campus I taught at in Austin. She asked where the closest yoga studio was and there happened to be one near campus, so I sent links her way and didn’t give it another thought. When she got to town, she asked if I wanted to go with her the next day to the yoga studio for a class she had signed up for. I was perplexed. I don’t do yoga and I’m busy, I thought. I also didn’t really know where to start or what to expect. As that thought crossed my mind I realized I hadn’t given yoga a chance, so I agreed, with a “sure, why not”. I had no idea what I was in for.

We went to a restorative yoga class, a type of yoga that helps reset the body and mind, and has more to do with resting in a pose than it does stretching or exerting oneself. Sounded easy enough. At first, I felt awkward, and within the first few poses, that’s when it hit me. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. As I sat there in a basic seated position resting between two other poses, I thought of nothing. My mind was blank and I felt completely rested and calm. As we moved to different poses, my mind continued to follow the directions our instructor calmly stated and my mind continued to stay blank. By the end of the class, I felt like I was floating as I took in and let out each breathe. As we walked back to the campus, my arms and legs moved with a purpose and my thoughts were organized. I felt in-sync between what my body and mind were doing together. Within a week, I was doing daily yoga poses by screen-sharing Yoga Studio, an app I downloaded on my phone, onto my TV. In every session, the instructor starts seats calmly breathing for a few minutes, reminding users to listen to their breathe. Most workouts end with the corpse pose, laying flat on the mat, with arms on the side, and eyes—whether open or closed—facing upwards, again, listening to breathing.

At the end of the day, it’s a lessoned learned from yoga, not necessarily a requirement or recommendation to do yoga, but to just do nothing. It works in any room. It works when staring out onto a neighborhood street. It’s a great idea if you need a break from code or while watching a rare eclipse. Sitting still and listening to our breath. It’s the simplest thing and it works wonders and can become a regular routine. We all make choices about how we spend our time. I choose to not give up my cooking, cleaning, and audiobook habits, because I very much so enjoy cooking and enjoying a book. Now, I’m also consciously choosing to stare at a wall and listen to my breathing, sometimes in yoga poses and sometimes just sitting on the couch. If we put the phones and devices away sooner, ignore all the noise, and pause for these unitasking breaks, I think we can remind ourselves to unwind in a more productive way, all while doing nothing.