Experiment: how to optimize stress relief when work + sleep + family + yoga > 24 hours

This past Monday night, my son stayed up yelling and kicking in his bed until 12:30 a.m. when he finally calmed down.  For new readers, my son is 14 and has special needs.  He is deaf and has very little means of communication  – some sign language and otherwise gestures and vocalizations.  In the past year, possibly since entering puberty, he has had periods like Sunday night where he is in a very agitated state for hours, vocalizing loudly and often kicking or thrashing about and sometimes pulling his hair aggressively. We try to calm him, of course. Hearing the yelling and kicking, especially while trying to express your love and calmness to him and failing, can be tough.

On Tuesday morning I had a meeting at work starting at 9:30.  I kept working with only 2 short breaks until 12:30 am.  It took an hour more to get to sleep.

On Wednesday moring I had another meeting at 9:30.

We’ve all had periods like this in our lives with too much work and family and it seems like we have to trade off good habits like sleep or yoga during the remaining time.  I’ve tried this a bunch of different ways and I’ve come up with some best practices that work for me:

  1. Do yoga every morning no matter what, at least for 20 minutes, even though it cuts into sleep.
  2. Try to fit in Pranayama at some point in the day, even if just during a break at work.
  3. Remain mindful of the yamas and niyamas throughout the day — including taking a short minute to jot down how I am doing on them.
  4. At night — again even though it appearst to cut into sleep time — do the “lifesaving practice” of Krishnamacharya before bed.  It’s only 15 minutes and time after time I have found I will go to sleep faster and sleep better if I do this practice first.
  5. Don’t let tiredness lead me to overeating or drinking. I seem to have a deep-rooted instinct that tells me food or sugar or alcohol will pep me up when I’m tired; but it doesn’t.  As Iyengar explains, Moksha or liberation involves ensuring that your actions are deliberate and intentional and not driven by mindless instinct.
  6. Get as much sleep as possible in the time left over after fulfilling my commitments and doing the small amount of yoga practice above.  Note that I think fulfilling my commitments is part of my practice of Satyagraha: the flipside of honesty is not committing to something I cannot do / and doing whatever I have committed to.  For those workaholic dads out there: this includes your committments to your family, spoken and unspoken.

So how did I do over the past few days?

I did do yoga every day.  I did not do the lifesaving practice Tuesday night and if I had, I may have fallen asleep faster.  I did do a quick journal of yamas and niyamas on Monday but not Tuesday.  I had chocolate snacks and lots of extra food on Tuesday which I really regretted later that night — again proving point 5 above.

One thing I think went really well was maintaining an attitude of Ishwar-Pranidhan: surrender of my ego and focusing on what it takes to accomplish my goals.  On Tuesday night when I learned that some of my coworkers had not done parts of the task I had expected they would do, instead of feeling anxious or defeated or angry, I pulled out my detailed task schedule and added those items, told my wife it would be another hour before I finished, and went back to work.  By maintaining calm if not contentment during these stressful moments, I saved myself time, improved my ability to work efficiently, and avoided an unhealthy adrenaline boost that might have kept me up even longer.

Overall I was kind of happy at many times during the day too, and I recall distinct moments of feeling Santosha – being content in the moment: looking at the beautiful sunset, walking in the evening while on a conference call and looking at the city skyline, and hugging my wife when I got home.

So some things went well, and for others there is room for improvement — that’s part of why I’m here, writing this down.  Perhaps even the act of making it public will help me follow the above 5 practices in the future.

The picture accompanying this post is from a Businessweek article published in 2006 about me and my family.  That’s me, just at the beginning of my daily yoga practice, with my work and behind me, our whiteboard with the detailed schedule for taking care of my son.