Yoga and Burnout

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“If you feel burnout setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best for the sake of everyone to withdraw and restore yourself.”

Dalai Lama

I strained my back while I was teaching a yoga class this week. To say I am upset about it is an absolute understatement. The last two days have been riddled with emotional outbursts, and thank God I have such an incredible support system to help me navigate this experience. I have been teaching extra classes to support my fellow colleagues, I am planning my first retreat to Costa Rica, and I am deep into my 300 hour teacher training. I’m stressed.

I’ve never been great at letting myself relax but as of lately, I spend so much time thinking about how I can maximize my time to research, learn, network, market and outreach because my thinking drives me to believe I don’t have time to waste on leisure or recovery. I’m hitting a wall, and I think I’m moving toward burnout. As a healer and a helper – in my light, I am so available, receptive and responsive to the needs of others, while the overextension or shadow of that trait is hypocrisy by ignorance and avoidance of self.

Burnout is an emotional exhaustion that surpasses physical fatigue, felt anxiety or a stress response. It is a result of living in a state of chronic stress that begins to drive a doubt of self efficacy. Burnout sounds like cynicism mixed with apathy or defeatism. It’s way too common, and completely avoidable, with discipline, self reflection and a solid boundary system.

What does yoga philosophy say about burnout?

We have to begin from a state of “Svadyaya” (from the second limb of yoga, the Niyamas), which invites us into self study. We cannot improve upon that which we are unaware of. The Yoga Sutras (1.3) offer that humans experience a variety of interruptions that prevent the mental clarity which allows us to live free from suffering. There are nine interruptions mentioned by Patanjali: illness, fatigues, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, overconfidence, inability to concentrate and instability. Sutra 1.31 goes on to say that these interruptions symptomize in four ways: pain, negative thinking, anxiety, and irregular breathing.

So we can see that suffering is a part of being human, it has been experienced by all of us, and we are currently experiencing it. Patanjali goes on to offer a means to relief when he shares that “future suffering is to be avoided” in Sutra 2.16 and cites many tools as means for a resolution to chronic stress. He says the key is to utilize the tool that is most helpful to restore a steady mind.

What does Patanjali suggest?

“In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.” Yoga Sutra 1.33

Just breathe – Utilize breathing which engages a longer exhale than inhale. Longer exhales regulate the nervous system through parasympathetic activation. 1.34

Engage your senses. Literally stop and smell the roses. 1.35

Get right sized: consider yourself as part of a greater whole, inextricably connected to everything around you at all times. 1.36

Ask for help. Plain as that. Simple in theory, but difficult to practice and make proper use of (this is the HARDEST one for me). 1.37

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