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Mindful : June 2016
So how do you embody “alert-yet-relaxed”? If you are in a crucial conversation, you probably aren’t sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat or med- itation cushion, so try practicing a modified ver- sion of Mountain Pose, either standing or seated in a chair. Rather than practicing in an exagger- ated, rigid fashion, see if you can practice with an air of poise that is supple enough to move in any direction as the conversation unfolds. Practicing the alert-yet-relaxed posture solo can help you build muscle memory so that you can more readily shift into a constructive stance during conversation. For example, in a low- stakes conversation, you may become aware that you’ve slipped into slumping sideways in your chair. On the inside you may feel fatigued and just want to get comfortable, but on the outside you realize that this posture risks communicat- ing disinterest. Shifting subtly into an alert-yet- relaxed posture again will not only help you brush away mental cobwebs, but can also help you communicate that you are in fact interested in the other person and your conversation. Your alert-yet-relaxed practice can be even more valuable in high-stakes conversations. Suppose in the heat of the moment you catch your neck tightening, your forearms tensing, and your body starting to lean forward strongly. Your solo practice can help you be aware of how much you’ve drifted from your construc- tive home-base position. You may realize that your high-tension posture reflects but also feeds your growing internal pressure. Since you are in a social interaction, you become aware that this posture isn’t going to serve you very well because it is likely to escalate an interpersonal conflict as the other person picks up on your increasingly aggressive body language. Your low-stakes practice then can help you subtly shift back into a more constructive alert-yet- relaxed stance that can cool your inner fire and minimize the risk of conflict. Bring Attention to Your Breath Once you have arranged yourself in an alert-yet- relaxed posture, you might bring your atten- tion to your breathing. At first you may just observe your breath dispassionately, much as you would in a mindfulness meditation exercise. Sometimes just noticing your breath in this way allows it to even out and grow more still and quiet, which can have a calming effect. Showing up all blissed out, however, may not be an optimal state for performing well in a conversation, especially in a high-stakes one. As you probably know from experience, and as research has shown, people tend to perform best at moderate levels of arousal, neither too low nor too high. So for the purposes of an impor- tant conversation, you will want to learn how to adjust your breathing to fit the performance demands of the moment. Yoga breathing practices teach that manipulat- ing the breath in particular ways can alter the way you feel. For example, inhaling brings oxygen into the body, which can be more energizing, while 1 Place the soles of your feet on the floor at about hip’s distance apar t. If standing, distribute your weight evenly between the two feet. Lift energetically through the arches of the feet, gently waking up the muscles in your legs and toning through the lower and upper abdomen. If sitting, wiggle your fanny way back in the chair and sit upright on your sitz bones. Keep your feet flat on the floor and knees in line with the hip bones to avoid clenching between the inner thighs. 2 Keep your pelvis neutral and elongate your spine by lifting through the sides of your torso. Relax the tops of your shoulders while lengthen- ing through the back of the neck. Picture the head sitting lightly on the top of the spine. Arms can be held gently at your sides. 3 Gaze ahead softly, while main- taining an open and respon- sive brow and facial expres- sion. Begin to memorize this alert-yet-relaxed countenance so you can recenter and return to it at any time. Take an alert yet relaxed posture PRACTICE 74 mindful June 2016 practices insight