"Don't Bite The Hook" is the title of a book by Pema Chodron. It is also really good advice.
Here is how Pema summarizes the spirit of this counsel:
"Life has a way of provoking us with traffic jams and computer malfunctions, with emotionally distant partners and crying children-and before we now it, we're upset. We feel terrible, and then we end up saying and doing things that only make matters worse. But it doesn't have to be that way, says Pema Chodron. It is possible to relate constructively to the inevitable shocks, losses, and frustrations of life so that we can find true happiness. The key, Pema explains, is not biting he "hook" of our habitual responses.
Let's face it. We all have "issues" that needle us. It could be as simple as the wrong word at the wrong time from your co-worker or an ongoing disagreement with your teen or discovering that there is no toilet paper in the bathroom after you have completed your business and your spouse forgot to replace the empty role. Our thresholds for being triggered may vary, but we have all felt that tightening knot deep in our belly right before sensing a hot electric charge of negativity that quickly escalates into anger, resentment, irritability, anxiety, depression, blame or even the desire to seek revenge. Then it goes from bad to worse. We become addicted to our habitual responses and say or do something which leads to more negativity and pain for ourselves and the poor object of our wrath.
The key, says Pema, is learning how to recognize those triggers and to stop yourself from biting that hook that takes you down a destructive path.
Of course, it is not easy to break habitual patterns that we have perfected over years and decades of practice, but it is not impossible. In her book, Pema offers insight, wisdom and tools to help you in your efforts. In the meantime, I will offer a few suggestions that might help you get started.
The first step is to recognize the bait. This part is actually not so hard. Take five to ten minutes and just make a list of three to five events that really upset or irritated you during the previous week. Then pick one and decide that this will be your challenge for basic training.
Step two is not so easy. It is learning to recognize the bait when you are in the moment and then resist the urge to bite the hook. Here is the part where Pema can really help. So does mindful deep breathing.
This is not a quick fix. As Pema will tell you, it may take years of focus and practice to resist the bait. But stress and anxiety are debilitating and good health is energizing. So take a deep breath, listen to Pema and start to tune in to what hooks you.
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