I started taking yoga classes in college, and I was immediately impressed by the dramatic effect focused attention on the breath had on my body as a whole. Before the poses themselves came to mean much to me, the breath and awareness of it really hit home.
The summer after I began my yoga classes, my family went to an amusement park, and I eagerly rode the roller coasters. Usually I’d throw my arms in the air, squeeze my eyes shut and scream like crazy the whole ride–that was how the adrenaline of the ride moved me. But that summer, I decided I was going to try something different: I was going to keep my eyes open and focus on my breath, just to see what a roller coaster would be like if I was totally aware of every moment of it the whole way through.
Where awareness & the coaster met
So I’m in the seat, and the coaster is making its slow click-click-click trek to the top of the hill. I can feel my pulse quickening and my breath becoming more shallow as we reach the crest of the hill, and I think, “There is no way I’m going to pull off not squeezing my eyes shut and screaming.” Click-click-click…the coaster reached the pinnacle and paused just slightly at the very top, the one brief moment of stillness before hurtling down the steep first hill.
And in that one moment, I did something that made all the difference: I opened my eyes, relaxed my arms and I exhaled deeply.
The coaster tipped forward, and as we careened down the hill, I didn’t squeeze my eyes shut or scream or throw my hands in the air. I breathed, and just took it all in–the speed of the coaster, the metal track twisting around me, the people screaming behind me, the wind blasting my face as we raced forward. It was so vivid, so exhilarating, so incredible. It was unlike any coaster ride I’d been on before, and I was hooked. Riding the other way would never again be enough.
On exiting the ride, I remember running to my family and exclaiming to them how radical this was, and how they just had to try this new technique. They laughed at me babbling about this whole “breathe and stay totally aware” thing–and to their credit, I probably did sound like a babbling fool. But I’ve never ridden a coaster or thrill-ride since then without using that technique: at the crest of the hill, in that most adrenaline-filled pause right before the ride tips forward, open my eyes, relax my arms and exhale.
I swear, it takes the ride to a whole other level.
I’ve been doing business with my eyes shut & screaming wildly
I recently realized that I live a huge portion of my life in fear. Fear of ridicule. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of being mocked. Fear of being wrong. Fear of disappointing someone.
The basis for a huge number of decisions I make? Fear. The reason I stopped posting just when my traffic hit its peak? Fear. The underlying voice that tells me any expansion I make in my business will be wrong? Fear.
Entrepreneurial life is a roller coaster. I’ve been riding it and experiencing the adrenaline rushes, but I’ve also been screaming at the top of my lungs, eyes squeezed shut, hands in the air, aware of only the surface of what’s happening. It’s a bold decision to become an entrepreneur, just like it’s a bold decision to sit down in a metal cart that’s about to hurl you up and down and around a few tons of metal at life-or-death speeds. But I realize I’ve been missing a huge part of the ride, because I’ve let the fear grip me so tightly.
But I want more than that. I want to be aware of every twist the ride takes, of every hill and swooping track around me, of the sounds of my fellow coaster-riders. I want to experience that hyper-vivid, mind-blastingly exhilarating ride.
I want to open my eyes, relax my arms and exhale.
What will the new ride look and feel like?
Hell if I know. I’ve never operated from a place of eyes-open-and-exhale. I always operate from a place of fear. So I don’t know exactly what the entrepreneurial ride will feel like when I open my eyes and exhale deeply at the crest of the hill.
But I can extrapolate from my experience on the coaster.
First, instead of fear, it’s exhilaration. The wave of emotion is just as intense–perhaps even moreso. You don’t lose anything in intensity. The adrenaline still courses through your veins and your palms still sweat. But the experience of that energy isn’t eye-squeezing, scream-rattling fear. Instead, it’s is what I imagine a good drug trip might* feel like: just hyper-real, hyper-vivid, over-the-top magnificent, blissed out, high on wow.
* I say “might” because other than a few brushes with anesthesia or doctor-prescribed post-injury pain medications, drug trips are purely conjectural for me.
Second, while you’re still traveling at breakneck speed, you actually notice every single moment, as if it were happening more slowly. You’re still fully aware that the wind is whipping past you and you’re hurtling through space, but the sensation is more akin to flying than to being pulled along. You’re so present in the moment that you really feel each second and notice how it’s different than the second before, so even while experiencing the speed, you’re fully in the now.
Third, you realize you’re okay. Your body’s coursing with adrenaline, your heart’s racing, you have to consciously remind yourself to breathe… but you realize you’re okay. Even with the thrill of what’s happening, you’re solidly and completely okay. More than okay–you’re great. You’re better than you were when you were standing solidly on the ground.
Fourth, you can do it again. Once that ride is over, you’re ready for the next one in a different way than you were for the first one. Desire replaces fear, confidence creeps in around the edges of uncertainty, and you’re already looking forward to the next crest when that moment of decision presents itself: scream and shut your eyes or exhale and open them wide. You want the chance to make the latter choice all over again.
Ideas are percolating and changes are coming, for me personally as well as professionally. Changes always feel like the crests of those hills to me, and I tend to close my eyes and scream. I really want to apply my yogi-cum-coaster-rider experience to this next round of changes. Will I be wholly successful? Probably not. Like any habit, changing from eyes-squeezed-and-screaming to eyes open and exhaling will be a challenge, and will likely entail a few slips backwards with each round of progress.
But I’m going to try. And in an act of Eyes Open and Exhaling, I’m writing about it here for the world (or the few hundred subscribers, at least) to see.
Click-click-click… to the crest we go. I take a deep breath in and…
I don’t know yet. But I think I’m ready to find out.