Ramona M. Wis
I remember when our daughter would come home from college at the end of each school year and seemingly slept for 2 weeks. There was this huge release from an “always-on” pace, countless activities and responsibilities, heavy intellectual, artistic, and emotional challenges, and the pressures of proving oneself in an academic and professional environment. It’s a lot.
But that’s what we are all experiencing now, the result of Life In 2020, Fall Edition, both on and off the podium. The constant outpouring of teaching, strategizing, creating in new ways, and holding our breath to see if it “takes,” and then, oh, yeah, living life in a bigger way with family, health watching, and all the required tasks of just making it through the day.
We need a break to restock the well.
I know—we are moving from our professional responsibilities right into our holiday to-do list, different though it will be. But energy expended is energy expended, regardless of how much we might enjoy our family or believe in the mission of our work. We need to release the weight of all we have been shouldering, perhaps unknowingly, in order for us to be well in any sense of the word.
So how do we restock the “well?”
Yoga’s ancient “sister science,” Ayurveda, provides some insight. Translated as “the knowledge of life” (or the knowledge of longevity), Ayurveda is the “traditional, holistic system of health science from India, which has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Ayurveda seeks to restore the natural balance and state of health to mind, body & soul.” (Ayurveda Wellness Center). Ayurveda has become more integrated into western culture because of its emphasis on prevention and on building wellness from what we ingest, how we assimilate it and release what we don’t need, and how we live the rhythms of our lives.
A central element in Ayurveda is Ojas (pronounced OH-jus), “a Sanskrit term meaning ‘vigor,’ and it is best understood as essential energy for the body and mind.” (Yogapedia) Ojas is the result of the process of digestion (of food and experiences); optimum levels are characterized by radiance and clarity, both physically and energetically, and a feeling of lightness while also being grounded and content. Who wouldn’t want more of that?
So what determines our level of Ojas? What depletes or increases it and how do we shift our thinking and practices to get more of that radiant energy and well-being, stocking the well for now and for the long term?
“According to Ayurveda, excessive activity and stress deplete Ojas, which creates free radicals causing damage. Our health is determined by the body’s ability to properly digest not only food but the constant stream of information and stresses that cross our paths each day.” (Three Seasons Ayurveda)
The skeptic in us says we have no choice in our activity and stress levels; we have jobs, kids, or responsibilities, so “that’s just how it is.” This unprecedented fall took every bit of our energy—physical, intellectual, and emotional. But as we restock the well, could we start by mindfully monitoring what we ingest—both food and information—eliminating how much time we spend on social media, scrolling through texts and emails that really can wait? Can we practice “selective neglect” and stop being on call to the world, living in reactive mode all the time? How might this practice alone lower our stress levels?
When we ingest more wisely, including better food (Ayurveda says “food is medicine and medicine, food”), we find a clarity that may lead us to other positive changes, such as creating a structure or rhythm for our life that suits our needs and unique nature. We might find that putting our creative work or family task list after we go out for a morning walk addresses both the challenges of mental energy and the motivation to move. Or that, once we get away from excessive evening screen time, we discover a regular sleep schedule that leaves us feeling more refreshed. Finding a rhythm requires us to examine our current habits; just because we are typically lesson-planning at midnight doesn’t mean it’s good for us—it just means we have been doing it a while. Restocking the “well” is a great time to step back and look at habits and decide what needs to go if we are to be the best version of ourselves.
Lauren Gernady, of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, cites ample sleep, nature, yoga and meditation, whole, fresh foods, laughter, and positive relationships (pets, included!) as contributing to our ojas. Given our lives right now, some of these are more do-able than others, but being aware—as in all yogic practices—is the first step toward making it happen.
As conductors and teachers, we are accustomed to giving all our energies to our singers, only to find ourselves depleted and numb when all is said and done. Rather than thinking of this cycle as inevitable, or a badge of honor, or “only temporary,” can we compassionately remind ourselves that we are best for others when we come from a place of being whole, healthy, and rested ourselves?
Let’s make restocking the well our gift to ourselves this season and may we find benefits that continue into the new, more promising year . . . and beyond.
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice. Reach her at:
Disclaimer: This blog post is informational and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychological conditions. Always consult your medical practitioners who know you and your needs and can advise you accordingly.