Everyone needs time away from work – this is a fact, a hygiene factor. It is why employment legislation dictates the minimum amount of vacation time an employer establishes for their employees. On Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs it is the second tier, the one that speaks to family and health (the one right above food and water). So clearly this is important, and we all know this, but we don’t always honor it. Yes, we take vacations, we plan them and we head off to beaches, dude ranches, amusement parks and any number of other exciting and fun locations. Vacations, like other major holiday occasions, require a lot of planning and juggling, and (like many holidays) are fleeting. If we are not careful you can start your vacation, blink and it’s done – with no feelings of contentment. No restful re-set. Why is that?
One of the keys to this conundrum lies in the here and now, but “here and now” can be a complex concept; so let us ground it in something tangible. Let’s look at muscle memory – muscle memory is not a memory stored in your muscles, but memories stored in your brain that are much like a cache of frequently enacted tasks for your muscles; this concept is used in sports all the time – it is the basis for much of an athletes training (amateur or pro). Even for those of us who dabble, if you’ve taken an exercise class the instructors are clear about form and breathing to ensure you don’t hurt yourself, but also to ensure you are getting the most benefit out of the exercise. When you repeat an action numerous times, you will be able to replicate it consistently, driving full benefit. Even after a break, you can pick it up more quickly then when you first began. This is the value of muscle memory. But muscle memory doesn’t just exist in our fitness pursuits, it’s something our bodies are following all the time (that is why learning new exercises is hard, you are flowing against a current which in part is made up of muscle memory). Muscle memory goes to work with us too and not always in a god way.
Right now as you are reading this, what is your posture like? Are you hovered over your computer, reading as quickly as you can so you can move on to the next thing on your to-do list? Are you hunched up? Jaw tensed? Are your muscles taut? Are you poised to “move on”? Yup, you and everyone else who is at work right now (because lets face it, for most of us reading blogs is a guilty pleasure, not a work pursuit). This posture exists because you assume it in many facets at work, it is in your muscle memory, let’s call it the “I am going to get work DONE” pose. No wonder we need vacation. But are you assuming an intense “I am going on VACATION” pose? Or is your body able to become more relaxed, fluid, supple, rested. If you return from a vacation and it feels as if you never left, you may be bringing your work pose with you on vacation. This is something we tend to do when we want to drive the maximum amount of productivity out of something; we engage in it with DETERMINATION so fully that we are tensed for much of the time. Your muscles know this well; they assume the “pose”. I have a wonderful person in my life who is encouraging me to meditate. She remarks that one should move softly into meditation. In sharp contrast she imitates “work pose” in her chair and says “and now I am going to MEDITATE!” Anyone who has seen a movie (comedy, drama or satire) that touches on Eastern philosophy can appreciate how very wrong (and humorous) this looks. So why then do we choose to carry tension in our bodies through much of our day?
We will never be able to fully derive all the benefit out of our vacations if we cannot be present for ourselves in our day-to-day lives, including our lives at work. Vacations have the advantage of taking us out of routine and getting our bodies engaged in something different (like horse back riding, swimming, or just laying on a beach), but they are brief. If you have a jam-packed vacation schedule you are also likely spending time in your “work pose” getting the luggage sorted, reading the GPS, responding to the needs of family, etc. It points to a “big data” concern that many of us are not taking our vacations (to the tune of over a billion dollars in unused vacation in North America http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/paid-vacation-days_b_5693225.html). Now some of this is cultural, I’m sure the majority of people in Europe and Scandinavia are taking their vacations, but if you are not getting a benefit from going on vacation, and as vacations can be costly, more and more of us are choosing to defer them. We will never be able to fully derive all the benefit out of our vacations if we cannot be present for ourselves in our day-to-day lives. So what does that mean?
It means we should go softly into our work, not consistently into “work pose”. We feel passionate about what we do, and our bodies will be tense from time to time, but it’s also very beneficial to “check in” and acknowledge how we are sitting or standing. Stopping to follow the guidance of our inner fitness instructor - taking full breaths, stretching and loosening up tense muscles. Asking ourselves from time-to-time “what do I need right now?”. If we do this more often we will be “in the moment” and what that does is allows time to slow down, gives us the ability to meet our needs (take a break, grab a drink, move away from our desks). It creates a new memory for our muscles to follow, the “I am going to live well” pose, the one where we look after ourselves and care enough to breath deeply knowing we are good at what we do, and it will all get done whether we push into it or not. Honoring ourselves at work will mean vacations are restful too, not just a “change” but a restorative break. So if you are reading this (guilty pleasure or not), check your posture and your expectations of yourself – go softly into whatever you choose to pursue, getting more enjoyment from it. Have a great vacation.