Words: Nuzhat Jabinh FRSA
H ave you ever procrastinated about something you wanted to do, or worse: about something you knew you had to do that was becoming more urgent the longer you left it? You are far from alone if the answer to that is yes, especially if it was in the last few years or got much worse at that time. Procrastination was a global trend during 2020 and for some time afterwards. My weekly yoga class wasn’t an option during that time and it has taken me until April 2023 to get back into a weekly intermediate Iyengar class. This is about how headstand can help you close the gap between where you are now and where you intend to be. Not all pausing is procrastination. Sometimes taking a long time to mull over something, or dithering when unsure is necessary in order to make a decision that is right for you.
“Procrastination is a problem of mood and emotional regulation. It’s often coupled with self-criticism and self-blame, which sadly make it worse”.
HOW SERIOUS IS THE ISSUE?
A useful first step is to be clear about how urgent the tasks are. Are there serious penalties if they are not completed on time? The second category might be things where the negative results from a delay are still serious, but won’t carry fines or convictions: like not preparing in time for an exam. The third category is another one people often struggle with: mundane tasks that it would be better to do but are boring and repetitive, where the negative results may be unpleasant but can be tolerated by some people for long periods of time, like not cleaning windows often.
WHAT IS PROCRASTINATION?
People often mistake procrastination for a productivity or willpower problem, or berate themselves for being lazy. According to the research: none of those things are at the root of it. You don’t need another wall planner. Procrastination is a mix of emotions triggered by the idea of having to do tasks or face up to situations that we want to shy away from. Common reasons for that include underlying feelings of fear, anxiety and perfectionism. Procrastination is a problem of mood and emotional regulation. It’s often coupled with self-criticism and self-blame, which sadly make it worse. It’s often a feeling of being out of synch: we know all too well what we are supposed to be doing; we find it almost impossible to make ourselves do it. For me, it was sometimes about wanting to keep the feeling of potential: rather than pitching as soon as I had an idea, I might have waited months or not pitched at all. Under that is obviously a fear of rejection, typical of procrastination. I knew it would be better to pitch quickly, accept a no if that’s the case and move on and pitch for something else. I’m very productive, which means the overall negative affects of this were minor, but it bothered me because I knew I wasn’t completing as much as I wanted to.
HOW HEADSTAND DISSOLVES PROCRASTINATION
Headstand deals with the aspect of procrastination that is fear, conscious or unconscious. Knowing on a bodily level that you can do this spreads into other aspects of our lives and we start letting go of fear. Fear like any emotion is not good or bad, it simply is. Sometimes we need to ask: how relevant is this emotion, how seriously does it need to be taken? There are lots of situations where feeling fear is a life-saving message. That rarely applies to tasks that we are putting off, or indeed to headstand. While headstand does need to be approached sensibly, with caution and guidance at first, it is worth over-coming the fear of it.
Our thoughts, emotions and movement are intimately connected and are in fact our body. This often makes it easier to approach something we are trying to change in terms of thought, mood or behaviour somatically; vrikshasana, tree pose for increasing confidence, or in this case: sirshana, headstand for dissolving procrastination. In ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel van der Kolk this method is discussed in detail and proven to be effective. It’s not the case that we need to focus on being more motivated; working with the body means that using headstand we can ease feelings of fear, anxiety and perfectionism that stand in the way of us getting on with whatever it is we need to do.
ACTION IS THE OPPOSITE OF PROCRASTINATION AND DEPRESSION
Our language doesn’t help in this case, because while action is the opposite of both procrastination and depression, that doesn’t spring to mind in the way that opposites like long/short do, perhaps because the former are more complex ideas and therefore not so obvious. It’s worth considering your mental health and how neurotypical you are if procrastination is becoming an issue for you or always has been. It can be an indicator of depression; people who have ADHD, are Highly Sensitive, dyslexic and who are on the Austistic spectrum may also struggle a lot with procrastination. My yoga tutors have often said that people with a headstand practice never suffer from depression; this may not be clinically proven, but if sirshana is anything: it is a pose about action, which is part of why it relieves procrastination too.
Dr Neff ‘s research finds that selfcompassion is one of the most effective ways of being. Meta-emotions are how we feel about how we feel. If we can be compassionate towards ourselves about our procrastination instead of having an internal dialogue that is telling us off for being “lazy” or “irresponsible”, we are more likely to move through it and get on with what needs to be done. It’s helpful to start to think of emotions as just ‘being’ and accept them initially, rather than judging them and ourselves while we have them. Applying self-compassion to your yoga practice is also helpful, whatever level you are at. If you are a beginner, give yourself at least a year to go from zero to headstand. It’s an intermediate pose. It’s my favourite way to move out of procrastination into action. Despite having done yoga for a decade, I had never intended to practice headstand. I was sure my neck would snap off and I didn’t think I had the upper body strength I thought I needed. In fact, strong legs, a strong core and balance are more relevant, and balance at least is something I usually find easy. After going to Peter Kosasih’s classes at Jiva in Wimbledon for a couple of years there was a point where he insisted, to my surprise, that I had the physical strength and that it was fear that was holding me back. The mention of fear got my attention, because I didn’t feel that consciously and if it was ‘just’ fear that was holding me back: that had to go. At that point I wasn’t thinking of or indeed aware of what the wider effects of a headstand practice might be. Find a good teacher who inspires you: it makes the world of difference. You’ll need supervision at first and for a while afterwards as you learn to be in proper alignment while in the pose, to protect your neck and back muscles. With procrastination in general it’s helpful to think about what the next small step is, and take that if possible. That method will work for moving towards headstand too; practising poses like ardha pincha mayurasana, dolphin pose, to get used to putting weight on your forearms.
DON’T RELY ON MOTIVATION ALONE
Motivation naturally ebbs and flows. Business guru Ramit Sethi suggests putting systems in place for anything we’re serious about doing, so that we are not dependent on being in the right mood to get things done. This is why joining a class or scheduling oneto-ones can help so much: once that structure is there you have committed to it both by putting it in your diary and by paying for it in advance. (The latter is my recommendation: you have the benefit of having fully committed and it is often cheaper; you are much more likely to follow through with the practice). Making it a habit can also be effective. The academic BJ Fogg’s website ‘Tiny Habits’ is all about that. For example: one pose a day feels completely manageable to me and means that there is almost never a day when I skip yoga. In my view, one of the ways of doing something you’re struggling with, or finding it hard to commit to, is to lower the barrier until you can step over it easily. You can always raise it in future. This applies to meditation too: you only need 10 minutes a day at any time of day to gain all the benefits. It can support your yoga practice and be integrated with it.
WHILE PRACTISING HEADSTAND
It can give you useful information as you’re working on it: in the past, once I could get into headstand, sometimes I would waiver. In my first session with my current teacher, Claudia Dossena at Triyoga in Chelsea, she said “Don’t change your mind half way” as I wobbled in my first attempt to go up into headstand. That was about the residual fear that even if I had done it before, it wasn’t recently. Becoming aware of that meant that I could start to put it aside and think about whether that applied in other areas of my life.
This year a lot of people are feeling more dynamic. A strong headstand practice can support that. This May not only was I back in full headstand for the first time in over a year, it was the first time I was in headstand without a teacher nearby. I felt I had gone up a level, as I can now maintain this practice whatever happens with classes. One result of that was that I sent in a pitch for this article the same week and to my delight got a swift reply saying yes! In 2019 I used to have a Jay-Z quote on my wall for inspiration “Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week”. I put it up after successfully delivering a project that was one year off-schedule within a few weeks of my starting. Recently it fell out from some of my papers. I’m in that mood again: it’s going back up on the wall. While moods are transient, a headstand practice can be for life.
Nuzhat Jabinh FRSA is a writer, speaker and born and bred Londoner who has practiced Iyengar for over a decade. Her short post grad is in Neuroethics from the University of Oxford. Her writing has been published by The Guardian, The North and is held at the Gotlieb Archive at the University of Boston. She consults in the ethics of AI; has run large scale IT projects and is focused on solving problems.