rhythmWhat’s the best thing about the end of summer and the beginning of the school year?  Routine!  Especially for me as I’ve also just returned from a year of study leave. It’s a year I longed for. I opened a journal the other day and saw an entry that started with a countdown — 341 days left until the beginning of my study leave.

And then when it came, I struggled with the lack of structure. I scheduled things, but with few other fixed commitments (by “fixed” I mean commitments where I was accountable to other people, not just myself), start times slid by, or a morning run got pushed to the afternoon, then to the next day.

Some people are down on routine. It has a hum-drum, ordinary, unexciting quality to it.  But oh, how I love establishing and maintaining that easy tempo that comes from a good routine.

The virtues of routine are touted in all sorts of areas of life. Parents are told to establish a good bedtime routine for their children. Insomniacs are encouraged to do the same.  Writers, meditators, athletes, yogis–all benefit from writing, meditating, training, doing yoga the very first thing in their morning routine.

What I like so much about a regular routine is that it establishes a rhythm to my day and my life.  I don’t need to think, I can just fall into the beat of that rhythm.  A routine at its best is a series of good habits, exercised effortlessly, with little thinking through.

But it’s hard to establish that rhythm in the absence of some structure, at least it was and is for me. It’s like flailing around in the dark or taking the very first arbitrary stab at a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

When I’ve got something solid to work around, things can start to fall into place.  But for me (I’m sure others are better at this), it’s hard to create a good routine from dust. And that’s been my challenge this past year. So I am actually excited about getting back at it.

If I teach at 1:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays (which I’ll be doing), then I need to show up at class. So that’s fixed.  If I’m going to be on time for class and not rush around, then I want to be in my office by 11. If I want to be in my office by 11, then I need to leave the house at 10:15 if I’m walking, 10:40 if I’m cycling.  Assuming I have a morning workout to do, whether it be running or yoga or swimming or strength training, and assuming I want to spend some time at my desk after breakfast and before I leave for the office, the workouts will have to be early in the morning.  I’ve already begun to establish a routine of starting my workout between 6:30 and 7 a.m.

Come fall, I’ll also have my scheduled Iyengar yoga classes on Tuesday mornings at 6:30, my regular hot yoga classes on weekend mornings at 8:30, office hours on campus so my students can drop in to see me, meetings with colleagues and students, all sorts of things that lend structure to my schedule.

It all sounds so… orderly.  Almost as soothing as a stationery store [some will relate to this metaphor right away, others will be bewildered].

But there’s also some mythology around the idea of routine.  Where there is routine, there are things that disrupt it.  With the Tuesday-Thursday teaching schedule, I’ve pretty much decided to make Mondays and Wednesdays my mornings at the Y for resistance training and swimming.  Long weekends and travel will interrupt this plan.

For me, and this is one of the reasons I’ve had a strange year: I get thrown off kilter when my routine is disrupted.  The year of study leave was a big example of that (yes, I realize that it could be a symptom of a larger problem that I had difficulty establishing a routine that could carry me through the whole year!). But a workout missed for travel or a long weekend or illness or injury — this happens all the time.

At my Iyengar yoga studio, we sign up for sessions and commit to the same class each week. But if we miss that class, we have the whole session (usually a few months) to make it up by taking another class at another time. I hardly ever use my make-ups. Why? Because I have difficulty finding another time to go.  Why not instead learn to roll with disruptions a bit better and take advantage of the opportunity to make up for missed classes?

What I mean to say here is that the flip side of routine is flexibility. As in so many things, I seek that elusive happy balance. Right now, after a year of feeling cut loose (sometimes in a good way, sometimes in an uncomfortable way), I’m craving the return to the regular order of things.

[image credit: Rhythm by Monica Stewart]


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