If you are someone who practices yoga habitually, then you’ve most like heard an instructor say, “Use your breath to cultivate mindfulness.” As a current yoga teacher, I say this statement frequently to my students. Although, we as humans understand that we must work towards mindfulness in our everyday actions, it is much easier said than done. Therefore, rather than telling my students to be more mindful, I’ve found that teaching them five mindful concepts is more effective.
Let’s dive in!
As a human, and more so, as a modern-day person, we are driven to succeed, to find the next-best-thing, and to search for ways to achieve more. Take a moment to recall the last time you sat in your car. What were some thoughts that subconsciously came up? Maybe you thought, “Gosh, that Range-Rover next to me sure would be nice…” Or, maybe your thoughts went to, “I’m running late again; if only I could get more organized, go to bed earlier, have more energy, and eat a healthier breakfast…” Do either of these thoughts sound familiar? It’s that pesky mind-clutter which is a natural human instinct. The downside of our natural thoughts is their frequency to become negative. When we are constantly searching to be better, we lose sight of contentment.
Instead, practice making peace with your thoughts. Practice finding the joy of where you are in any given time, regardless of the surrounding stressors. More importantly, find one positive in each given moment. It’s amazing how focusing your energy on one positive thing, can make a hectic environment seem more pleasant and even more peaceful. I tell my students to make peace of the current moment — whether it’s a feeling of exhaustion, frustration, or dissatisfaction. Making peace, allows us to find true mindfulness.
If you haven’t heard the song, “Follow the Sun” by Xavier Rudd, then you need to! Why? Because this song reminds us to find the important things in life. It tells us to find the positive (the sunshine), to take things into perspective and look at the bigger picture (like ripples on a lake), and lastly to set intentions (or a purpose) for our everyday life.
When we explore new things, try something for the first time, or take-on tasks that we aren’t comfortable doing, we experience “vulnerability.” We see this throughout life: when we ride a bike for the first time, when we stand in front of a room and give a speech, when we search a job, when we go on a first date, and even when we enter a yoga room filled with yogis who are much more advanced.
As humans, the “fight-or-flight” mode tends to flare up in these instances. For instance, when a teacher has you try out a new inversion, or when the only spot left in the yoga room is at the very front. You feel vulnerable! However, when you embrace this emotion, when you name it for what it is, and when you overcome it without judgement upon yourself, you grow! EVERYONE… and I mean everyone, has experienced moments of vulnerability. Life is impossible to go through without facing adversity and discomfort. The people who thrive, are the people who embrace these emotions. I often like to tell my yoga students, “You never know your limits until you push yourself through them!” Limits teach us so much about life, and more importantly, about ourselves.
So often, in a yoga class, when students arrive, the only words spoken are the greetings exchanged between a teacher and a student as they enter a studio. Thereafter, a student sets up their mat, lays down, and slides away into their own thoughts for the next hour. Being mindful is generally only looked at as a “self-driven” concept. But I firmly believe, that being mindful and present, requires acknowledging the people around you too. When we go through life without connections (or relationships), we miss out on a huge piece of life – which is love! Love towards family, friendships, pets, children, co-workers, and fellow yogis makes the world a much richer place to live. The next time you take a yoga class, try having a conversation with the people around you before class starts!
Have you ever heard the expression “curiosity killed the cat”? If yes, then you know that it means to worry too much about what others are doing. Self-focus is such an important concept of yoga, mindfulness, and life. Worrying less about what others think of you, and worrying more about what YOU think of you is truly vital. However, curiosity in yourself is an important aspect of mindfulness.
When looking back at life as a child – that innate wonder for adventure, allows them to see life in so many beautiful colors! As we get older, we lose that curiosity. However, if we can learn to approach yoga with that lost curiosity, we can learn more about what our bodies need. Rather than getting stuck in routine because it’s comfortable, challenge yourself to listen to what your body needs by taking a restore class instead of a high-flow. Better yet, back-off in a class and lay in child’s pose without self-judgement! When we become curious about what our body is telling us, we learn to better understand our needs. When we listen to our needs, we become happier and in turn, more mindful!
In conclusion, being mindful in yoga takes constant practice. Being mindful is an everyday conscious-effort to challenge negative thoughts by replacing them with positive, more-curious, and more peace-driven connections.