Gail and words Calling All Seekers

Let’s talk about Mindfulness. Mindfulness is one of the main components of yoga and one of its biggest benefits. Mindfulness is PRESENCE. What Ram Dass talked about in his 1974 book Be Here Now. Eckhart Tolle expounds about presence in The Power of Now. Really, when you think about it, there is ONLY NOW, the present moment.

You’ve heard the saying “The past is history, the future a mystery and the present is a gift.” You cannot breathe in the past or future moment, only this one and the next and the next until your body dies. The breath is a constant that only exists in the now.

Mindfulness is Awareness. In yoga we develop awareness by attending to the breath and body in each moment. We develop an awareness of where our bodies are in space. It is my goal as a yoga practitioner and teacher to expand the mindfulness on the mat out into my life and that of my students: the awareness we practice trains our minds to slow down and “be here now.” In yoga this awareness means noticing our breath, heartbeat, body sensations. We are aware of what is happening RIGHT NOW and responding accordingly. We learn to keep breathing even in a difficult pose, especially when we are in a demanding pose. We work to stay present and not space out or think about the past or future, only this moment. Then we notice that we aren’t here and now and that is Mindfulness, Presence and Awareness.

This takes practice and discipline. With a real desire to cultivate Mindfulness, we make a commitment to achieving that desire. We make it a priority and it grows and grows as we dedicate our energy and heart to it.

A very simple Mindfulness meditation is to sit and observe the natural breath. Just watching the ebb and flow of the breath. I said it was simple, one step, I didn’t say it was easy! The mind/ego is VERY good at distracting us from Presence. It isn’t comfortable unless it’s worrying, planning, bitching, judging. It wants to distract us from our purpose. So, many opportunities will arise to practice Mindfulness as we endeavor to watch the breath.

Sit comfortably, a chair is fine. Have good posture: don’t collapse the front of the body – that’s where your lungs are, after all. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Close your eyes and notice the breath. BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF. As I said, this is hard and a lifetime practice. The first principle of yoga is AHIMSA, non-harming and loving-kindness. So be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to be a beginner, not to “be good at it” Just keep coming back to the breath again and again and again. I once asked my teacher Rodney Yee how to stop the mind from thinking in meditation and he said “die.” Whoa. OK, so everyone has thoughts during meditation. Good to know! There’s an analogy about the mind during meditation: the mind is like a monkey running up and down and around the tree chattering loudly to itself. During meditation, we are trying to get the monkey to sit at the base of the tree and mumble to itself. Another analogy is that the mind is like a snake with 10,000 heads and the tail is the breath, the still point. In other words, focus on the breath slows and calms the mind. Where the breath goes, the mind follows.

I’ve been practicing meditation for about 40 years on and off. My practice ebbs and flows, just like the breath. But I KEEP COMING BACK TO IT, again and again and again. So, don’t get discouraged, just keep coming back and notice Mindfulness show up when you are not “on the mat” but in your life. That’s worth all the time and discipline that spiritual growth takes.