“Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.” – Krishnamacharya
Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment and noticing all aspects of your internal and external experience with equanimity. You do not have to engage in a formal meditation practice to engage in mindfulness. You can make the choice to make contact with the present moment and consciously shift your attitude towards one that is open, curious, and accepting in any situation. Mindfulness is much more about practice than it is about theory. To understand mindfulness in its entirety, you must make the choice to consciously inhabit your body, accept reality, and tolerate joy, pain, and neutral experiences equally.
Yoga is an experiential practice that effectively integrates mind, body, and soul in a way that encourages present moment awareness and tolerance of discomfort. When you are engaged in a yoga practice, you are encouraged to bring your focus to your present moment thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Essentially, you are actively practicing mindfulness through being open to all aspects of your experience and accepting the present reality just as it is.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) incorporates hatha yoga into its 8-week program. Researchers have found that the yoga practice component of MBSR is significantly related to marked improvements in psychological well-being and reduction of both perceived stress and psychological symptoms. This yoga practice involves maintaining a focus on your breath, with slow and steady breaths allowing you to move into deeper yoga postures and reap additional benefits. It is important to remember throughout your yoga practice to move into postures to a point of discomfort, but not pain.
Some people who are unfamiliar with yoga may wonder why anyone would “want” to put themselves in these physically “uncomfortable” positions. Life involves inevitable discomforts – mental, emotional, and physical. When we live to avoid discomfort, we are training our minds and bodies to move only towards pleasure or comfort. This is a dangerous trap because when uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations do arise, there is a weakened ability to effectively handle them.
When you allow yourself to sit with discomfort, you may begin to realize that it is not so scary after all. In fact, there is great wisdom to be gained from learning that you can tolerate discomfort without falling to pieces. This builds greater strength and confidence within. Mindfulness involves the willingness to open up to and accept all aspects of reality, not just the pleasant ones. When you allow yourself to take it all in and see the full picture, you can piece together and appreciate the complicated mosaic that makes up life. Living for the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain is static, one-sided, and deprives you of the richness that life has to offer.
How can you begin to take your knowledge and understanding of mindfulness and actively practice it in your life? Yoga is one way to practice mindfulness in motion. Even if you do not have the time or resources to attend yoga classes, you can begin to reap the benefits of yoga from beginning a yoga practice at home at your own pace. Each passing moment provides you with an opportunity to make contact with the present moment and become mindful.
If you are experiencing distress in the present moment that you would rather avoid, begin to consider how avoiding that distress will only prolong it. Choose to meet with discomfort in the present moment and begin to look at discomfort as a teacher in your life. What lessons does your discomfort have to teach you? The sooner you choose to learn the lessons hidden within the discomfort, the sooner your mind and heart can begin to feel content and free.
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Salmon, P., Lush, E., Jablonski, M., & Sephton, S.E. (2009). Yoga and mindfulness: Clinical aspects of an ancient mind/body practice. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 16(1), 59-72.
Featured image: Day 26 by stephcarter / CC BY-ND 2.0