What does it mean to act mindfully? Often, especially in yoga class, the term ‘mindful’ is used. Usually, it is to take care not to overstretch or hurt oneself in a particular pose – “Be mindful of your knees when taking lotus” or similar phrases. The definition of mindful is to be conscious or aware of a particular thing we are directing our attention to. In the case of yoga postures, we move with intention, consciously aware of our bodies and what feels good and what feels like too much right now. It is a good thing to listen to our body and respect it’s needs and limitations. Only the unwise practitioners will force themselves into something they are not ready for expecting to make progress that way.
Sometimes the progress is slower than we’d like, and we think that we can speed it along. In our world of instant gratification – technology allowing us to check our email, or facebook, or whatever anywhere, anytime – we become rushed and impatient when we have to wait for something. When we have to work for a long time to see results. Often yoga is this way. You have to practice and practice (and practice some more) to begin seeing improvements. The beauty of yoga is that it also teaches us to be patient. To silence our ever-busy minds and to learn acceptance of where we are now.
Being mindful has its place everywhere in our lives. It is important to be mindful when practicing asana, just as it is important to be mindful in any other activity we engage in, however mundane that may be. For example, within the home, when we perform an activity, say eating soup, we automatically go through a process that makes up that one thing, “eating soup”. We have to heat (or make) the soup, and in doing that we need to find a pan to put the soup in and a spoon to stir it with. We need to obtain a bowl to put it in. Perhaps we spill a little soup when transferring it from the pan to the bowl. Acting mindfully, we wipe up the spill. We clean the pan and put it away, and once we are finished with the soup, we clean the bowl and spoon and put them away. What would happen if we didn’t do some of those things? Perhaps we leave the dishes for ‘later’ – they begin to pile up, for ourselves, or for some unfortunate one that we may share our living space with. Or we don’t wipe up the spill. Soon ants or cockroaches or other things will come along and enjoy that which we left.
By simply avoiding small areas that we should be mindful of, we have made more work for ourselves in the long run. The same is with your yoga practice. If we neglect areas of our practice, ‘cheat’ a little bit to perhaps feel like we are making more progress right now than we actually are, in the long run we’re making more work for ourselves within our practice than if we were just performing the same actions mindfully. By arching our back to reach farther in a forward fold, not only are we risking straining our back, but we are not gaining the full benefits of the pose (extending the spine, rather than compressing, etc.), and eventually we will have to actively retrain ourselves how to do the pose correctly at some point. Doesn’t it seem easier to just start out the right way, and accept our progress (slow or otherwise), than have to completely rework our thinking and actions later on when we are accustomed to doing them the wrong way? Habits are hard to break, so it is best to start out on the right path at the beginning.
In everything you do, be aware of your actions and the outcomes of said actions. Of course, it is impossible to know all possible outcomes from any given situation, and it is a futile exercise to try and think of them all, so simply focus on the most likely results from your immediate actions. Are these results going to help you or cause more work for you later on? Try to plan your actions to minimize unnecessary work or pain, and choose the actions that bring the most benefits to you and those affected by your actions. Implement mindfulness meditation into your daily practice and reflect upon your choices - not judging yourself, nor congratulating yourself, simply observing and making changes as necessary. We all have plenty to do in our busy lives - why not eliminate unnecessary steps and unwanted outcomes simply by thinking through our actions and outcomes.
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YOGA is ASANA...
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