Mindfulness is about bringing our full attention to the present moment, with openness and without making judgements.
It is in the here and now that we have control
It is the only time we have to learn, to change, to act and to heal (Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years, with origins in Eastern philosophy, and in ancient meditation practices, including Buddhism and yoga.
It can be practiced every day and in many ways
When we’re brushing our teeth, when cooking our dinner, when engaging in conversation, and when we’re driving to and from work.
Mindfulness can also be practiced when we’re exercising or walking our dog, or when we’re just taking a moment to sit still. It can be practiced quite quickly with a few deep breaths or more extensively when we’re meditating or practicing yoga.
Why practice mindfulness?
Research supports mindfulness as an effective tool to reduce stress and anxiety.
There are many other benefits too. In particular, mindfulness empowers you to:
- be fully present, here and now
- experience more calm and peacefulness
- develop self-acceptance and self-compassion
- improve focus and concentration
- increase self-awareness, including what you’re avoiding
- reduce the impact and influence of stressful thoughts and feelings
- become more connected to yourself, to others and to the world around you
- improve your mood and relationships
- become aware of self-defeating thoughts and behaviours, to ‘let them go’ and substitute them for more effective ones (Harris, 2013)
Overall practicing mindfulness creates a greater sense of happiness and wellbeing, and helps to increase work and life satisfaction (Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, 2011; Harris, 2013).
What does yoga have to do with mindfulness?
Yoga is a wonderful example of mindfulness, as it brings your body and mind together in the present moment.
When practicing yoga, you bring your attention to each pose (asana), which is held for a length of time. You also become more aware of your breathing as you perform each pose.
Yoga provides you with the perfect opportunity to be fully present and embrace that moment.
For me, this is the reason I practice yoga. To not only increase my flexibility, strength and overall sense of wellbeing, but to also practice mindfulness.
When mindful, there is no room to think about the past or the future…
When practicing yoga, there is no time to think about your day and what you plan to achieve, or to reflect on what you ‘haven’t’ achieved. Your focus needs to totally be in that moment, making sure you are performing the asana correctly, to avoid injury. You are also breathing deeply to gain the maximum benefits and results.
With each particular movement, you are drawn into that moment and how that feels – both physically and emotionally. You also become aware very quickly of your own breathing, whether you are breathing deeply, or are taking short and shallow breaths.
For me, time stands still. All that matters is this moment…
Mindfulness takes consistent practice
Like developing any skill, mindfulness takes consistent practice.
“Mindful yoga is a lifetime engagement — not to get somewhere else, but to be where and as we actually are in this very moment, with this very breath, whether the experience is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Our body will change a lot as we practice, and so will our minds and our hearts and our views.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn in Mindful Yoga Movement & Meditation).
Of course there are and will be moments of lapses.
When this happens in yoga, because I’m thinking of “how much I really want a coffee right now!” my form tends to drop a little, or the depth of my breathing changes.
I’ve learned quickly however to bring my attention back to the present moment, as there are only so many times I want to hear my yoga instructor saying, “The other left leg Stav”. When she does, I smile and know it’s time to be mindful.
I bring my focus back to the present moment, on the current posture, I correct myself if I need to, I breathe deeply and enjoy the moment.
If you want to practice some mindfulness today and want to try some yoga to improve your health and wellbeing, then book yourself into a local class. You may just be surprised with the results and benefits mindful yoga will bring you…