By Anna Wechsel, Yoga Instructor
1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
2. A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Mindfulness is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately – in articles, yoga classes, and at work. Based on the definition above, to be mindful is to have awareness of and to observe one’s thoughts, reactions, words and actions without interference.
Think back your commute to work. Do you remember what the sky looked like? What was happening on the road around you? What was on the radio? What about when you have a conversation with a friend, do you remember the details of the conversation or do you find yourself thinking about what you are going to say next? When you are on your Yoga mat, do you find yourself caught up in what your posture looks like or what the student beside you is doing?
Practicing mindfulness isn’t about sitting in a room quietly by yourself – it’s about cultivating awareness throughout your day. Below are a few suggestions on how you can be more mindful on and off your mat.
Mindfulness on the mat:
- Breath awareness: following the breath as you inhale and exhale
- Moving carefully and safely in & out of each pose: moving with complete focus on each movement and sensation
- Accepting limitations and working with them: acknowledging what your body is capable of day to do, class to class and posture to posture
- Focusing on your own mat: letting go of what other students are doing, what your posture looks like and experiencing what the posture feels like
- Practicing with your eyes closed. Be aware of the differences you feel, notice or experience when you eyes are open and when they are closed.
Mindfulness off the mat:
- Awareness of thoughts and reactions by creating space and acting from a place of kindness
- Consideration for others, everyone has their own story
- When doing any task, even the most mundane give it your entire attention, detach from any thoughts that try and distract you.
For 1 minute, 1 hour, 1 day or 1 week, observe and witness your thoughts. Write them down – how many of your thoughts are positive, how many are negative? If we increase our mindfulness, more aware, can we increase the number of positive thoughts? Give it a try and see what happens!
Benefits of Mindfulness:
- Improved blood pressure and lowered heart rate
- Reduced fight or flight stress response
- Improved immune system
“When we are stressed, when the sympathetic nervous system is active, when our mind is frantic with thoughts, when our breath is quick, shallow, or uneven, our vision narrows: we are impelled to take the first and quickest solution in front of us. We have no ability to seek a wiser path; we simply react instead of reflect. When we practice mindfulness, at first within our Yoga practice so that we learn how to also practice during the rest of our life, we learn to pause and see what is actually going on, and thus we are open to taking wiser action” -Bernie Clark