Beyond the beautiful and beneficial shapes we can create with our physical body in asana, and the various nourishing breathing techniques of pranayama, lies one of the most simple and for many, the most challenging practices of all: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is derived from Buddhist tradition, yet beautifully integrated and aligned with the philosophy and aims of yoga. Mindfulness is a gentle effort to be continuously aware.
It is a conscious direction of your awareness. It is an emotionally non-reactive state, one that witnesses emotions/sensations and actively chooses to allow them to pass through and cease to exist. This frees us from our thoughts, emotions and experiences (whether they are pleasurable or difficult) and transcends any limiting beliefs of judgmental states to heighten our moment to moment focus.
It is the art of attention; the fullness of living in the present moment and the sweetness of living in those moments with ease and gratitude.
Mindfulness is free and available to all those who commit to the practice. Most importantly, mindfulness is not only for the elite or for when you are on your yoga mat.
As many of you reading this already know, the true reflection of our yoga practice is demonstrated off the mat -- in the moments far from the comfort of our yoga teachers and studio community. Our true character shines through during the moments when we are asked to ignite our inner strength (similarly as we do when we go upside down) or find guidance through calm rhythmic breathing (similar to the flow we cultivate during dynamic sun salutations).
These experiences are when we get to bear the fruits of our labor from our consistent practice of asana, pranayama and meditation to elevate our lives every single second, of every single day.
Here are 5 simple ways to practice mindfulness and enhance everyday through subtle, non-judgmental and open-hearted living.
Use the senses as an anchor:
The senses are the windows to the world; we experience life through the senses, and each sense has it's own unique and rich sensation.
Use the senses as a way to ground yourself back to the present reality by making a mental list of how you are feeling each sense. For example:
Feel the rays of the sunshine or a cool breeze.
Hear the sounds of people and activity around you.
See the simplicity, beauty and perfection within nature.
Smell the coffee you are about to consume.
Taste and enjoy each of the different foods you consume.
Touch a loved one with intention as if it were the last time you would see them.
Experience the 5 senses as if it were the first time you have every lived -- with a new perspective, one that is so enthusiastic to be alive in human form to live on this beautiful Earth!
Do this as often as you can. When in conversation or when quiet. See how smooth and even you can make your breathing. Ideally, aim for a steady inhale count to 3 with a slight pause, and an exhale count to 3 with a slight pause. Shorten or lengthen your rhythmic count depending on your lung capacity and current state of your nervous system. When you feel like you need to 'reset' take 3 cleansing breaths -- in through the nose and out through the mouth with a sigh-like sound. Then work to build your even and full breathing so it is sustainable.
Find a tall posture.
Notice how this will encourage you to breathe more deeply as the spine lengthens and there more space is automatically created within the chest and lungs. You may also find you feel more confident, strong, awake and open.
Take breaks and walk in nature. Visualize your toes as they touch the ground and take time to enjoy the fresh air and change of environment without an agenda or any distractions.
Take a moment of gratitude before meals.
Pause for a deep breath before you begin and cultivate gratitude for the nourishing food in front of you. Eat your food slowly so you can savor each bite. Notice each food you eat through the textures, temperature and flavours.
Smile. Notice how this simple act shifts your perspective and the situation at hand to automatically feel more positive, lighthearted and pleasurable. Smiling is proven to lower the heart rate as it relaxes muscles and relieves tension in the body, and boost endorphins, the feel good chemicals that lower stress levels and encourage higher levels of happiness. Smile as often as you can and at as many people as you can...it is a contagious act of kindness that can only be received with mindfulness: a non-judging state of freedom and sweetness.