Monday, December 6, 2010

Change the Channel

This week we experienced the first snow of the year. Everything (except the roads) received a beautiful light white dusting. There was excitement in the air and we found ourselves periodically just gazing, quietly, out the window - not at anything specific, just the view. Somehow, a change in the environment can alter one's inner landscape, which changes everything. That's also what happened to me this past week during a Yoga retreat.

Upon returning, I felt a little lighter and began seeing things differently, unstuck from some particularly worrisome thoughts. It's as if I'd just changed the channel.

It's not unlike the affect that our Yoga practice has on our psyche. People come to class sometimes with worry on their faces, having something heavy on their mind. During the hour and a half, they decide to suspend their preoccupations and commit to practice. At the end of class, there is usually a lighter look on people's faces, as the group takes cohesion and absorbs into a more peaceful space.

It takes faith in the process, a belief that we each have limited control, and a knowing that connecting with our breath, our bodies and our peaceful spirit, will lead to greater insights on the other side. It's not all up to us. We can access a broader knowing. Yoga can help you to alter your internal environment, as if a light dusting of snow had just fallen on all the surfaces and made everything bright and new.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mindfulness

It's almost two weeks into my daily mindfulness practice. Although I've taught and practiced mindfulness for years, I've often accessed it only 'as needed' and not as a way of living, every moment of every day.

This doesn't mean that during the past two weeks I've been completely present. Daydreaming and editorial commentaries have been rampant. Setting awareness as my intention means that when I catch my mind wandering, I return to the present.

The impetus for this change started with a recent Harvard study which found that people who live in the present moment are happier. Perfect timing for me as I was preparing to teaching a mindfulness meditation class - nothing like a little scientific research to provide motivation and credibility. As a result, one of my Chair Yoga students decided to take on the practice as a way of living in order to handle her negative thoughts - and it was working. Ultimately inspired by her, I jumped on board.

It's still early, but here's a little from what I've learned...

* Mindfulness becomes easier with practice. Think of it like learning a new musical instrument. It needs daily and regular practice to feel comfortable. Unlike a musical instrument, practice does not make perfect. That's just the way it is. When you need motivation, remember the reward - a happier life. A wandering mind tends to be critical and negative. The present is neither good nor bad. It just is. Keeping your awareness on the present is like placing the mind in neutral.

* Mindfulness makes life more vivid. You'll notice things you've never noticed before. You'll be more aware of what's going on around you, as well as the subtle sensations that occur in your body and their pure intelligence.

* Sometimes mindfulness is boring. When this happens you'll notice the mind creating stimulating thoughts or 'drama' so as to avoid any semblance of boredom. Since the state of boredom is short-lived when you're being mindful (as are all mental 'fluctuations'), be patient and it will soon shift. This technique is abundantly more healthy than enduring all the waves that occur from drama.

* Mindfulness requires an awake brain. You will begin to notice the affect that food, stimulants, sleep, activity and thoughts have on the strength of your mind and that a weak or dull brain has trouble being mindful. As you begin to strengthen the mind through meditation, mindfulness, physical activity (circulation) and good nutrition, the mind becomes clearer and can more easily stay present.

* Mindfulness gives a more 'real' view of the present. Unaware, we tend to downplay some actions and lift others to higher importance, thus giving a skewed view of reality. In addition, our habitual negative commentary slants the truth. Mindfulness offers a more honest landscape and an opportunity to respond in a proactive (as opposed to reactive, based on previous events) manner for more real interactions.

* Since beginning the practice, I haven't lost or misplaced anything ANY THING. This is huge!

* And, mindfulness reduces the amount of mind yacketty yak (chatter).

There are times when all of us need to bring your mind into the past or future - to plan an event, for example. A mindfulness practice means that you purposefully engage the mind in this manner as needed and then return to the present.

As I'm still on retreat, off to my noon-time meditation. Peace.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back to the well

Like clockwork, it's day 4 of my Yoga retreat and I've finally smoothed out. When I'm on retreat, it often takes me 3 days to iron out the static and connect with the flow. During my first day in particular, the silence feels loud as the mind is exceptionally chatty. It's almost as if the brain knows it's about to be quieted for an extended period of time and therefore throws it's last hurrah.

But today is different. The mind is on check and my energy vibe has flattened out.

All of us have our ways of connecting and finding our peaceful center. And although my regular practice of asana, meditation and pranayama create the space and time for me to be mindful, a periodic retreat allows me to deepen and broaden my connection to wholeness.

And all my layers know when I haven't gone down to the well in awhile, as my center begins to feel a bit parched. But that was yesterday.

And today is different.

Now back to a bit more ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.