Attention. By consciously choosing to place the mind on an object, we’re training our minds to pay attention. While we move our attention from object to object, it is natural that the mind starts wandering. The monkey mind – do you remember? When we catch our minds wandering, we’ll bring them back to the object. Here’s an idea: meditating on a cow. The attention may shift and start wandering to cow’s milk. We’ll bring the attention back to the cow. Now, the attention starts to slip and we may be thinking not only about the milk, but how it gets bottled and makes it to the store shelves. We’ll bring our attention back to the cow. The more you guide your attention back to the object, the stronger your attention span will get. The mind always wants to go in the easiest direction. It wants to flow and jump from one thought to the other freely. With time, the mind will get tired and stay on the object of focus for longer and longer periods of time.
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Awareness. Cultivating awareness in our lives is one of the most important elements to improve the quality of ourselves. While we’re going through different practices in yoga, we’ll notice our awareness. We may observe that different feelings and emotions arise in certain poses or yoga techniques. We don’t want to judge these feelings but simply observe them It’s like sitting at the bus stop and looking at cars passing by. But we never get up and get in the car, meaning that we never want to engage with any feelings or emotions. We don’t want to roll up our mat and walk out of the room because a bad memory came into our minds. We try not to be reactive or judgmental and hold space to get to know our own thought patterns. Once we create awareness on our yoga mat, it will be very easy to apply it to our everyday lives.
Just be. Many of us bring past experiences, judgments, and assumptions to the table. The preconditioning of the mind doesn’t allow us to experience events as they are. We become judgmental and critical as we don’t meet the mind’s expectations. If we truly want to peel our layers, we must let go of judgments and be willing to keep an open mind, whether it be the yoga mat or our real lives. Living and practicing with an open mind is a beautiful art.
Negative feelings. We’ll all experience some level of discomfort, pain, irritation, boredom, sadness, or numbness. Some of the most challenging times for me were staying on the yoga mat at the beginning of the practice. For the first 10-15 minutes, my mind was just in a complete battle of leaving or staying in class. I always made it until the end of the class, and I was so thankful for staying, as these classes were the ones I really needed. I also saw some students making it through the class and then once we got to the final relaxation they started packing up and left. Yoga provides a lot of healing for the body and mind. The healing takes place when the mind is quiet, and the body is released. Unpleasant feelings offer an opportunity to heal just by observing them and allowing them to flow creatively on their way.
Gratitude. Being grateful makes our lives and our yoga practice sweeter. We should look at the bright side of the opportunities we receive and see how we can grow from them It may be thoughts such as ‘We only have 20 minutes to practice’. Instead, we can think that we have time to practice some of our favorite positions. Or we’re such a beginner, and we wish we could do a handstand right away.
One of the best times of my yoga journey was studying the alignments of the yoga poses. I remember this time clearly, as when we’re learning something new we become very aware. Later, when poses become routine, it is easy to become less mindful. Then, we may be doing the poses, but our mind may be wandering somewhere else. I also never forgot a student whom I practiced with at the Jivanmukta Yoga Center. This student was a double leg amputee. She practiced the whole yoga sequence from start to finish using two blocks as props in her practice. I was amazed by her. We must develop the ability to always look at the bright side of our yoga journey. Finding gratitude in a breathing technique, in the ability to use all our limbs or the simple fact that we can sit silently on our yoga mat.