How Yoga Can Increase Mindfulness
It is no wonder that we crave the deep, slowly turning into the body, mind, and heart that yoga offers and that has made it so popular across the globe. Yoga and mindfulness teach us wonderful tools and technologies that we can bring into our everyday lives if we can take the pure essence of the lessons off the mat and apply the practices into our busy days.
Yoga gets complicated when you begin to dive into all of the many words, concepts, and constructs that describe the mind and consciousness, which of course is also what makes the material so rich, textured, and transformational. While I love these philosophical maps, I also think that the complexity of yoga tradition and philosophy keeps some people away because it seems too complicated, too spiritual, or too mysterious.
There are a few lessons, that summarizes all of the yoga systems and that, if you can move these lessons into your heart, can change your deepest perspective, create tremendous spaciousness in your mind and heart, and lead you to the goal of yoga without all the fuss- which is simply inner contentment, resilience, and reverence for your whole miraculous self.
“Notice What You Notice”
The first and by far, the most important lesson of yoga might be summed up in the phrase “notice what you notice.” Have you already checked your phone, or clicked several tabs on your browser, or wandered off into the vast travels of the mind about a million times today? This is how the human mind works.
It’s not called a “monkey mind” by so many people for nothing.
For thousands of years, people have been so fed up with our mind and its generated thoughts (each of which, if you will notice, convinces you how imperative it is, right? This thought matters! Listen to it! And this one!) that it has been the main focus of yoga from the get-go. How do I make this windy mind more of a gentle breeze up in the atmosphere rather than an insufferable storm at ground level?
There is only one way to still our thoughts, and that’s by honing our concentration. This is why we are drawn toward the deep meditative focus in art, music, tinkering around at this or that project in the garage, even the modern-day single-pointed obsession with social media and technology.
Notice that. Notice what you are doing in every single given moment. Begin by just pausing a few times in your day to notice what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, what actions you take to self-soothe uncomfortable feelings. Don’t try to change your activities. Don’t manipulate your thoughts or feelings. Just notice them. Become a great observer of your life. If I could sum up every teaching of yoga in one phrase, “notice what you notice” always stands out.
“Be Kind to Yourself”
When you become a great observer of your life, you will see that you are uncomfortable most of the time. We shapeshift all day long to distract ourselves from our discomfort. Be kind to yourself. Kindness, or non-harming, toward yourself is a core lesson of yoga philosophy.
This is because once we notice all of the agitation and material of our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and perceptions, we begin to see that most of this material has judgments attached to them. Not only are most thoughts and feelings themselves uncomfortable, but the judgment that we layer upon these agents becomes what some psychologists and practitioners call “the second arrow.” You are already injuring yourself by that obsessive thought, and now you are adding your judgment toward yourself and others to that pierce, making the combination extra-painful.
When we feel into the body, we begin to fall in love with its simplicity—the body breaths. The body moves. The body looks for balance, health, and homeostasis. The body looks for repair, regeneration, and support. What an absolute miracle. We discover that it’s a lot easier to be kind to ourselves when we start to breathe, to move and stretch and flex.
I have seen, again and again, that when we begin to practice kindness and compassionate mindfulness within ourselves, it is much easier to express those attitudes toward others. You don’t need to pretend to be kind to someone else. You can be at ease with yourself and allow that ease to spill out the cracks and shine around.
We are so trained to accommodate the world around us: to act a certain way, to believe a certain way, to dress a certain way. By noticing these behaviours, by loving yourself for what you approve of as well as what you do not accept of within yourself you will have gone the entire length of the yoga path, which leads directly to the heart.
Here is a universal truth that you may as well hear. However, everybody knows this if you pay attention: the mind divides us into stories, agitation, and the agony of individual righteousness. The heart unites us in wonder and spaciousness.
The solution is walking the path back from the mind to the heart. Follow whichever path you are given. If you can notice what you notice and send kindness into the whole of your being, you will be walking the sacred way back home to yourself. It does not matter at all what lines the path, what you look like or where you live, what shirt you have on or what family you were born into- you are capable of this simple yoga.
May we meet in the cave of the heart together, in wonder.