Mindful awareness

Monday, September 27, 2010

Checking in to Let Go

I just felt the tension – in the room and in my body. I was sitting in a business meeting that became more contentious than expected. Differing opinions were leading to terse words. The discussion was going nowhere because few people were listening. Hidden agendas became slightly less hidden, still subtle, but becoming more obvious. Overall the feeling was icky to me.

I found myself clinging to attachment to the outcome of the discussion. I became focused on finding the words and strategy to affect the outcome. Finally, mindfulness practice kicked back in. I turned inward to observe. I felt the tension through a clenched jaw. My shoulders were tight and elevated. I observed longer and noticed my breath was shallow as the tension and clinging seemed to tighten around my torso.

Observing the clinging through physical aspects of my body led to the second part of mindfulness practice: letting go. “Soften,” I thought to myself as I exhaled away tension in my jaw.  “Let go,” I told myself as I released tension in my shoulders and let go of my attachment to the outcome of the discussion. I lengthened the duration of my exhales. “Let go.”

I worked internally on letting go of my attachment to the meeting outcome as I breathed mindfully, lengthening my exhales. The meeting continued. I listened as an observer, without judgment. I felt better for releasing the tension and letting go of the struggle. I felt better for recognizing that there are things I cannot control. Mindfulness practice helped me to recognize that in the end the outcome will unfold as it needs to. I contributed to the discussion and can let go of emotion, tension, and clinging to the outcome.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Centered Stillness

I start all my yoga classes and home practices with at least 5 minutes of settling in to center the mind. Last night several students seemed apprehensive, fidgety, and not completely sold on the idea of using their precious time this way. I got the idea that they thought the time “wasted”. Or perhaps they are unfamiliar, therefore uncomfortable, with the stillness. We are all used to doing and are less likely to spend much of our time being. However, yoga practice is intended to be mindful, to slow us down, to find stillness in movement. That is what makes it yoga rather than stretching and calisthenics.

Focusing on deep breaths helps to transition from whatever happened prior to practice to time on the mat. Centering helps to still the mind and body, releasing any emotion - from anger and frustration to fatigue and elation - so that we can be completely present for our practice. Being centered prepares us to move mindfully. It can prevent us from being careless; something that often results in physical injury.

Centering is a yoga practice that I take with me into my life off the mat. It helps me to focus and be present for the activity I am about to start. A few breaths are all I need to transition from one emotion and place to the next. What would happen if you took time to center yourself before beginning a meal? How might your gym routine benefit if you transitioned from a stressful day at the office before starting weight training? How might a confrontational meeting with your spouse or teenager differ if you took time to center and find stillness breathing deeply for several minutes before the discussion?

Maybe with practice you can come to value time used to center and prepare your mind and body as you transition to the next activity. Maybe you can become more comfortable with stillness.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Final taste of summer

I am enjoying the change to autumn weather. The cool mornings and evenings are a welcome contrast to the hot days. As the season changes, though, I already mourn my favorite part of summer: fresh berries. I was able to get one last batch of raspberries this week at the farmer's market. I brought them home and began to greedily eat a handful of berries (my habitual attack), enjoying the bursts of sweetness in my mouth.

Then it occurred to me that this will be the last batch of fresh berries until next June's strawberries. I realized I wanted to make sure to take time to savor each one. So I sat down with no other distraction so I could mindfully enjoy each berry. One at at time. I closed my eyes and used each of my sensory systems to concentrate on the redness (yes, at that point they tasted red). I felt the juicy, soft texture of each berry. I inhaled the fresh aroma of each berry. One. At. A. Time.

These may have been the best batch of raspberries of the whole season. Simply because I mindfully put all my effort into tasting each one.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Observing multiple perspectives

Perspectives - every one of life's issues/ challenges/ problems/ miscommunications/ ... is multifacited with many different perspectives. Moving and contemplating mindfully helps us to reserve judgment and recognize some alternate perspectives we may not have considered when we move through life with our regular habits and biases. Perhaps we do not need to run but to stay. The glass might not be half empty but half full. The rumor we heard at the office may not have much truth when seen from another perspective. A problem that seems impossible to solve may be easier if we take off our blinders and look "outside the box" from another perspective.

In yoga practice, twists help to notice and acknowledge multiple perspectives. Revolved parsvokonasana (side angle), revolved bakasana (crow), revolved trikonasana (triangle), and a multitude of revolved poses and twists in sitting or laying down all help us to observe things from another viewpoint. Who knows, after an asana practice that includes lots of twists, a stroke of insight - an aha moment or an eureka moment - might follow us off the mat. That solution to the seemingly impossible to solve problem might just make itself available. All it took was considering an alternative perspective.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Learning to trust our breath to lead the way

My yoga students worked with a challenging balance vinyasa in class this week. We moved from ardha chandrasana (half moon) to parivrtta ardha chandrasana (revolved half moon) and back for a total of four of each pose on each side. There was much laughter as several people fell out of the pose and returned to the challenge. Finally, several students learned the lesson I hoped to convey: trust your breath to lead the way.

These students found that when they focused their attention and moved one component at a time, using the breath to lead the way, they were able to enjoy a dancing flow, they got "into the zone" and were less likely to wobble. Move with your breath: Inhale, arm up gaze up; exhale, arm down gaze down; inhale arm up, gaze up; exhale, arm down gaze down...

I invited the students to set an intention for the rest of the week: trust your breath to lead the way. They will take their practice with them off the matt and into their life if they use their breath to let go of struggle and move mindfully, as a dancing flow, whatever challenge life offers. At first glance, the yoga vinyasa or life challenge might appear impossible or overwhelming. But to break it into components, trusting breath to lead the way, it all becomes possible and even fun.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Moving and attention

Moving without attending to what we are doing can result in anything from vehicular homicide to a stubbed toe to a broken phone. We all have done three things at once without really paying attention to any of them - carrying too much upstairs to save a trip, I thought I was being efficient in making the most out of a trip up the stairs. Rather than efficiency, however, I end up dropping the smart phone in my hand and smashing its monitor. Not only have I not saved time, but now I'll need to have the phone repaired or replaced and I actually lose time in inconvenience while I don't have my phone. Another example - I wonder how much time I've really saved by sorting and reading the mail while something is on the stove only to burn whatever I wasn't watching closely and need to start the cooking over again. And certainly, no time is saved walking while we are doing three other things only to fall and injure a leg and end up in the emergency room waiting for x-rays.

The opportunity to practice mindfulness presents itself many times a day. Today as I juggled too many things in two arms I recognized that I was headed for disaster. I set things down, took a few deep breaths, picked up half of the items, and committed myself to two loads up and down the steps. Not only did I avert disaster, but I achieved what I needed to do with a more relaxed outlook. The task took only a couple of extra minutes but I felt more leisurely than the rushed feel of being overloaded.  

Now, to remember next time I feel overwhelmed to: Stop - Breathe - Attend to one thing at a time.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Appreciating my body for all it does

Physical aches and pains, even major injuries or illnesses, escape no one. Still, our bodies, whatever their condition, serve us. I commit to treating this body well. This body that moves me from place to place, helps me to sense beauty through scent and sight, this body that interprets sunshine on my skin as a warm and comfortable feeling. I am grateful for all this that my body does for me and in return I will treat it well. I will get up and exercise on a day that I feel like lounging around. I will eat wholesome, pure food when I feel like grabbing an easy, unhealthy meal. I will nurture and protect my body as a way to thank it for serving me so well 24/7/365.