Mindfulness is a tricky thing. It’s such a complex and yet simple subject. At the heart of it, it couldn’t be simpler – purposefully paying attention to the present moment. But we all have deeply ingrained thought patterns and in the busy world we live in, there are multiple demands on our minds at all times, so it can feel much more complex when we actively start a mindfulness practice.
I really fell in love with yoga only after a strong meditation practice, so I saw yoga as a way to continue the meditation practice through movement. Which felt really simple at first. The yoga honeymoon was bliss – mindfulness in movement and an extension of my meditation practice. But after the honeymoon was over, my old thought patterns kicked in as they had been inadvertently trained to do, and I found myself overcomplicating it. My inner dialogue started to sound a little something like this… “Is this where my hand’s supposed to be?”… “The teacher is so much more flexible than me”… “I can do this pose, oh-my-God I hope we stay in this one a little longer”… “I need to get better at this pose”… You get the picture. The fact of the matter is, yoga is a great place to notice the thought patterns that naturally arise in class. The more I noticed my thought patterns on the mat, the more I began to notice these thought patterns off the mat. This is why so many people say they come to yoga to ‘meet themselves on the mat’. And the journey continues as I continue to grow and change, and just like that, so do the thought patterns I find on the mat. In recent years, I have noticed those thought patterns become a little more kind, and a little more patient. Slowly. There are days when I notice the old ones, and those days are a great little reminder to slow down and tap in to some self-care. And there are days when I am fully present with my breath and how my body feels in the moment. Those days are a great sign that I am present, and the mental habitual patterns of my thought processes are shifting, growing and changing with my practice.
I’m no expert in how to quiet a busy mind in class, but this is what worked for me.
- Don’t fight your thoughts. Notice them, breathe, and just notice them some more. You may meet thoughts that feel really uncomfortable. Just notice the discomfort. You might be tempted to get on your mental boxing gloves and knock those thoughts out of the room because those thoughts are ‘wrong’ and they aren’t the thoughts you ‘should’ have. Instead, take off the boxing gloves, pay attention to the part of your body that is touching the ground, and just watch your thoughts. Meet them with as much kindness as you can today.
- Be patient. Harder said than done when you are practicing next to a ballerina on the mat, but be patient with your body, and your mind will follow. When you find yourself focused on the future and progressing all the time, you might miss out on the gems in your present moment. This is something which is culturally ingrained so it’s a natural and well trained thought pattern. Instead of feeding into the pattern, ask yourself before class ‘What do I want to enjoy about my class today?’ By putting the emphasis on enjoyment, you might find it easier to focus on the present moment and your muscles will be better able to relax in your practice, allowing for greater range of movement and more progression both physically and mentally. Be here while you are here. The rest will follow.
- Get curious about how you breathe. This is the real game changer for a lot of yogis. At first you might feel like you aren’t ‘getting it’ when it comes to breathing in class, and that is totally normal. Instead of focusing on ‘getting it’, why not just get curious about your breath. How does this breath feel, and now this one, etc. Every time you inhale, you are taking in that breath for the one and only time you will ever take that breath. Get curious about what that feels like.
- Get to class 5 minutes early. By setting up your mat, getting your props and having a few minutes to arrive in the space, you will allow your mind to catch up with your body. The outside world will continue on without you. You will continue to have emails, texts, etc for the rest of your life. But you will only do this class, on this day once. So make the most of it. The more you set aside this space as your own space to be calm, the more your mind will learn to calm down in this space.
As I said before – it sounds simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The mind is just like the body in that it needs to be trained to learn patterns and ways of responding to what you do with it. The more you bring in gentle practices to calm it, the more it will learn to be calm. I would love to hear what works for you all in class – there are so many seasoned yogis in YogaHub and this community is so supportive. What works for you in class? Please share so we can all make the most of the here and now.