As summer winds down and another school year begins, I find myself bracing for the onslaught of personal and professional tasks, errands, and obligations that come with it. I try to remember to breathe and be mindful of where I am and what I need to navigate it all with grace. “Mindfulness” is a buzzword now in American culture. I was first introduced to the idea of mindfulness through yoga several years ago, which is often referred to as a moving meditation.
At the end of a complete yoga practice is a posture called “savasana” in Sanskrit or “corpse” pose in English — which has the specific purpose of literally preparing the body for death. The ultimate silence. Savasana represents the fullest expression of “doing nothing” that we can achieve while still alive, and it affords us the opportunity to just be quiet and release anything that we are hanging on to: tension, stress, negativity, fear, or the nagging thoughts we all experience from time to time. This posture alone is a form of meditation, providing a few moments of peace from the constant demands of daily life.
In my own meditation practice, despite years of trying — whether it be through yoga or a traditional seated meditation — I still find reaching a deeper level of meditation very challenging. I have gone beyond what I would describe as a true beginners level and have reached states of relaxation and depth that were markedly different from the average, but that’s rare. Meditation humbles you in that you realize how little control you have over your thoughts. It teaches you that being kind and gentle with yourself is key to any success. Also, it’s okay to have to start over and over again when you realize your mind has strayed. That’s why they call it a “practice.”
I can tell you from my own personal experience that quieting the mind and truly being still in the body is no small feat. This is why yoga is so beneficial — because all the moving postures, or the asana practice, is really just a preparation to sit in meditation. Working the body in some way before sitting in meditation is crucial for me. The position you choose is also important. Having a straight back and supported seating makes it much easier to remain still. Props like pillows can be very useful. Temperature is also important, so wearing layers or having a blanket nearby is helpful. In order to let go, one must be comfortable. Lying down is the most common position for savasana, but the risk there is falling asleep, which happens frequently. Finding what position works best for you in a comfortable environment will help set the stage for maximum success.
A mindful practice takes commitment. In order to commit to a practice in the long-term, it needs to become a habit, and this is fostered by setting aside time each day — ideally the same time — where your chosen practice becomes like brushing your teeth. Meditation becomes something you just won’t skip doing.
Setting realistic and attainable goals for your practice can also be helpful. My goal is to sit for longer periods of time — perhaps just 5 more minutes than I currently do — and to try to go deeper with my practice through guided meditations. Not only will this help me to be more present, but I believe it will help improve my focus and concentration. In his TED Talk, “All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes,” Andy Puddicombe raises a number of points about mindfulness in American and Western culture and why it’s so difficult and uncomfortable for us to do and maintain. His comments about how most people have simply accepted that life is “crazy busy” and that’s just how it is struck me as a completely constructed narrative driven by capitalism and competition. There’s a perception that if we take a break, we’ll lose out somehow to someone else. We’ve made a collective decision to accept the pace of life even though we don’t like it and we know it’s not healthy. Yet, we can make another choice.
Ultimately, we don’t miss what we don’t know. What I find is that it’s increasingly hard to participate in a system of mindless doing when I have had a taste of the other side. When we are busy, we feel accomplished and as if we are in control. Mindfulness moves away from those needs and introduces us to awareness instead, which actually opens up many more opportunities for accomplishment in the long run. How might being more mindful open up more possibilities for you? For ideas on how to get started, check out Headspace.