Tag Archives: flow
One of the fundamental questions of mindfulness practices is: When do you press in and when do you let go? When do you push your limits and when do you gracefully take a back seat? The answer is at the same time more simple and more complex than you might think. I am finding the answer is that I do both, at the same time. Sounds kind of confusing? Yep, it is the concept of paradox in your mindfulness or yoga practice. I’ll illustrate with a few examples to help you understand what I mean:
Asana or Posture Practice
When I am doing a strong yang energy practice (moving, sweating, breathing deeply and generally vigorous poses), I find that softening my intentions and using certain mindfulness cues can help me achieve this paradox. For example, if I am doing a really challenging pose, say Ardha Chandrasana or Half Moon Pose, and I am efforting very strongly with my body, if I relax my eyes and think about softening my heart, the whole pose becomes soft yet VERY strong in a way that is subtle yet very real. It’s the same thing in a less strong pose, say Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose. As I inhale and raise my chest, pull my elbows back, engage my belly, etc., I soften in my intentions in the pose. I might repeat a mantra, “I am whole, I am peaceful.” I am still strongly lifting my body into the pose, but the difference is I have softened my mind and allowed more space in my heart to be easy within the effort.
Put the Practice Into Action
Try it right now with a pose of your choice. Arrive at the proper alignment and form for the pose that fits your body best. Once you have arrived in the pose, take a body scan and see if you are pushing yourself to your edge in this moment. Your edge may be different today from all other days – it is today, right now, that is important. Once you are at your edge and pushing yourself strongly for this moment, take your attention to your eyes and literally allow them to soften. Soften your face, ears, nose, throat and back of your head. Allow that softness to ripple down into your heart. Feel space and ease created there. Stay in the pose for 5-10 more breaths, but come out when you can no longer maintain that sense of ease within the effort. Come to a comfortable seated pose and take 10-15 breaths to reflect on the experience. You may wish to write it down.
Meditation or Mindfulness Practices
Meditation practices are by nature, more about letting go and being receptive to what is, in this very moment, your reality. However, they require a strong push of determination, repetition and dedication to form the habit of using mindfulness techniques on a daily basis. You can meditate here and there haphazardly and find some benefits, but the real juice of the meditation realm of practices comes with the push towards doing it every day. This phenomenon of pushing towards change is called tapas in yoga, and it can be translated as heat, discipline or determination. When I focus on doing my meditation in small chunks (10-20 minutes at a time) daily, I find the same paradox exists. I feel the slow transformation of my perceptional abilities start to change over time (months and months), while I get a daily benefit of a more spacious frame of mind and more awareness towards my treatment of others. I find I can let go of things that upset me more quickly on a daily basis, and over the long term, I change my attitude towards those things that upset me completely. I may do a complete 180 degree turn in how I understand something about myself or another, and that can change my whole world view overnight.
Putting the Practice Into Action
Start by finding a comfortable seat. You can sit in a chair or on the floor with a cushion under your sitz bones, but don’t lie down or lean back on a couch. Make sure your spine is straight and your head is positioned over your spine. You can find this out by leaning forward and leaning back, and when your sitz bones sink down into the chair or cushion (like they are getting heavier in that one moment in time), you have found the point where all the weight is over your spine. Now set a timer for 5 -20 minutes. If you are new to meditation, try 5-10 minutes. First, write down a word that describes how you are feeling before you meditate. Now, the pressing in comes from learning to focus your mind during this time period. For today, use this mantra: Inhale: “I am whole.” Exhale: “I am peaceful.” Pause with the breath out: “I hold my own space.” When you are finished with your time period, pause and reflect on how you feel now. Write down a word that describes your state of being, post-meditation. You can take a few minutes to reflect on this, or journal about the experience. The letting go part happens naturally when you bring your attention to the meditation and let go of all other things that are occupying your brain and body. It’s funny – you are doing nothing, yet everything is happening, dropping away and leaving you clearer and more peaceful.
Paradox, Paradox – Are you everywhere?
Start looking for the existence of this phenomenon in your daily life. What do you have to let go of to make other things happen? What do you have to push into to let go of other things? This can be a very rewarding and interesting mindfulness practice in and of itself. Try it for a few days and come back and comment – tell me about your experience!
7. Honor your practice. Take the time for your practice, and make it sacred for yourself. This means honoring your commitment to do the practice every day, no matter what. It also means planning your practice into your day. If you don’t have a plan, it’s not going to happen. Make it your ritual. The reason that yogis say to practice in the morning is not because it’s some magic time of day, it’s because you have a better chance of getting it done if you aren’t already in the swing of things during your day.
6. Engage all your senses. When you are on your mat, be on your mat. We can easily get to the mat and spend the whole time thinking about what we have to do that day, or whatever current drama is playing around in our mind. Start by noticing everything that is touching your mat, in each pose. How does it feel to have your feet, hands, belly, or back touch the mat? What can you hear? What do you see? What do you smell? Do you taste your morning coffee or tea still or is there an absence of taste?
5. Be mindful of what kind of practice your body needs in every moment. Not every practice is for every body, every day. We can develop a good intuition about what our body needs by consistently practicing checking in during practice. This is a very helpful skill for your practice but also it is GREAT for when you step off the mat. Did you hydrate well today? Did you eat nurturing foods? Did you skip meals because your schedule got too busy? We have all been there, but noticing when we fall out of balance, on and off the mat, is an important practice for a long, healthy life.
4. Reflect on your practice. Is it meeting your long term goals or needs? Your short term goals? What do you want out of your practice? There are so many styles and ways to approach mindfulness, it’s up to you to go to the “Awareness Grocery Store” and pick out the style you want to try next. Keep trying things until you find something that works really well for you and your needs. If you are unsure, then ask a teacher or attend a workshop that will introduce you to a new style. If you want something personalized, then try my Therapeutic Home Study Program. You can receive a personalized DVD that will be tailored exactly to your needs of body, mind and spirit.
3. Practice slowly. Even if you are in a vinyasa flow class, you can practice slowly and mindfully. Rushing through any practice is a sure recipe for injury, discouragement and obstacles to a daily practice. Holding poses for longer not only increases the calories you are burning, but also gives you the time to “marinate” in a pose, truly start to understand the subtleties and increase your skill.
2. Practice every day. There is no way to fully understand your body without a practice that is at least 5-6 days a week. Intermittment practice is helpful, no doubt, but to gain the discipline, mentally and physically, of a daily practice brings benefits you can only dream of right now. First, you will be presented with lots of things you have been ignoring, physically, mentally and spiritually, but eventually things will even out, you will get on a stable, sustainable path where you can be successful and happy.
1. Take your practice off the mat into your everyday life. Each moment is an opportunity to practice one of the yamas and niyamas, the ethics of yoga. All of these lessons will bear fruit in your every day life if you consistently practice them on the mat. You won’t be able to help all of the lessons coming with you into your life, if you listen to your body, mind and spirit each day on the mat.