You may have heard the term “Mindfulness” lately as a cure all for everything that plagues us. But mindfulness is nothing new and has been foundational to the practice of yoga for thousands of years. So what is mindfulness and how can it help us?
Mindfulness can be though of as the opposite of mindlessness. When we go through life on autopilot, that’s mindlessness. We are not aware of or thoughtful about our own thoughts, actions, feelings or the effects that we have on others. We all have routines that we are in where we are not called on to think through every decision that we make like driving, for example. When we first begin to drive, we have to think about every movement, every small detail. But as we practice, our brain allows us to take shortcuts so that we don’t have to think through each decision. In everyday life it is a very convenient and helpful not to have to concentrate on every small decision.
But these shortcuts take their toll on our ability to be fully present. In yoga we work with the body and mind to undo some shortcuts so that we can be aware and present of everything going on around and within us. This awareness allows our brain and senses to relax and become present, existing only in the now rather than thinking about the past or present.
To experience mindfulness, try this little exercise:
Find a comfortable place to sit where it’s relatively quiet.
Begin to notice your breathing without making it any different. Just notice. Allow your breathing to have your full attention for 10 breaths. When you notice your attention wandering, bring it back to your breathing and begin the count to ten breaths again. Understand that this is difficult and your mind is used to wandering wherever it chooses (mindlessly), so it may take some time to bring a degree to gentle control to its wandering. Try this exercise (starting with no more than 10 minutes at a time) over several weeks and see how your focus improves.