The start of a new season is often the catalyst to build new habits. For others, changes or challenges in life are motivations to seek out positive practices. Mindfulness and meditation are topics that tend to make it to the list. To the uninitiated, these can be daunting. My personal experience was borne out of self-inspection. It isn’t everyday that a Yoga practitioner is faced with confronting with unraveling the mysteries of the mind.
Yoga is as much about the mind as it is of the body. They are unified. It’s a singular experience.
For those on the go, feel free to jump straight into the essence of the art of mindfulness. If you enjoy a good read, the narrative below gives an insight into the art.
Whilst I may have mastered the contortions of Hatha Yoga, an awareness of the mind is a journey, a labyrinth that holds the wonders of the universe as well as the deepest of emotions. My path starts with a simple rash which develops into a year long journey of learning about the depths of the mind and myself.
As a young Yogic apprentice, the discussions about the mind were eclectic, one that demanded years of commitment and often conjured the images of sitting cross-legged in cave. Seclusion and isolation were words that ran through my mind. Although, I had forayed into the studying the sciences of the mind and body, I had yet to find myself. The concepts of me as an individual were at best the sculpting of my youth. I had carved out a version of myself and it remained cemented until the very day a benign rash appeared on my forearm. While I paid little heed to the rash, it soon covered my hands and legs.
In consulting with specialists, it had been diagnosed as an extreme case of eczema, a condition I had not yet experienced myself although I was acutely familiar with it. The focus remained on the external factors of my experiences. As I honed in on my culinary skills to bring balance to the discomfort that had become the bane of my life, it showed no signs of slowing down. It defined my day and night. It pushed the boundaries of my will. It tested my ability to rationalize the moments I would catch myself scratching for relief.
My family kept close watch as I gained mastery in the sleight of hand of sneaking in a gentle rub. This dance continued for a year as I checked off the usual suspects that would trigger the slightest of discomfort. Food. Clothing. Detergents. Time of day. Lunar cycles. While a change in each would provide a glimmer of hope in identifying the source of the my battle, it plateaued. After 12 months of what had been truly a rollcoaster of a ride, I positioned myself our sofa. I had maintained a detailed diary of my daily routines.
As I scrolled past and reached the bottom of the list, I soon realized that in the midst of the all the changes, I had not considered my mental and physical responses to the situations I encountered. I had maintained the status quo. Unknowingly, over the years, I had overlooked what had now become a natural reaction to situations that did not meet my expectations. I had overlooked the tensions in my life.
As I reflected internally, my mind cast back to the esoteric teachings of mindfulness and meditation. Each moment presented the opportunity to remain mindful, to intercept the rising tides of emotions, to mediate and meditate on the changes of my body and mind. I had discovered a glimpse of myself. In that brief moment, the rashes on my body had dissipated. Even though it had not completely disappeared, coupled with dietary and lifestyle changes it proved to be positive.
Over the course of 3 months, I focused on the sensory experiences of my body on each turn of my thoughts. When emotions flared, I observed and experienced tingling sensations and the rashes were unkind. As calmness returned, like the tidal waves of the ocean, they would retreat. As 3 months turned into 6 months, my skin improved dramatically. The rashes had subsided and mostly disappeared. I forged on with my practices on observing every thought. It had hit home. I recalled a story my husband had recited to me on his travels of self-discovery.
Imagine for a moment taking a drive on a sunny summer day. The sun’s shining. It’s a glorious day to head out to the beach with the family & friends. Everyone’s excited. You reverse out of the driveway. As you slowly make your way down the road, the single lane is filled to the brim. You aren’t the only one with the same idea. Each drive forward seems like an eternity. Excitement turns into frustration. Frustration takes on the face of anger and soon a passing comment gives way to an argument. Words are shot across the bow. You lose sight of the surroundings. The car crashes into another. Fortunately, it’s a minor dent. There’s a sigh of relief. The trip’s cancelled.
On the flip side, imagine the inverse. Rather than being stuck in traffic, it’s smooth sailing. As the make your way down the single lane, there isn’t any traffic. Everyone’s filled with joy. There’s laughter and a sense of happiness. You reach your destination.
It’s dramatically a different experience. The mind is like that very single lane. The thoughts are analogous to the vehicles on the road. The sensory sensations resonate the emotions. Mindfulness is you, the driver. Meditation is the calmness and clarity.
Mind and body are unified. An imbalance in either affects the being as a whole.
On reflection, I realized that it’s a journey. To begin, it’s knowing or having an idea of where you want to be. Next, it’s packing for the trip. You want the right clothing. If I bring it back to the topic of mindfulness and meditation, it’s being equipped with the know-how and knowledge as well as the experience in its practice. Fortunately, it’s something innate in everyone. It’s taking the next step in unlocking it. Often we need guidance. On that note, here’s a sneak peek into starting.
- When you awake, sit at the edge of the bed. Take a deep breath and focus on the inhalation and exhalation. Repeat breathing in and out slowly 5 times.
- As you prepare for the day, take the opportunity to take note of your actions. For example, when brushing your teeth bring your attention to the toothbrush and the taste of the toothpaste.
- While you progress through the day, take brief moments in between to clear your mind by taking in your surroundings through your sense of sight, smell, touch, taste and audition.
- At the end of the day, lessen increased sensory excitement. For instance, listen to soothing music, take a slow walk, watch calming shows.
- Just as you wind down and slide into bed, cycle through the day for the moments you are most grateful for.
- Integrate these practices slowly into your daily lifestyle. Habits take time to form and take place.
- As days, weeks and months pass, build on each of these by increasing the span of time and actions. As an example, repeat mindful breathing from 5 to 10 times at the start of the day.
- Be kind to yourself. If you miss one of the steps, that’s okay. Remind yourself gently.
- If thoughts flow into the calmness, accept these for what they are.
- Should the thoughts give rise to negative emotions, unpack them one at a time. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Observe the thoughts. Minimize active participation. Free yourself from the mental interaction with the thoughts.
As time progresses, the balance between mind and body will occur naturally. Your ability to sense minute changes will be sharpened. You will have achieved peace and calmness.