Mindfulness is a lifelong practice, and for most of us, it requires conscious effort. We wake up in the mornings bleary-eyed and in need of caffeine rather than serene and at peace with ourselves and the world. It’s easy for us to go about our days telling ourselves that we don’t have time to meditate or do yoga, no spare minutes to practice gratitude in between commuting and working and hitting the gym and cooking dinner and taking care of kids and doing homework and buying groceries and doing every other one of those essential things that seem to eat up every moment of the day.
The truth is, we do have time, and we choose to fill that time with reading and Netflix and sports and bar-hopping and every other one of those non-essential things, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This isn’t a “social media is the devil” post, because that subject is beyond played out and anyway that’s not how I feel (perhaps a topic for another post). What this is, is proof that even with the few spare moments you have in your life, you can practice mindfulness. Even if you only have 10 minutes, here are 10 ways to bring more awareness into your everyday.
You know how some people just rub you the wrong way, even if they’ve done nothing to warrant it? Maybe it’s the guy who works at the coffee shop you frequent every morning, the one who always says hello but looks as though he’s just smelled something bad. Maybe it’s your coworker whose friendly attempts at small talk grate before you’ve had a chance to drink the coffee you just bought from the dour barista. They haven’t done anything to offend you; there’s just something about them.
There’s a girl in my yoga class who, until recently, was like that for me. She’s never said a word to me, nor I to her, but I was just not a fan. Most of the reason is that she commits one of my biggest pet peeves–getting up and leaving during savasana (or sometimes she does other, more energetic poses in place of this all-important final resting pose)–but the fact that she always seems determined to try to stretch herself into the fullest extent of the pose, form be damned, didn’t help either. Take your cues from your body, not from Instagram, girl.
So I’m in class, in savasana, while she’s doing pigeon pose or whatever, and suddenly I realise: if she’s beng a “bad yogi” by ignoring the niyama of isvara pranidhana, surrender, then I’m being a bad yogi by letting her actions dictate my feelings in opposition to the niyama of santosha, contentment. Whatever she is doing is not half as detrimental to my own well-being as what my own thoughts and prejudices are doing to me.
As most of you know, I’m back at my parents’ house for a few months between Steve and my epic three-month, cross-country road trip and reuniting with him in Ireland again before we head on to a working holiday in New Zealand. As my town is quite small and uneventful and my work doesn’t take up too much of my time, I decided that for the summer I would work on setting some habits, reaching some goals, and making it a summer of self-improvement.
I know that summer isn’t technically over, but I’m wearing a hoodie and drinking hot tea during the day for the first time in ages, so it definitely feels like fall and therefore I’m going to check in as I move into My Self-Improvement September. The eight things I wanted to work on this summer were: yoga, meditation, piano, guitar, Duolingo’s German course, running, dance and this blog. Let’s see how I did:
When I was a kid, I found a yoga VHS in the house and gave it a few goes before I got bored of holding a single pose for five minutes. I’m fidgety now—I can only imagine it felt like an eternity of stillness back then. When I was a teenager, I had a set of “yoga cards,” cardboard squares with yoga poses and mantras that were, I suppose, designed to guide your practice. I carried them through several moves, always intending to use them and never quite getting around to it. When I was in college, I took a yoga class. It was at 8 or 9pm on a Sunday, which wasn’t the optimal time for a college student to feel motivated to do anything but lie in bed and watch reruns of The Office. I tried a few more times here and there, but always ended up writing off yoga as one just not for me.
That changed earlier this summer. When I couldn’t find an ATS bellydance class to pick up learning where I’d left off in Seattle, I signed up for the closest I could find to where I live (I’ve since found an ATS class so I’m happy to be taking that as well). This ended up being a fusion class with a strong yoga focus, so at first I was wary. Then, it began to click.
I still didn’t enjoy doing yoga for its own sake (yet), but I began to understand how the focus on flexibility, opening up joints, and strengthening muscles could translate into more powerful bellydancing. Every time I struggled into a slight backbend, I was making my body wave chewier and more dynamic. Every time I dropped from plank to the floor and into cobra (and, as time went on from plank to chaturanga to upward-facing dog), I was strengthening my core for better isolations.
I decided I needed to do yoga more than the once a week in class to really feel the difference, so I asked some friends for recommendations of youtube videos, and that’s when I found Yoga With Adriene. I jumped nearly straight into her “30 Days of Yoga” series, and that’s when things really began to fall in place. Aspects of yoga that had always disinterested me finally began to seem fun and important as I modulated my breathing and let the day slip away. Eight days into the series (as I noted in my bullet journal), I felt savasana. The “corpse pose” had always been a sticking point for me in that college yoga class—why would I lie on the cold gym floor when I could go home and lie in bed? I finally began to appreciate the way it tied together a practice to transition peacefully back into your day.
Not only did I begin to enjoy doing the poses, I began to notice improvements. Today I finished the 30 Days series with a deeper forward fold, lower heels in downward dog, and, again, a smoother vinyasa from plank to chaturanga to upward-facing dog. My attitude toward yoga has changed too. I’ve stopped checking the clock and started checking on my breath, started focusing on my body instead of every external distraction I could find. My yoga journey is just beginning, but it’s one I feel inspired and confident to continue for months, years, and perhaps even a lifetime. Namaste.