Just four years ago I became a yoga teacher. At that time I was working some crazy hours in the Student Affairs department of my alma mater in pursuit of one day becoming a Dean of Students; trying to create a life with my then boyfriend, now husband; and finishing my 200 hour yoga teacher training and trying to find somewhere, anywhere, to share the practice.
Looking back at that time of my life now, it’s one giant blur. I remember the relationships I fostered during that time, but I can’t remember any specific event, or meeting, or classes that I taught – you know, the things I was so hung up on perfecting every second of the day.
Fast forward to today and it’s still some crazy, ridiculous hours – but I enjoy each moment of them so much more. I’m now mostly a full time yoga teacher, and work part-time at my graduate alma mater teaching students about mindfulness. Sound like a dream? It is. But it’s what I’ve learned in these jobs that has fulfilled my life more than I could have ever imagined.
Mindfulness. What a buzz word right now, am I right? But I dig it. And it works.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) defined Mindfulness as, “the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
He said, “That sounds pretty simple… but actually when we start paying attention to how much we pay attention, half of the time our minds are all over the place and we have a very hard time sustaining attention.”
I mean, when’s the last time you weren’t thinking of a thousand things at one time?
We love multi-tasking! It makes us feel efficient, and important! But when a college student doesn’t remember a single thing from the lecture she just sat through because her mind is instead focused on 100 other things, all of which couldn’t be accomplished or fixed during that class time, it’s a complete waste. Or when you can’t fall asleep at night because you keep popping up to write more things on your to do-list for the next day.
When you wake up you’re tired the entire day, and none of those things you were so anxious to write down get done to the best of your ability, because you’re not at your best when you don’t get enough sleep.
Becoming mindful doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s like anything else in life… it takes practice. When I step onto my yoga mat I want to feel how heavy my body is standing on two feet. Even though I stand up on them every day, it’s not until I arrive on my mat that I notice how it feels. Somedays I feel weightless, and other days I think I’m better off never leaving savasana.
If you’re one my students in a class, I want you to notice how your body has changed within the last day, week, month, etc. Can you become aware of how much deeper you can enter into pose, or acknowledge that maybe some life stressors have manifested themselves physically, holding you back from certain shapes? Notice it; acknowledge it; forgive yourself; and move on. Stepping onto your yoga mat is your escape from the outside world, but when you practice mindfulness on your mat with your body and your breath, it carries over to your real life.
The transformation in my life really started to occur when I could take that same level of mindfulness off my mat, and with me throughout my everyday life.
There are thousands of lists and articles out there that can preach about mindfulness, but these are the four simple things that I’ve done over the last four years that changed everything. I do them still, every day.
1. Ride the bus.
Okay already I’ve lied to you. I don’t do this every day. But I do take the bus often, and when I do there are no head phones, no cell phone, no books or newspapers. It’s just me and every other person using public transportation. It’s awesome.
If I get a window seat, I acknowledge the change in season from the trees outside. If I’m in the middle, I acknowledge the sound of different accents and languages from other riders. You just become aware of who else is in your life at that moment, that you know nothing about.
You might call this “people watching”, but that sounds creepier and we’re cutting out all judgement here folks.
2. Take a walk.
With your phone in your pocket (because there could be an emergency and you’ll need it!), but don’t look at it. Notice what the sun or wind feels like on your skin. Smell the flowers from the gardens or the grease from the local bar. Become aware of the speed at which you walk and what streets you are drawn towards to walk down. (My husband likes to say he’s “eating new pac man dots” and tries to find a new alley or street every time we walk together).
The point is; pay attention, and get outside.
3. Sit Down. Shut Up.
I recently had the privilege of taking a yoga class from one of my first teachers, and about ¾ of the way through class she told us to just take a seat.
“Sometimes the word meditation can be intimidating,” she said, “so sometimes, I just sit down, and shut up.”
Maybe it’s cold or raining outside, or you can’t escape your workplace (or family), so just sit. And for a few moments acknowledge that you are breathing. That’s it. Stop thinking a million miles a minute, and just be.
4. Adopt a pet.
I am so serious! Getting our puppy about a year ago was one of the best practices of mindfulness! Okay, so maybe you can’t have pets with your current living situation, but you can go to the shelter and love on them. Volunteer with them. Or just go to a dog park (which all may actually be better because then you don’t have to do the whole potty-training / eating your favorite shoes ordeal).
Animals find pleasure in the simplest of things and it, in turn, helps you find joy in their simple pleasures. Because it’s all about the little things anyway, right?