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Why do we do yoga? I think the answer to this becomes obvious at the oddest of times – those times when you’re off your mat, those times when life seems the least yogic. No, it’s not when you’re showing off your titibasana as a party trick on Saturday night (not recommended without warm-up, nor when under the influence), nor is it as you’re trying to squeeze through a hole in the fence (and you’re thanking your hips and hamstrings for allowing you to get you leg just so). It’s when you’ve been practicing long enough to start cultivating that mindfulness that takes you out of “A” moment and puts you into “THE” moment when needed most. The practice of yoga cultivates mindfulness: not simply about one’s body and one’s body position, but mindfulness about the world around us and our own reactions/interactions. This certainly does not mean that practitioners suppress emotions. Neither does it mean they are impermeable to stress and negativity. However, it does mean that one begins to notice the space in a moment, and the usefulness of that space. In that space, we become aware of our disconnected reactions and expand our understanding of ourselves, the situation, and the larger scheme of things.

What might this mean for us? It means many things. It means that while sitting in traffic we take the time to identify our frustration, breathe into it, and see the situation for what it really is, in the big picture. It means that when cramming for an exam we sit back as the panic sets in, close our eyes for a moment, and make more sane decisions (“should I really continue to study all night long?”). It means that when an argument is getting uncomfortably heated we are able to identify the tipping point before it happens, and weigh our options before any harm is done. This is different from passivity, pacificity, or apathy. Mindfulness is about being in the moment enough to make the most life-affirming choices.

The Yoga Journal (recent Daily Insight Email) gives us a few good tips for finding ground… even through the toughest times. Dedicate space for reflection. It helps to have a corner of your home that feels sacred—somewhere you can retreat to when you feel overwhelmed. It can be something as simple as a candle on your night stand or as elaborate as an altar. Find a personal refuge. Choose a location with meaning for you—a beach, a park, a special place from childhood—and go there. Even if it’s just for a few hours, find a way to take a mental hiatus. Calm your breath. Notice when you’re holding your breath or taking rapid, shallow breaths, and make an effort to focus on your inhalation and exhalation. A few breaths with a present mind can change not only your day, but your entire outlook on life.

As January comes into full swing, many of us also start to focus on this year’s promises to one’s self, our own feelings of renewal and awakening. As natural as it is to observe the seasonal changes outside, it is also as natural to feel these tides of motivation and change within as well. As winter solstice hits, the changing light outside is symbolic of the changes inside. “New Years Resolutions” are our (sometimes weak) attempts to mirror this phenomenon. Although some of these feelings that emerge may be superficial and banal, some are there for a reason. It is at this time of the year that we can reflect on these to distinguish from where these feelings emerge.

So how can we honour and work with this desire to make changes this season? Perhaps the answer is in accepting that some of these changes are part of something larger – our dharma – and that this time of the year is a perfect one to practice mindfulness and self-exploration of these goals and reflections. The mindfulness approach to change helps to avoid grasping after goals that simply substitute one unhealthy situation for another. Mindfulness ensures that the direction we are taking is one towards freedom. It ensures that: 1) motives are wholesome, 2) the effects of the change are life-affirming, and 3) the way by which we attain this change is safe and steady.

So, amidst all the new practices that will be in full swing at this point (workout schedules, yoga challenges, diets and cleanses), take some time to listen to yourself, listen to your body. Sitting meditation does not necessarily require a completely “empty” mind. Bring into it an intention; ponder that New Year’s Resolution and let your inner self speak to it. Let mindfulness be your first resolution.

Article inspired by “The Dharma of Life Changes” by Phillip Moffitt. If a dharmic approach to resolutions interests you, read more tips here.

Just me…

2010 Journey

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