Mindful, Conscious, Aware.
Mindfulness is now a buzzword.
Everyday newspaper articles, cooperate presentations even parenting magazines are often peppered with the words mindfulness, awareness and consciousness.
This is good!
People are waking up to the huge benefits of being aware of their thoughts and actions. There is a Buddhist story of a novice monk who had studied with his master for 15 devoted years. Finally the day came to go to his masters house to be blessed and released from service.
The master’s first question was, “On which side of my door did you leave your sandals?” The poor student monk didn’t know and so had to continue for another 10 years with his master. He had behaved in a way we all so often do: Absent-mindedly.
Why do we forget where we put our keys?- Usually because we weren’t fully present when we put them down, just like when our monk took off his sandals. It’s very difficult it is to be truly and constantly mindful. But how can we become at least a little more mindful and how would that improve our lives?
One way is to practice it through training your mind through meditation. Siddhartha struggled with his inner demons through years of meditation practice before enlightenment and becoming The Buddha. Although very few people become enlightened, a consistent meditation practice, even just 20 minutes a day, will train your mind to become more focused and familiar with your thought patterns.
Being aware of what is happening right now in our lives has been proven over millennia of experience and hundreds of modern day studies to lead people to a more fulfilled and happier life. Learning to steady our minds and not dwell on past mistakes or worry about the future means we can truly appreciate and fully participate in the gift of life, through all it’s ups and downs.
But many people find the discipline of seated formal meditation just too hard. I recommend first training your self to be self aware through posture based (Hatha) Yoga. When we are moving our body, strengthening and stretching it mindfully, we also become aware of our inner chatter and how judgmental and unhelpful our minds can be.
Becoming aware of this inner chatter, often called The Monkey Mind, is also a practice of seated meditation but in Yoga you also get huge added bonus of creating a strong and flexible body too. In Yoga classes students are guided through poses (called asana) and learning to notice how their minds and hearts are responding, pose to pose. It’s important for Yoga practitioners to consciously feel how each pose is aligned and how it fits and adapt to them as they adapt and form themselves around the pose.
When taught this body/mind awareness in a Yoga class, with some seated mediation included, my students are learning the tools to be mindful in their everyday lives.
Bringing mindfulness into your life is something you can do with little effort right now. In one of my first teacher trainings with Judith Lasater she taught us this very useful tool: Whenever you are moving from one event to another in your day, pause for 4 or 5 smooth breaths and notice how you are feeling and your state of mind. Collect yourself and notice how you are responding to your surroundings. Before going into a meeting. Before opening a door. Before responding to a tricky email. Before you get out of a car. Before you read your children a bedtime story. You get the picture. Pause, pause, pause. Taking time to notice yourself and what mood you are in helps you to respond better to challenges you may soon face. It also makes you a kinder person, not only to yourself, but to those who’s lives you affect.