When new students arrive in a yoga class they often have little awareness of their bodies. So it is our job as yoga teachers to gradually help them figure out how the body feels on the inside and how to control its position in space. At the same time, many new students have very little awareness of their breath, so it is our job as yoga teachers to bring their attention to the breath, help them deepen it and teach them how to use their breath to guide their movements. In yoga body awareness and breath awareness go hand in hand.
What about the students’ minds? Many yoga teachers help their students investigate their bodies and regulate their breath, but stop short of helping them investigate and regulate their minds. Is the mind less important then body and breath? Not according to the yoga tradition. In fact, in the yoga tradition learning to control the fluctuations of the mind is front and center, while breath and body work play a supportive role.
For many of us the very thought of going inward is terrifying. What kind of murky stuff are we going to find? Why stir things up? Life seems fine as it is (even if I feel dissatisfied, disconnected and direction-less). We seem to have much less control over the mind than we do over the body and breath. That’s why we have all sorts of excuses: “My mind is too busy”, “That’s just how I am” and “What’s the point?”
The point is that s**t happens (pardon my language) and when it does – will you be ready? And we are not just talking about major life shifts like childbirth, sickness, divorce or death. Confrontations, elections, job changes, interpersonal conflict happen all the time. Any change stirs things up, whether you like it or not, and it informs your emotional response, your behavior and actions. How well will you handle it when it happens?
My very wise yoga student once said: “Your happiness depends on your ability to tolerate ambiguity”. Practicing meditation in the form of self-reflection helps us tolerate ambiguity. Nobody meditates for the sake of meditating. First we meditate to be able to see our lives and circumstances a bit more clearly, then to see ourselves a bit more clearly, and then to break free from our conditioned reactions that color our views of the world, and release the charge that triggers strong emotional responses.
“So if I sit with my eyes closed for a while it will fix all of my problems?” Sort of. If you hook your mind to something and maintain that focus for an extended period of time, it will help the particles stirred up by change to settle, so that you could see a bit more clearly. There are different meditation strategies that you can use and we will talk about those next year. But, according to Patanjali, “Choosing meditation according to one’s affinities brings mental clarity.” Meditate on something that you enjoy and find meaningful and it will become something that you look forward to, instead of a chore. And if you feel that you need support or encouragement on this journey, tune in next week for a special announcement!
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