If there’s one thing my yoga practice has taught me – it’s the power of the mind to shape the way you experience life.
If your mind is all over the place and unfocused – you’ll feel pulled this way and that in all that you do.
If your mind dwells in the past – you will find it difficult to approach the future with confidence.
If your mind is always jumping forward anticipating all the “what ifs” of any given situation – you will find it impossible to enjoy what you have, here, in your life now.
Believe me, I know this to be true, because that’s what I’ve experienced myself!
The yoga of awareness
I have a busy mind. That’s why I came to yoga and that’s why slow, mindful yoga, relaxation and meditation is what settles me, fills me up, and brings me home to myself and a deep inner stillness and knowing that all is well.
Now, you may be asking, how does moving your body around on a mat and then lying down for 10 or 15 minutes do this?!
Well, it’s about the power of awareness that yoga helps you develop.
Awareness of how your body feels … and then the added layers of awareness of how you feel about those sensations and the stories your mind tells you about them. And also the ability to make a distinction between what is actually happening and what is a mind-made story.
For example, in Runner pose you may feel that your back hip doesn’t sink down very far. So your mind may start saying things like “I’m not flexible enough”, “I wish I could go further into the pose like the person next to me”, “Gosh, I’m getting old, I used to be so much more flexible than this”; “Ow, my knee hurts, I want to come out of this now but I’d better not because everyone else is still in the pose”; or your mind might just have wandered off thinking about what you’re going to have to eat when you get home.
The power of awareness comes in when the observer within you notices that you’ve gone off telling yourself these stories.
The awareness comes in when you understand that you’re not sinking down that far because your hip flexors are tight because you sit for a long time every day. When you see that because this pose feels challenging you need to practise it to help you! That yes, you’re getting older, but we all do and all our bodies change as part of this natural process but you’ll also know that pain and lack of mobility aren’t inevitable and that by practising yoga regularly you are taking positive steps to look after yourself now and for the future.
The power of intention
And using what we learn from this awareness we can move to working with intention. To setting our intention before and while we practise yoga.
So, I am aware that my mind had a tendency to wander off. So, when I step onto my yoga mat I set my intention to be present. To feel into the sensations of my joints moving, and muscles stretching or stabilising. I watch and feel into the sensations of my breath. I watch my mind.
And I set the intention that each time my mind wanders off (because I know that it will!) I will bring it back to the here and now. I set the intention not to judge myself when that happens – and to smile at myself when that judgemental voice which says “there you go again, my mind is so busy, I wish it would shut up!” arises.
And the wonderful thing is that this discipline of setting a positive intention in our yoga practice begins, spontaneously, to ripple out into our daily life.
We become aware of our habit patterns off the yoga mat and can bring this positive intention setting into our daily life.
A personal mantra
This is why I practise yoga. To learn about myself – to give myself the space and time to watch what my mind does. What my thought patterns are. And see how they start to play in everyday life. (This is what I mean by “Living Yoga”!)
For example, my yoga practice has helped me to learn that I have a tendency to disassociate from situations I’d rather not be in i.e. my mind wanders off elsewhere rather than focusing on addressing the issue in hand.
So I’ve taken this awareness and intention and made it into a personal mantra: “Be Here, Now.”
When I’m on my yoga mat I invite myself to Be Here. Now. (Instead of thinking about what to teach next week.)
When I’m at work I remind myself to Be Here. Now. (Instead of wishing I was teaching yoga instead.)
When I’m writing these blog posts I ask myself to Be Here. Now. (Instead of wandering off to answer emails or just have a quick look at Facebook.)
What do you need?
So, what positive intention would help YOU? Both on your yoga mat, and in daily life?
What patterns of behaviour are you aware of? What are the negative stories you tell yourself? How can you can change these into positive statements?
Maybe you have a tendency to doubt yourself. You might set your intention to be: “I believe in myself” or “I accept myself just as I am”.
Maybe you find it difficult to listen to other people and accept their points of view. You might set your intention to be: “I am open to new possibilities”.
Maybe you feel overwhelmed with all the demands on your time. You might set your intention to be: “I am grateful for the time that I have” or “I choose how I spend my time”.
Or maybe you might set your intention to be: I am calm or I am relaxed or I am capable or I am confident, or I am content, or I am grateful. Whatever works for you.
Try creating a simple mantra to remind yourself to be present. To be aware. To be positive. To trust and believe in yourself.
And know that the negative messages your mind might be telling you are not the only way to think.
You always have a choice. Set a positive intention each day and it will help you cope with what life brings you.