While waiting in the grocery checkout line recently, furtively scanning the magazine racks, my eyes stopped at a Time Special Edition magazine. Printed boldly across the cover were the words, “MINDFULNESS”– The New Science of Health and Happiness.” I broke with precedent and bought it. The cover story consumes the entire 96 pages. Its contents inspired this essay.
We have probably heard the word “mindful” or its derivatives many times in a yoga class. Being mindful means paying attention in a particular way, being present, immersed in the moment, aware, purposeful, concentrated, single minded, detached, dispassionate or absorbed.
Put another way, mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When we are mindful, we observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting life pass us by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. It is “coming to terms with things as they are,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is generally regarded as having initiated the popularity of mindfulness practice in the West.
Mindfulness and mindfulness training have made the migration off the meditation bench and yoga mat into the mainstream of society. Why has it become so popular that it appears on the cover of a magazine in the grocery store? Perhaps it’s a reaction to our scattered, distracted life. Mindfulness is about putting multitasking aside and embracing the joy of single tasking. In mindfulness, we can realize how separating from our electronic devices is good for us. We can reduce stress and anxiety and increase the likelihood of serenity and better sleep.
Mindfulness might seem like just the latest of many modern treatments that behavioral therapists use for stress, but it has roots in early Buddhism. Mindfulness is one of the elements of the Buddhists’ Eightfold Path, which leads to liberation from greed, hatred and delusion, that is, the causes of stress in the first place.
However, one need not subscribe to a certain religion or philosophy to experience mindfulness. We now find mindfulness techniques being taught and practiced in school classrooms, corporate workplaces, the military, universities, law enforcement, hospitals and sports.
Reading this article is a start. However, reading about mindfulness is not mindfulness. Practice is vital to its success. We can cultivate a mindful presence with a diligent, firmly grounded practice performed in earnest over a long, uninterrupted period. Then, how do we practice?
Start with ten minutes a day, sitting quietly, and simply observing the breath. Do not try to control the breath or the thoughts or anything else. Simply relax and observe the natural breath. As soon as you notice the mind wandering – and it will – gently bring it back to the breath without judgment or reaction. Do not expect anything. Just sit and be.
Over time, you may want to increase the length of this quiet sitting time. Eventually, you may find that the calmness and awareness that has permeated your whole attitude lasts long after you’ve finished sitting. It won’t be just for yourself, but also for those around you who find you a little calmer, happier, and less distracted.
Perhaps your mindfulness practice is already established. If not, let this month of April be the beginning of a lifelong journey into the present.
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NOTE FOR YOGA ASANA PRACTITIONERS:
To deepen your asana practice, try these two poses … mindfully.
- Warrior II pose (virabhadrasana II) – As you move into the pose, keep refining it from the ground up until it is perfect for you. Notice all the sensations. Gaze into the abyss beyond the front fingertips, with steadiness and ease. Hold as long as you comfortably can.
- Eagle pose (garudasana) – As with warrior II, refine, breathe, notice, gaze and hold. Automatically think of nothing but this pose and all of its sensations. It requires balance, strength, flexibility and focus.
With everything that is going on in these poses, nothing else exists. You must be present, especially if the pose if new for you. But then, doesn’t this apply to any new pose or, for that matter, anything new that you encounter in life? Aren’t you absorbed in it for at least a little while? See if you can lengthen that focused period with not only new things but with your routine thoughts, words and actions.