Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mindfulness--Finding a Little Space in a Hectic Life

When does a full and busy life become overcrowded and hectic? When do the distractions, demands, and "to-do" lists become more important than our own peace of mind? When was the last time that "being" was more important than "doing?" In our up-to-the-minute, latest update society, there isn't much time to breathe. Text messages and e-mails demand quick, almost instantaneous responses. Schedules are compressed even tighter, as many of us shuttle from school, to practice, to the gym, to the market, to get household chores down, the tires rotated, and make all our appointments on time. Let's face it--twenty-first century life is crazy-busy.

Multi-tasking would appear to be the answer. After all, if we can accomplish more than one thing at once, we could make our way that much faster through the "to-do" list for the day. BUT . . . multi-tasking is ineffective at best. Looking that this Border Collie's attempts to accomplish it all, multi-tasking seems almost laughable.

Last year, researchers at Stanford University published a study which firmly established that multi-tasking reduces cognitive capacity. Even if you multi-task during routine chores, you run the risk of overlooking creative insights for improvement. If you multi-task while interacting with other, instead of being admired as super-productice, you may be perceived as uninterested during the conversation. (Have you ever tried to talk to someone else while she checks her e-mail and text messages? If so, did you feel a twinge of regret that you were of less importance that whatever might be so critical on the screen?) And if you multi-task during complex tasks (for example, texting while driving), you are risking not only your life, but also the lives of others in the vehicle and on the road around your vehicle. Seriously, is multi-tasking so vital that it takes precedence over your relationships and lives?

And multi-tasking isn't that effective anyway. While the frenetic pace of doing several things at once seems to be a way to eliminate many chores at once, the Stanford study demonstrated that doing one task at a time, then moving to another, then the next actually was a more effective use of time. The many tasks were completed sooner and with fewer errors.

None of us would multi-task to the extent that we'd damage others in either an emotional or a physical way. Nevertheless, we fall into our multi-tasking habits so easily. Our society rewards those of us who are effective, who accomplish the most, who over-achieve, who never refuse a request, no matter how unreasonable.

Our yoga practice can be a place to step of the multi-tasking merry-go-round. The mindfulness that is yoga is a remedy to the common causes of daily stress, time pressures, distractions, agitation, and even personal conflicts. Our practice isn't about accomplishment, nor is it about perfection or technique. Yoga isn't about turning your body into a pretzel. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, "mindful yoga is a lifetime engagement--not to get somewhere else, but to be where and as we actually are in this very moment, with this very breath, whether the experience is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral."

What do yogis mean when they mention mindfulness? It is a nonjudgmental, present-centered, uncomplicated awareness of thought, sensation, and feeling. There are two inter-related concepts to the principle of mindfulness. First, one's attention strives to focus on immediate experience, staying in the present moment. Secondly, one attempts to maintain an attitude of openness, curiosity, and acceptance.

Staying mindful during your practice isn't easy. At the beginning of class, while we set our personal intentions and practice our breathing exercises, mindfulness isn't as difficult as when we are working on standing poses or balancing. But if your mindfulness slips a bit, there's no shame, just return back to the present. Be gentle with yourself--you are fighting an uphill battle against years of conditioning that pushes you to "be your best, work harder, work faster, do more." At the end of class, Savasana is the best opportunity for you to become truly mindful, to enjoy your breath, to relax in the moment, and to accept your body's efforts with gratitude.

Enjoying the sensation of breathing is the very essence of being. Connecting your breath and reveling in being alive and aware--that is mindfulness.

Until next week, namaste


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