I’m mindful. Mindful in running down my to-do list, my wish list, my dream list, my ‘it seems impossible’ list. Mindful of the demands of life, work, relationships, communication, travel, meetings, traffic, and a constant conversation of positives and negatives having an NPR style narrative in my head.
Sure, I’m mindful. I’m a yoga instructor. It comes naturally, right? But the reality is, so much of the “mindfulness” in our mainstream is a cheap imitation of real connection, a desire to fast track our minds to a calm, focused space where we can be happy — but without much work, of course.
Being mindful is about being an impartial observer. It’s the ability to stay present in your moment without allowing the mind to get side-tracked. We all know that can be hard to do. Mindfulness is meant to be a state of awareness without judgement. Also, hard especially when we want easy happiness in the midst of a complex world.
Mindfulness isn’t exactly a new concept. It’s been a part of ancient meditations and yogic practice for centuries. Yoga started 5,000 years ago with the Vedic priests of India and yoga meditation has traces in 1500 BCE. Their original purpose was to train the body and mind to be self-aware. Not so different from what we want today.
Incorporating yoga and mindfulness into my lifestyle has not only allowed me to make it financially beneficial but it has shaped my body and mind in new and important ways. It is a full-time lifestyle, but it can be done with a few simple things. Here are nine reasons to help you increase your yoga meditation and allow everyday miracles to happen while connecting with real people and yourself:
1. On the Go Meditation Tools Are Everywhere
Downloading one (or a few) meditation apps is a good alternative to doing nothing at all. There is some controversy on the approach of meditation apps that are based in financial gain but have little to no incentive to get people to an independent place of stillness.
Many feel it takes away from the original purpose of learning with a trained coach. But for those on the go, they offer easy access to guided inspirational words to boost their day.
Mediation shouldn’t be a business about consumption, it should be about improving personal wisdom, real meditative yoga skills and mindfulness. If you’re a traveler these come in handy. Try Pocket Yoga and Universal Breathing apps.
2. It Allows Your Body to Physically Relax (Tons of Benefits)
Ever found yourself clenching your muscles, shoulders drawn up to your ears, without even being aware? This combination of muscle rigidity and stress can create a variety of connected issues including, sharp or persistent pain, body misalignment, and headaches, to start.
Yoga, meditation and mindfulness allow a space to align your body correctly, lengthening and toning muscles that support long term health. Combined with breath, the body can release stress and finally relax.
Try Hatha or Vedic Meditation for deep meditative yoga options, and simple poses like Supta Tadasana to open hips, or Up Dog to open the chest and release the back. Five to ten minutes of simple stretching or holding an active resting position with deep breathing allows the muscles of the body to release. So, release those lines in your forehead and take a moment to try it now.
3. “Active” Silence Is Important
It’s a loud world out there, one that seems to distract from our true selves. One of the most powerful things we can do to be mindful is to take control of our thoughts. Our inner dialogue creates the reactions that drive our life, and they can dig in and take hold.
Taking a moment (5-10 minutes) to sit in stillness and breathe deep, activates the awareness to slow down. It oxygenates our muscles and tissues, improving real oxygen intake unlike our accustomed shallow breathing habits.
A moment of silence is best recommended in the morning. Before opening email, apps or swiping through dating profiles.
As a reminder, I enjoy spiritual leader and activist, Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote on active silence:
“This is not the kind of silence that oppresses us. It is a very elegant kind of silence, a very powerful king of silence. It is the silence that heals and nourishes us.”
I choose to find active silence in the outdoors hiking a mountain, or resting on my back in the ocean taking in the amplified sounds underwater. Nature is powerful.
4. Mental Breaks Not Mental Breakdowns Help Productivity
The brain naturally gives itself “time outs” by day dreaming. When you find yourself zoning out, your brain is taking time to reconfigure its complex maze of neurons. This usually happens when not involved in a detailed task, and the brain is tapping into its muscle memory. Basically, you’re on autopilot, and that’s a healthy part of our physiology.
If we’re not taking time for self-awareness and self-actualization, we’re putting ourselves at a higher risk of mental and emotional stress. Leading to increased anxiety and pressure that affects our ability to concentrate.
If there are underlying genetic factors or negative experiences that spike emotional stress, this increases exposure to breakdowns. On the other hand, a scheduled time out allows our brains to take a break and be more productive.
If you’re new to yoga meditations, here are a few inspirations to start your own personal mantra:
What is my deepest desire? What are the emotions I’m feeling? What is my reactivity based in? What can I let go?
I invite you to take a moment to breathe deep, hold for five seconds, and breathe out, emptying the chest and belly. Namaste.
5. Brain Health
When we add time for yoga meditation and mindfulness, we tap into the brain’s state of “waking rest” or our default mode network. If done actively, we can take control of our thoughts and instead of our mind running us, we can run our mind.
The result? The ability to stay centered in many circumstances, circumventing ruminating thoughts, and added stressors.
Stress damages our body and brain. Here are just a few ways it does: anxiety and depression, emotional reactivity, eating disturbances, sleeplessness, weight loss, heart disease, chronic pain, affecting memory, over active cortisol levels in the brain, lower decision making and a shrinking pre-frontal cortex.
Luckily, according to Psychology Today, we can repair many damaged neurons and brain connectivity by reducing stress and cortisol production.((Psychology Today: Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity)) Yoga meditation is a simple, free, effective tool to do on your own time, almost anywhere.
Yoga meditation is about observing our own thoughts and sensations in the body with real openness. I’ve had many yoga students share their stories of improved health and focus by adding this into their lifestyle, so I know the physical postures, breathing and mindfulness improve brain health.
We are more than our emotions, and there is a scientific chemistry behind our functions, let’s give ourselves the tools to be as healthy as possible.
6. It Allows Depth over Superficiality
We are all meant to create and enjoy deep relationships, leaving behind difficulties in our lives, childhood wounds and emotionally charged experiences. We do this inner work to allow authentic connections to happen and for a healthy mindset.
I believe most people want to go deeper, they just may not know how. Yoga meditation and mindfulness can help get you there. You don’t need to accept and stay around superficial relationships that don’t serve you, or worse, hurt you.
Start by evaluating your relationships. Which ones can you cultivate to be deep? Which ones lead you into superficiality? Which ones leave you feeling negative, depleted or insecure?
Evaluate your activities. Which ones cultivate deeper thinking, deeper relationships? Which ones benefit long term health and mental clarity? These may sound unoriginal, but ask yourself, when’s they last time you sat and really gave yourself an answer.
Here’s some meditation insight from Dr. Joe Dispenza,((Joe Dispenza: Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One))
“Meditation opens the door between the conscious and subconscious minds. We meditate to enter the operating system of the subconscious, where all of those unwanted habits and behaviors reside, and change them to more productions modes to support us in our lives.”
Those supported lives lead to deeper everyday relationships.
7. Connecting IRL with Others Looking for the Same
Most of the time it seems like the online world, mindfulness apps and practicing with others have been mutually exclusive. But they don’t have to be. Finding your yoga tribe at a local studio or wellness retreat can happen for you. There are so many options to choose from, and the increased desire to find more introspection is creating more outlets to explore.
According to neuroscience research, a subject I love, mindfulness increases the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex,((Scientific American: What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?)) ultimately helping us be less reactive and more resilient to stress. Real social interaction should be the heart of a meditation experience, not an add on, and there are plenty of welcoming tribes.
8. Eventually It Becomes a Habit
Productivity isn’t usually what you think of with mindfulness, but the more clarity you have the more productive you are. That starts with creating good habits and minimizing the ones we love to love; chocolate, snooze buttons, procrastination….and practicing regular meditation then becomes part of our lifestyle.
The habit of regular mediation is being explored by schools, pro sports teams and military units to enhance performance, according the Scientific American.((Scientific American: Can Meditation Make Us Nicer?)) In addition, there are positive results with chronic pain, addiction and tinnitus. And because our emotional minds are so connected to our physical responses, there is evidence it helps with certain physical conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome,((Behav Res Ther.: A one year follow-up of relaxation response meditation as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.)) cancer,((Cancer Research UK: Why people with cancer meditate)) and HIV.((University of California, Los Angeles: Mindfulness Meditation Slows Progression Of HIV, Study Suggests))
Give yourself time to proactive adding meditation and mindfulness to your life daily. It can be as simple as 90 seconds of deep breathing in the car before work. Breathe, be aware, repeat. Soon those synapses will have new mindful pathways.
9. Sharing Your New-Found Stillness with Others
Like our life, the best advice I can give to share your mindfulness journey is to find the unique version that works for you and be supportive of others on their own journey.
The meditative technique that is the “stillness of the mind” is meant to pull us out of our self absorbed state and be more open. It’s basically in search on “mental fitness”.
Just like we would lift weights for physical fitness, accepting that mental health is important is part of the process. Allowing yourself to take a moment of stillness.
Yoga meditation is not a cure for everything or everyone, and it can unlock subconscious thoughts you’d rather leave alone. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, sometimes it’s hard to face inner truths and feelings or get beyond the monkey mind.
In the end, whether you decide to do this as a personal quest or share it with a partner or group, take the time to prepare your mind for yoga meditation and do the version that works for you. Make it yours. It takes some work, more than we may be used to, but it’s worth it.
This content was originally published here.