“Yoga” is used in Sanskrit to denote any form of “connection”. Whether to other beings, creatures, or inanimate objects, yoga is a practice of connecting; connecting to ourselves, to one another, to our environments, and to the universe.
Yoga is the journey to self-awareness. It is through this awareness that we begin to develop connections with the external. But first, we have to internally connect to, and understand ourselves. Through yoga, we begin a process of mindfulness and self-discovery that enables connection.
What we tend to forget is that yoga is far beyond just the physical practice (asana). It is the lifelong practice of mastering the prana, or life force. By identifying and unveiling this force, we can access our inner being—we can achieve self-awareness. We do this by walking through life in a mindful manner.
I started practicing yoga five years ago as a means of cross training for my competitive running. I left my first class feeling wholly blissed out, though at the time I didn’t know why. After developing a regular practice, however, I now realize that the feeling of bliss I experienced was a direct result of being present.
In the physical practice of yoga, the focus and goal is to focus on the breath while moving through the different poses, or asanas. By drowning out external stimuli, and focusing purely on movement and breath, we are able to arrive in the present moment. The practice of being mindful is sustaining this focus in our daily lives—constantly striving to remain in the present. By practicing yoga, both through asana and pranayama (breathing practice), we learn how to carry this focus off the mat, and by doing so, lead a more fulfilling lifestyle.
As I continued to develop my yoga practice, I began to notice differences in my perspective on, and how I experienced, day-to-day life. I became less worried about circumstances that I had no control over, and more focused on what I could control: my reactions. I began to savor the little things, and the experiences I encountered. My practice on the mat began to translate.
Now, I have a daily personal asana practice, as well as a daily meditation practice. Both continue to improve my ability to live mindfully by teaching me to appreciate and reside in the present moment.
Obviously, it’s impossible to be present all of the time. Life gets in the way. We all have about a billion things on a to-do list that is constantly reeling through our brains. The key to developing a practice of mindfulness is just remembering to take a step back every now and then to just breathe. To breathe deeply, and with focus. This is what yoga and meditation teach us: how to breathe.
When life gets overwhelming, just breathe. Step back, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Focus on the movement of the breathe in and out the tip of your nose. Notice the way it fills your belly and lungs, and the contraction of your abs on the exhalation. Feel how the breath moves through your body and powers your muscles. Do that, and you’re doing yoga, you’re practicing mindfulness. You’re connecting.
Though it may seem kind of lofty, mindfulness truly is so easy to incorporate into your life. Here are some quick and easy methods:
Set an alarm on your phone reminding you to take a deep breathe, or connect to your immediate experience.
At any given moment, tune into your senses: what are you feeling, seeing, smelling & hearing?
Identify the tasks you do on “autopilot”. Maybe it’s brushing your teeth, waiting in line, or driving to work. Try to invigorate awareness to these tasks.
Meditate, even if just for a few minutes.
Keep a journal to reflect on your experiences.
Being wholly present during an action. If you’re coloring, tune into your breath and senses, and focus solely on the action of coloring, etc.
Yoga teaches us to focus on the breath and listen to our bodies. It teaches us to tune into our senses, to feel, and to experience life moment to moment.
My yoga practice started as a solely physical one, but the more I went to class, the more my practice grew beyond the physical, it became emotional and spiritual. Yoga became my thought process. It became the lens through which I perceived life and my experiences. Through my practice, I became mindful. I learned how to connect.
With love & light,