Are you aware of how much time you spend worrying about the future or ruminating on the past? Or judging yourself or comparing yourself to other people (for better or for worse)? Or clinging to something that you want or rabidly denying something that may be true? This is the nature of our minds–ping-ponging between past and future, comparing ourselves to others, craving things that are pleasurable or denying things that are unpleasant or uncomfortable.
Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular term and, as with anything that becomes mainstream, it can become distorted so I’d like to explain a little about mindfulness and the value of connecting to your body in the present moment so that you can reap the benefits.
If you are stuck in the pinball machine of the mind you may be missing out on a lot of life’s richness. Mindfulness is about noticing when you are stuck in this machine and helping yourself become unstuck and return to present moment awareness of what is happening right now. The present moment is where life is happening at all times. This is where the gold is.
What is the gold? The gold is in your daily life experiences. The warming and aromatic ritual of your morning coffee. Waking up in a home that is safe and warm. Being able to move around independently. Having a loved one nearby who cares about you. Being able to go outside and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and see verdant green trees and buttery spring daffodils emerging from winter. Having plenty of oxygen to take long nourishing breaths.
The gold is also being available to all of life, even the hard parts. Being able to cry when you feel sad or are experiencing grief is healthy. Allowing yourself to feel anger or to be emotionally messy is valuable. Accepting your vulnerability with tenderness and care is essential.
Feeling pain or discomfort is an inevitable part of being human. But there can be a fear that, if you allow yourself to feel pain, you won’t be able to escape it. The truth is, if you can allow yourself to feel pain and let it move through you, you will get past it. When you fight to suppress pain, you prolong it.
In order to be able to take in pleasurable experiences or to recognize and absorb daily pleasures, it is helpful to disarm your defenses. Mindfulness practices help you recognize your hypervigilance or attune to thought patterns that create habitual tension in the body. Too much body tension doesn’t allow you to feel things that are soft, subtle, joyful, sensual, pleasurable.
Even if you are experiencing something negative, there is likely something positive that is co-existing with the discomfort. Our brains are trained to focus intently on the negative so that we can avoid threats to our survival, but most negative experiences aren’t so dramatic. Our brains may perceive them as terrible and dramatic; more often than not, they are not life-threatening.
Try this. Take a moment to notice what is going through your mind. Is it a worry? A regret? A resentment? Is it something that you’ve been chewing on for a while? Try changing the channel, just like you would on your TV. What else do you notice in your immediate experience? Actively consider what’s positive in this moment in your environment. It could be as simple as noticing your beloved and loyal pet nearby. Or the sound of children laughing. Or the fact that you are feeling relatively good or healthy right now.
Don’t stop there. After choosing something positive to focus on, enrich it in your mind. Turn up the volume on the experience by using your senses to enhance the sound, texture, smell, taste or visual. Take five or 10 extra seconds to savor the experience.
Finally, take the pleasant experience in and absorb it so that your body integrates the experience, like adding to your inner savings account. Do this as frequently as you can. You don’t need to cling to positive experiences, but the act of noticing, being present and taking in the good will turn into a positive habit that will help you find and integrate the gold in your everyday experiences.
I hope this practice enriches your day-to-day experience!
Trauma-sensitive Yoga Therapist