Then Again, Given My Tendency To Shoot Off Into the Future, Maybe It Is.
For most of the first half of my kids’ yoga class last week, I was bombarded with questions. “Are we going to play Freeze Dance?” “Are we going to do the one on our bellies?” “Did you bring stickers?” “What about the giraffe pose? Aren’t we going to do giraffe??” There were so many questions flying around that I don’t know how the kids were even doing the postures we were in. I kept saying, “Let’s do this posture now. We’ll do a lot today in class, but for now, let’s be in this one.”
As I was thinking back on that class, I’ll admit to being a little cocky. “Ah. They’re so young and excited. They have a hard time focusing all that energy. Good thing I’ve got age on my side!” The next day, however, I practiced on my own. Confession time: Age may help — a little. Perhaps the fact that I just don’t have as much energy as children do helps a little more. But, honestly, age and a generally higher level of exhaustion don’t do much to keep my mind from racing ahead to the next posture. I have to do that with conscious effort and persistent attention. It’s hard work!
When we’re thinking about what’s next, we’re not paying full attention to what’s now. We can’t truly focus on both the present and the future. Life happens now – in the present. The past is done. The future is yet to come. The only thing we can do with regard to the past and the future is to think about them. But thinking is not living. Thinking is not being. If we’re not paying attention to where we are and what we’re doing right now, we’re actually missing out on life!
Over and over again while we’re on our mats, we are offered opportunities to practice focusing our minds and bodies on the present. When we catch ourselves thinking, “OK. We’re in the balancing sequence. That means we’re halfway through the standing series. Next up are the Warriors …,” we’re not in the present. When we’re worrying, “Ugh. Upavista Konasana (the seated straddle) is next. I hate that posture,” we’re not getting everything we could out of our current pose. When we’re excitedly thinking, “I can’t wait for Urdhva Dhanurasana! I love backbends!” what we need to do is bring our attention (and all that enthusiasm) back to what we’re actually doing right now.
Whether we’re balancing on one leg or stretching in a seated straddle, whether we’re comfortable or uncomfortable, whatever we’re doing deserves all of us. We’re learning in our yoga practice how right and good it is to focus mind, body and spirit on what we’re doing at the time. The next trick is to take this skill off our mats. Whether we’re writing a thank you note, sweeping the driveway or playing a game, we will reap at least two immediate benefits from such focus. First, we will do a better job at whatever it is we’re doing. Second, we will enjoy ourselves more if we devote our whole selves to that activity. It really is true. Pay attention today and see for yourselves.
I’m pleased to say that, during the second half of that kids’ class, the rate of questions slowed and everyone settled into the flow of postures. We even got to play Freeze Dance and hear a story during rest. Maybe these kids will grow up better able to stay in the present because they found yoga at such tender ages. Wouldn’t that be great? But, even if they grow up to be just like me — susceptible to being carried away by thoughts and daydreams — I bet a part of them deep down inside will remember how great it feels to be truly focused.
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