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November 23, 2017

The Toughest Thing about “Mindfulness” & how to Tackle It.

At the fitness center where I teach yoga, there is a class called “Mindful Yoga.”

When I noticed it had been added to the lineup, my immediate reaction was confusion. Isn’t all yoga mindful? If this is the mindful version, are the classes that I’m teaching considered to be of the “un-mindful” variety?

What exactly does “mindful” mean anyway?

It’s a word that gets tossed around quite a bit: mindfulness meditation, mindful yoga, mindful eating, mindful parenting—you get the idea. We’re all familiar with the word, but I’m not sure many of us really understand what it is.

So, of course, I googled it and found a variety of definitions. Generally speaking, there is an agreement that mindfulness involves being in the moment—noticing, absorbing, soaking up whatever is happening right here, right now, without wanting to be anywhere else. At the most basic level, it is being aware, without judgement.

I had you until no judgement, didn’t I? That’s where it gets interesting. It’s the no judgement part of the equation that is most challenging for me too.

I’m barely holding on in side plank, a challenging yoga pose, and I’m supposed to be in the moment and content?

I am in revolved triangle, another challenging yoga pose, and about to fall over and I’m not supposed to want to be done with this?

Well, in so many words, yes. Being in the moment and observing—almost like a third party witness—how life is playing out, without labeling it good or bad, is the key to mindfulness. It’s the acceptance of what is actually unfolding that allows us to enjoy the moment, at least to a degree.

Now comes the tough part.

Have you ever actually tried going through an entire yoga class, mindfully, with no judgement? It’s not easy, and I’m guilty as charged. My usual stream of thoughts during class usually sound something like this;

All the other yogis in the class look like Yoga Journal cover models, and I feel like a cow.

Everybody has such cute yoga outfits—I should shop somewhere besides Target.

Going upside down scares me. I’m a coward.

I’m hungry—what am I going to have for lunch? I shouldn’t be thinking about lunch…bad yogi.

If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve all been there. But working toward minimizing our judgement and simply allowing the moment to unfold is where the magic is. It’s living, rather than just doing.

How do we get to the point where we can merely witness what is unfolding instead of judging and evaluating it? How do we get to the point where we are practicing mindfully instead of mindlessly?

To successfully develop a mindfulness practice, it’s important to remember a few key points: it’s a process, it takes time and practice, and most important of all, it takes loving patience. Trudy Goodman, a senior Vipassana meditation instructor and founder of Insight LA, compares training the mind to be mindful to training a puppy.

To be effective, we don’t yell at or punish the puppy when he doesn’t do what we want him to. Instead, we encourage and praise the puppy for good behavior.

You went pee outside? Good dog!
You didn’t jump on grandma? Good boy!
You only ate one of my shoes? Way to go!

The puppy learns to crave that loving praise, which means he’ll continue to behave in ways that ensure he gets it. Patience and consistency win.

When we start training our mind, the same rules apply. Berating and shaming ourselves when we “wander off” doesn’t work well. Like the sweet little puppy, if we are constantly being berated for losing our focus, it makes it that much more difficult to come back for another try.

To develop a more mindful yoga practice, and in turn a more mindful life, remember that it is a process. It takes patience. It takes time. We will—because we are human—wander off occasionally and that’s okay.

In the spirit of loving awareness, all we need to do is cut ourselves some slack and try again.

Sit, stay, be.

Good dog.

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Author: Libby Scanlan
Image: Stephanie Sicore/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis

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Libby Scanlan