All of us would like to experience lasting peace and happiness. This desire is fundamental to all human beings. However, sometimes our expectations of what should and should not happen in life are unrealised, and we get the exact opposite!
In the pursuit of a calmer mind, it is useful to understand that our minds operate in three distinct yet interactive states. In yogic terms, these are sattva, rajas, and tamas but for the sake of simplicity, let’s call them calm, restless and clouded. When we operate from a calm mind, we act with clear intention rather than out of impulse or desire. Our sleep is sound; we wake to feel revitalised and refreshed. Our happiness or unhappiness is not dependent on the results of our actions, or those of others. No matter what life is throwing at us, we can maintain equanimity. We all experience this state at times. However, our minds and emotions are in a constant state of flux and more often than not, the calm state is overpowered by the restless and clouded states.
In the fast-paced, digitally focused life we lead nowadays, constant stimulation results in minds that are either hyperactive or dulled by exhaustion. Neither of which is conducive to making healthy choices or right decisions. Yogic mindfulness is essential in helping us to bring about positive change in our minds. It will reduce unwanted negative emotions and turn the nature of our minds towards peace and contentment.
The methodology of yogic mindfulness is ancient, yet quite possibly more valid today than ever before. Mindfulness practices have become widely known in recent years and often thought of as independent to yoga. However, mindfulness is and always has been the very essence of yoga.
Many mindfulness practices teach meditation techniques, which, no doubt have their place, but for many it is tough to work directly with the mind. For someone whose mind tends to an agitated or over-stimulated state (i.e. most of us!), to sit and watch our thoughts can increase the level of mental flux.
Yogic mindfulness is a mind / body practice. It employs the use of body, breath, mind and senses to quieten the mind and bring it to a place of calm inner awareness. On the mat, we cultivate attention and awareness with the intention of bringing about a pleasant state of mind (sattva). Comfortable, easeful movements are synchronised with calm, smooth breathing. This grounds our attention in the present moment and allows us to explore our own experience in that moment. We will then recognise any movement away from ease, in body or mind, and make the necessary adjustments to enable a return to a calm, pleasant state of mind.
This is not something we can experience by moving quickly throughout our asana practice or by fighting with our body to achieve complex postures. Fast and/or complicated movements create unsteadiness in the breath and encourage a restless state of mind. Yogic mindfulness is consciously turning inward in our practice, being in this moment with this breath and letting go of striving. The more we allow ourselves to experience this calm and ease ‘on our mats’, the more the same feelings will permeate our day-to-day lives.
Yogic mindfulness practices also involve minding our speech and minding our food. Both of these have an effect on our minds. Cultivating awareness, without harsh self-criticism, around how we speak, how we eat and how our actions impact our environment creates a space where spontaneous positive change is possible.
Yogic mindfulness is the means for us to cultivate a pleasant state of mind (sattva). We are able to let go of stress, anxiety, depression etc, and live healthier, more peaceful lives.
The methodology of yogic mindfulness is available to anyone. Yoga is non-dogmatic, therefore, applicable to those of any or no belief system. All of the practices from the physical postures, breathing techniques to meditative practices can, and should be adapted to suit the needs and abilities of each person. So, regardless of age, beliefs, lifestyle or physical ability, anyone can enjoy the benefits gained by practicing yogic mindfulness.