No Mindfulness, No Yoga

Many times since we first started practicing yoga, we have heard the now popular adage that we have to take yoga off the mat and into daily life. Many times have we heard about connecting and re-connecting to ourselves, laying out intentions, being present, practicing ahimsa no matter what situation we are facing, etc.

But despite our determination, the gap remains, the void remains. All the wonderful feelings, all the honest intentions, all the presence, all the peacefulness and calmness that abound during our practice, magically volatilize the moment we encounter our first or second or third challenge in the concrete jungle. How it does still happen after years of practice, after so many workshops and books and lectures may become puzzling and frustrating. What are we missing? Where are we failing?

Moreover, we may even get the opposite effect and notice that, not only our lives are not improving as we wished, but our yoga practice is deteriorating as we begin to judge ourselves, compare with other practitioners, criticize teachers, put down other practices, or gossip about other students. Clearly we lose the connection to yoga, the happiness of yoga, and when I say yoga I mean any attempt to human development be it a religious or spiritual movement.

The foundations of human development, the foundations of life itself, are found in the pure and simple observation of the process of living. It is not until we begin to experience life in full awareness that we can tap into the infinite possibilities of our multidimensional being and into the ultimate meaning of life. This is called Mindfulness.

But the question remains: How do we do it? How do we incorporate this mindful approach to daily life? First of all, we need to understand that mindfulness is not a set of techniques; that is just a very tiny, albeit helpful, part of it that can be used to improve attention and reduce stress. Mindfulness is a thorough journey through the different aspects of life and the Self. It is mostly a process of understanding, accepting, and witnessing creation and how it evolves without getting carried away in the process. Mindfulness can be manifested through the gradual development of a mindful body (diet, lifestyle, wholesome routines, etc), a mindful mind (ethical living, life purpose, meditation), mindful energy (understanding, tapping into, saving and protecting energy), mindful healing (disease prevention, listening to your body, managing pain), and mindful communication (from self-empathy to honest expression).

Once we start understanding all these aspects of ourselves, we naturally begin to incorporate them in our daily life. It is not a quick process as we are breaking up with years of mental programs and behavioral patterns but it is a very satisfying one, from the very beginning.

Basically, mindfulness is the foundation, the cornerstone, the essence of any and all spiritual practices. There is simply no way we can understand life, the universe, the Divine until we know ourselves. And there is no way we can understand ourselves until we begin observing and fully experiencing what we are.

Mindfulness: The Foundation of Life

Mindfulness broke into our lives in the early 80s as a cognitive therapy program that Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed based on traditional Buddhist beliefs. Its results on his patients were promptly recognized and the movement began to expand into other groups and contexts including schools, hospitals, prisons, social institutions, private companies, etc.

Since then, the technique is mostly seen and used as a way to improve attention and reduce stress, therefore contributing to healing different conditions, mostly related to the mind. One of the many definitions of mindfulness describes it as “The systematic training and refinement of attention and awareness”. However, mindfulness is much more than that, as its origins clearly point to the core of most spiritual traditions: the high concepts of ethical behavior, discrimination, acceptance of events, and comprehension of the meaning of life.

In lay terms, mindfulness is the essence of living; moreover it is life itself as any moment not spent in mindfulness is a waste trip to La La Land. And, at this point, let me remind us all that we spent probably 99% of our time traveling to either the future or the past as passengers of a mind which, by default, moves endlessly with no defined purpose. The mind is a vehicle (an amazing vehicle) that we can use to meet our needs and fulfill our purpose in life. But it needs to be controlled with tremendous awareness so it doesn’t bolt and take us for a wild ride. And it needs to be parked and allowed to rest when not being needed, which is much more often than we think. It is at these times that we can step out of the vehicle and clearly observe, notice, understand what we are and what life is. It is at these times that we can have a genuine, conscious experience of what is really happening through a non-judgmental perception of our body, feelings, emotions, thoughts, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness is a simple practice but difficult to master. It takes time to go from being 99% of our time inside the mind vehicle to be able to step out of it and simply be. But it can be done with a little perseverance, determination, and the understanding that this is our natural state and the only path to learning who we are. Living in mindfulness helps us to save energy, clear our intellect, improve attention and memory, accept natural changes, strengthen our immune system, fasten the healing process, reduce stress, and develop compassion.

Mindfulness is the cornerstone of proper living, youthfulness, and happiness. And, as such, it is also the foundation of any higher spiritual practice.