I’ve always had a hard time being present. With one foot in tomorrow and the other still in yesterday, it has always been hard for me to enjoy the here and now. To appreciate today for what it is. To soak up every ounce of this. very. moment.
I’ve had a tendency of holding on, way too tightly, to elements of my past that are no longer mine to hold. Memories that no longer serve me. People who have long since let me go.
The future is always there, too. What if I fail? What if I’m forgotten? What if I’m not enough, don’t succeed, let people down? What if I’m not happy, not successful, not loved? A constant back and forth between what has finished, and what has not yet come, each robbing me of the JOY of today.
I will be honest in saying that I was initially drawn to yoga 100% for the physical benefits. I loved the balance of strength and flexibility that I found in the practice – I found it almost addicting. The meditation and mindfulness were merely afterthoughts. At times, they were even dreaded, as I found myself too distracted to be able to connect in such a way. Yet as my stepmother told me, “the parts of the practice that you are so tempted to run away from are more than likely what you need the most.”
To this day, seated meditation continues to intimidate me. I was that girl in trainings who had her eyes open, looking around the room at all the others who seemed so at peace with whatever was going on internally. Sometimes I just can’t connect. I continue to practice because I am certain of its benefits, but in the meantime, I also seek moving meditation, more able to connect to the inner workings of my mind through the movement, rather than the stillness of my body. The pounding of my heart and the shortness of my breath allows me to dive deeper than stillness currently does.
Psychologists studying happiness have found that the average person spends nearly half their days (46.7%) thinking about something other than what they’re actually doing, and that this consistent daydreaming makes them less happy (Sample, 2010). Matthew Killingsworth, lead author of a Harvard study on happiness states, “Human beings have this unique ability to focus on things that aren’t happening right now. That allows them to reflect on the past and learn from it; it allows them to anticipate and plan for the future… At the same time, it seems that human beings often use this ability in a way that is not productive and furthermore can be destructive to our happiness” (Sample, 2010).
But the mind can’t take all the blame. It is so very challenging in our world today not to be seduced by busy schedules, the speed of technology, and the constant pressure to succeed. It is nearly impossible to find the time to stop, be present, and simply breathe.
According to zen teacher and psychotherapist, Stephan Bodian, the most powerful inner forces that threaten to sabotage our ability to find peace and balance in our world today are the following: our self-worth is linked to our accomplishments; we’re driven by a relentless inner critic; we’re afraid of losing control; we make a strong demarcation between sacred and secular time; we lack the commitment or motivation to stay present; we don’t recognize being in the midst of doing; we are addicted to speed, achievement, the adrenaline rush of stress and to our own minds.
The soul of the asana practice in yoga is in finding the connection between the body, the mind, and the spirit. By focusing on the breath and the sensations occurring in our bodies, we are provided the opportunity to practice being fully present. We are given the chance, even if for only an hour a day, to live in the moment. We are allowed to enjoy the stillness. We are allowed to simple BE. Therein lies the JOY.
It is undoubtedly a practice. Yee (2010) states, “Asana practice is the continual refinement of staying present with the mind so time stops. When you’re just being, you lose the aspect of time…” Without judgment, we notice the world outside slowly creeping in, then we refocus on the movement, and the breath, allowing the world outside to fade out again. In therapy, we tell kids to notice the thoughts, ideas, images that come to their minds as if they’re clouds floating in the sky. We notice them, acknowledge them without attachment, and let them go, returning to the breath and the body. No longer is there a past, nor a future, but rather a simple state of being, an inner freedom; BLISS.
Psychological research states that, like the ability to learn a language or to love another human being, we are all also born with the innate ability to feel joy. Despite whatever else we may be experiencing – intense physical or psychological pain – we can find joy in our inner being, independent of the outside world. And this joy can come from being present, letting go of today and tomorrow, and soaking in every bit of what truly IS.
I invite you to try it with me through the following meditation from YogaJournal:
“With your eyes open or closed, welcome the environment and sounds around you: the touch of air on your skin, sensations where your body touches the surface that’s supporting it, your body breathing, and sensations present throughout your body.
Now, locate a feeling of joy in your body. This could be a feeling of connection, well-being, peace, happiness, or any sensation that feels like joy to you. If it’s helpful, bring to mind a memory of a person, animal, place, or object that evokes joy. Notice where and how you experience that joy in your body—perhaps it’s a warm feeling in your heart or a glow in your belly. Welcome and allow the feeling of joy to grow and spread throughout your body.
Now, pair your joy with an opposite, stressful sensation, emotion, or cognition, or with a particular stressor in your life. Feel how this stressful thought, emotion, or situation affects your body and mind. Now, alternate between experiencing the feeling of joy and the stressor. Go back and forth, first feeling joy in your body, then the stressor. Then, feel both at the same time, letting joy spread throughout your body even as you feel the stressor. When it feels right, relinquish the stressor and just feel joy radiating throughout your body. Rest here for as long as you feel comfortable.
When you’re ready, let your eyes open and close several times as you encourage the feeling of joy to accompany you into your daily life,” (Miller, 2016).
And if this was nice for you, I invite you to try moving meditation through yoga. Just try it and see what JOY it might bring. It has truly saved me.
Bodian, S. (2007). Being vs. Doing. Yoga Journal. Retrieved November 2, 2017, from https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/vs
Miller, R. (2016). A Meditation Practice to Let in Joy + Happiness. Yoga Journal. Retrieved November 2, 2017, from https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/meditation-practice-let-in-joy-happiness
Sample, I. (2010). Living in the moment really does make people happier. The Guardian. Retrieved November 2, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/nov/11/living-moment-happier.