What is yoga?
Being aware, being in the present moment, being conscious… just being. This is mindfulness and a very important part of a regular yoga practice. But being mindful is easier said than done of course and requires a lot of conscious effort – especially at the beginning of a new practice.
The easiest way to become more self-aware is to practice, practice, practice. Mindfulness seeps into your daily life, it becomes part of you, it becomes second nature. It’s a happy side effect of practicing. The way you do things and the way you think starts to change, to evolve. It naturally arises in your day-to-day life, and it’s only with daily practice that you’ll start to see the difference.
Other simple ways you can start to make a conscious effort to be mindful include using your breath, just as you would in class. By being present and focusing on your breath, you are bringing fresh energy into the body and truly living that moment. If you are stressed, angry or feeling emotional, take a minute to observe your breath – likely shallow, like a dog! Using a mantra can also be a helpful way to stay present – a very simple, easy one to adopt is ‘so-hum’: a calming replication of the sound and rhythm of an inhalation and exhalation.
Respecting your body is another way to implement awareness. Eat well – locally sourced food, fresh and organic where possible – to fuel the body and see the body respond in a positive way while your skin will glow. When you eat badly, the body tells you it’s tired, sluggish, showing dull skin. Sleep well – experts say eight hours a night is what the body needs, but the more you practice, the less you will find you need to sleep, as you are bringing natural energy to the body. Keep hydrated of course, with simple H2O being all you need. And as above, practice, practice, practice!
Respect your environment. Use natural products, recycle your waste, conserve and be aware of your water usage. Walk short distances instead of driving. We have to think of the consequences of our actions for future generations – taking responsibility for our own personal output and actions, no matter how small, is the first step. As they say, be the change you wish to be in the world.
Be kind – to people, to animals, to plants. This is part of the practice too of course, but being conscious of your actions, and the reactions of others, can help you be more mindful in daily life. Occasionally we don’t realise our words or actions cause hurt or harm to others; be it the way you treat a co-worker, or the chain reaction that follows when you buy a bunch of flowers – while they are pretty for a few days, they quickly die and are cast away, meanwhile the industry is using chemicals to fertilise the next crop being prepared for sale. Why not buy a living plant instead? Observe what you’re doing and think about the reactions.
Practice no judgement, of yourself and others. It’s difficult, because since we were children we have been conditioned by our schools and parents (most of us anyway) to want to be the best, to compare ourselves to others. We need to respect our minds – we are the way we are meant to be and we should always try to be the best versions of ourselves. Not the same as anyone else. We should never feel inferior, and in the same way, we should never feel superior to others. Releasing negative energy is very important. Also don’t judge your practice. Be happy with what you’ve done – yoga is not a ‘competitive sport’, despite what some ego-based practitioners may preach.
Mindfulness is what practice is all about. You can be practicing yoga, by practicing mindfulness, without entering a studio or classroom. But the physical practice is always the base. If you don’t practice, your awareness will be limited and won’t grow. Practice is the key to awareness.