- Kelsey Hayden
Fostering Mindfulness This Month
Be Present With Your Monthly Intention
By Kelsey Hayden
It’s typically when we have a moment of pause during asana that our mind starts to wander.
Lowering down into the depths of a pose is akin, for me, to riding the downward trajectory of a glass elevator. While my body remains still, my eyes and my mind are overwhelmed with the immensity of what there is to look at and do and know and think and love and remember and reflect on.
I can pretty much spend the entirety of the pose with my nose pressed up to the shifting windows of my mind, right up until the door-opening ding of the teacher’s voice brings me back into my body.
It’s not surprising that I, or any of us, struggle to stay mindful. Our culture favors productivity over all else, and the rush of fitting everything into a day doesn’t lend itself to a sense of wakefulness or intention as we move through the hours. Trying to get somewhere is the enemy of living a mindful life, and it seems that we each — yes, even the experienced yogis — find ourselves on the unfocused train at some point. Scattered. Distracted. Scanning the map and looking at the various stops to hop off at.
I began to really notice this behavior in action when I dove into the practice of Yin Yoga — a style in which poses are held for longer periods of time, encouraging the total release of the body. I quickly fell in love with Yin because of how relaxed I felt afterwards, but the end of each class was consistently accompanied by a sense of "wait, it’s already been an hour?!"
I realized that while my body was practicing total stillness, my mind seemed to go on vacation, crossing miles of new and backlogged thoughts throughout the hour.
Waking up to these patterns is typically the first step in undoing them; but even still, in a Yin class a few months ago, I found myself in that exact headspace wondering about my upcoming move, wondering about an ex, wondering about where I should go for dinner, wondering if my roommates would be home — until the teacher said —if I told you we would only be here for five more breaths, would it allow your body to soften even further?
It did. I felt a tangible release.
This may not sound particularly profound. That’s because it’s not; because we hear it often, and practice it often. But typically the things that are the most important in living an awakened, intentional, and good life aren’t profound. The profundity is our awareness of them — our ability to keep them front of mind and heart, to create consistency in our attention to them, to integrate them in a meaningful way.
Her sentiment resonated because it was instant proof of what happens to my body and brain when I stay present. There's a release, a softening. Staying mindful in a yoga class encourages open and fruitful conversation with our bodies. And our bodies arevery obviously reactive when they know we are listening and engaging with them. But as we can all attest, what we learn in yoga class tends to seep out into all the other arenas of our lives. That’s part of why we do it. In the same way that staying mindful in yoga can create an attitude of ease, so, too, can staying mindful in our lives. It can, simply put, make the day-to-day easier.
Our sense of engagement with ourselves and with our breath from moment to moment keeps us grounded, grateful, and aware.
It sounds basic, but this is work. It’s hard work. It’s not intuitive or possible to simply undo a lifetime of messaging and cultural programming, but the work begins in class. It begins with our bodies, and our mats, and our breath. It is precisely when the engagement gets difficult that we most need to lean into it. Shifting begins in the single moment that we become aware of our own wandering mind, and of the consistency in our habits and distractions.
As the chaos of the New Year begins to fade, and we find ourselves settling back into routine, let March be a month of finding and praising our own awareness of the moment — each moment giving way to the next, and each of these adding up to our lives.
Let March be a month of re-awakening to the present, of becoming conscious of the breath, of the five breaths, and of the softening that happens when we do.
Kelsey Hayden is a writer and yoga teacher in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She is interested in using asana and movement as a means to engage more deeply with the emotional body, and to foster a space of healing for students. A recent Portland dweller, Kelsey expresses herself through film photography and writing. Get to know her by visiting her website and following her on Instagram.
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From our hearts to yours, Namaste.