How to be present

This afternoon, when I walked into the hot room to set up my mat, there was a girl on her mat, playing with her phone. Now, I don’t know what she was doing, or who she was talking to, but it struck me as odd. Why would you bring your phone onto your mat? True, there were ten minutes left until class started, but what happened to laying on your back, closing your eyes and just being?

I’m not judging, and I’m not always present during my practice. I do sometimes pick out what I’ll be wearing tomrrow (striped shirt with the pink bow) or decide what to eat after class. I just think it’s too bad that people can’t be with themselves for ten minutes.

Here are my tips for being present before, during, and after your practice, so that you get the most out of it.

1. Set an intention

Take a moment to think about why you’re practicing. Do you need to de-stress or relax? Do you need to move some energy around? I usually intend to find joy during my practice. What brings me joy will depend on the day I’ve had, so my practice is always different. Come back to your intention a few times, and it will help keep you present.

2. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want

If you tell yourself you’ll focus on your breathing, you’ll have a much better chance of actually doing it than if you keep telling yourself you’re not going to think about work, or that fight you had, or that person who drives you crazy. Help your mind out a little.

3. Don’t worry about it

If your mind wanders, don’t beat yourself up. Just come back to your practice. It might happen 12 times in one minute, then maybe 7 times, then 3, then 1. Eventually, you’ll get a minute where you are totally focused on your practice and your breathing and it will be perfect. If you catch yourself thinking about how perfect that minute was instead of your breath, don’t worry, just come back to it.

4. Know that every day is different

Yoga is different every time you practice. Your mind and your body are not the same from day to day, so you can’t expect your practice to be either. Maybe you had that perfect minute yesterday, but it’s nowhere to be found today. No worries, you can still find joy. Try again tomorrow.

5. Don’t bring your phone onto your mat

You know. Just don’t.

Now see how many of these you can apply to your life off the mat. Breathe. Be present. Find joy. Don’t worry. Let go of your phone.

just breathe

The longest minute in the world

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to meditate in the morning. One minute. That’s all I expect of myself, yet it remains so difficult! Up until a few days ago, I was just sitting for what I thought was a minute. I didn’t have a watch or a timer. This wasn’t working out so well, because I spent the whole time asking myself “Has it been one minute yet?”

So I borrowed a timer from work and set it for one minute. It makes a little beeping sound when the minute is up. I set it, sat down on my pillow, closed my eyes and tried to focus on my breathing.

Inhale. Exhale. Don’t let your mind wander. It must be close to a minute now. Ok, now. Something must be wrong with the timer. It’s fine, it was working before. This can’t be one minute. I’m going crazy.

This was very much like the inner dialogue I had on the first day. And every day after that. After what felt like 5 minutes, I opened my eyes. Turns out, the “beeping” part was not turned on. So it might actually have been 5 minutes!

I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for me to just sit without waiting for it to be over.  (Except for the 5-minute morning. I get why that one didn’t work.) I told myself I would do this for 40 days, so I will. Ichih, my yoga teacher, said to ask myself why I was doing this. For example: I eat because I am hungry. I meditate because… Humm. I’m not sure. Maybe that’s why it’s not working.

See how peaceful I look? Yeah, looks can be deceiving. I really don’t feel peaceful at all!

Does anyone have any tips? I’ve tried counting as I breathe in and out. I’ve tried breathing in from one nostril at a time. I’ve tried different positions. I’ve tried stretching first. Maybe music? Is that distracting? Maybe I just need to chill out, that might help!

Moving meditation

It’s almost the summer solstice. Isn’t that crazy? I feel like it was just the beginning of spring, and now, it’s summer! To celebrate the changing of the seasons, Ichih and Megan, two of the teachers at my favourite studio, decided to host a special class of 108 sun salutations. I’ve done this once before, for spring, and it’s not easy!

One of the really great things about this event was that it was a karma yoga class, meaning that the money was going to a good cause. Megan is raising money for the Global Seva Challenge through the organization Off the Mat and into the World. When we were struggling to get through our sun salutations, she would remind us with a smile “Breathe for a good cause! Upward dog for a good cause! Downward dog for a good cause!” It made me laugh and it motivated me to keep going.

For the first 20 sun salutations, I was focused and worked on getting every pose right. I tried to get my back as flat as I could, didn’t wimp out on my chaturanga poses and opened my heart in upward dog. When we swan dived down, Megan would say “Pull heaven to earth”. I really liked the visual I got from that.

I’m looking in the mirror here, and yes, my back is quite flat!

Sun salutations 20 to 40 were so-so. The room wasn’t heated, but there was a class just before, so it was still pretty hot in there. My chaturangas were now being done on my knees and my upward dogs weren’t quite so high. It was great to have two teachers because I got twice the attention. I like having my postures adjusted. Ichih kind of guided my shoulders during one upward dog, and it made a huge difference.

I don’t remember much about salutations 40 to 60. Not that I blacked out or anything, but I was in the “moving meditation zone”. I was so focused on my breathing and the flow of the postures that I didn’t think too much. This rarely happens to me, so I’m pretty happy about it!

The last 28 sun salutations started off a little rough for me. I was tired and I started dragging my feet and doing the poses kind of halfway. Then I realized it would be a lot harder that way and I might as well suck it up. I had made it that far, there was no wimping out now. There was a great energy in the room. There was music, laughter and encouragement, all for a good cause!

At the very end, Megan said that someone out there mattered because of the work we had done. Yoga is such a personnal practice, I like the fact that my practice, my sweat, my sore arms, meant that someone’s life might be changed for the better. I could have just donated to the cause, but I wouldn’t have had the same personnal satisfaction.

After class, there was tea and little chocolate-peanut butter balls. Bliss!

On a side note, when I walked into the changing room before class, a girl said “Hey, you’re the bliss girl! I read your blog.” That just made my day! I felt like a celebrity.

On another side note, I am thrilled that yesterday’s attemps at an inversion have left not one, but two bruises on my shin! Why am I so happy to have bruises, you ask? Well, it’s kind of like outward proof of the work I do on the inside. It’s bad-ass.