What does being present mean and how does it relate to our lives and our yoga practice?
To me being present means focusing on what is happening here and now. Whether I’m playing the guitar, writing, studying or even doing menial tasks like weeding the garden or washing the dishes I try to focus on the job at hand. I find I can get those jobs done more quickly and efficiently if I give them my full attention. No multi tasking. Doing one thing at a time, slowly, wholyheartingly, deliberately, keeping the mind tuned to what I’m doing. Also, sometimes having a little space between tasks, not rushing from one thing to another.
Why can this be so hard? Where do our minds constantly wander to? Usually one of two scenarios. We are either stuck in the past or contemplating the future. Or I should say reliving/reviewing/regretting the past and anticipating the future. Anticipating disastrous results for events that will happen in the future is called worry. It can paralyze us. Thinking over and over again about past mistakes has the same result.
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” Buddha
Let’s go back to weeding the garden (one of my favorite chores) Maybe I’ll sit on the grass next to a flower bed. I take time to feel the grass and the earth (I’m usually barefooted) and the sun on my body. I take my time pulling weeds making sure I don’t pull up and flower or vegetable seedlings by mistake. It feels good to be connected to the earth. When my mind starts to wander I just refocus on what I’m doing. I make it a weeding meditation. I’m a gardening guru. It’s very relaxing.
Although it’s still a challenge, when I’m practicing yoga it becomes a little easier for me to be present. Maybe because the purpose of yoga is to be totally present in the first place so when I walk into the yoga studio it becomes my main emphasis. The asana(s) are almost secondary. How do I bring my attention back to the moment? I focus on my breath; I try not to engage in thoughts of the outside world. I pay attention to body sensations. What’s tight? Where are the areas of pain? What kind of pain? It’s all about what’s happening here and now. I set the mental intention that I expect my students to set. Be in the room. Be here, be present. This is exceptionally important if I’m practicing with an injury.
When teaching a class, I do the same thing. Keep my thoughts in the room. Focus on my students and what’s in front of me. I try to use direct language in regards to dialogue and cues, with a minimum of descriptive language and/or imagery. I tell students what they need to do at the moment. Most importantly, I remind them to be here and present and relate to them a bit what that means.
All the above is some degree easier said than done. Our minds are evolutionary programmed to wander. Communication devices distract us constantly. It takes sustained conscious effort to stay focused on a single task. Again,we have to set an intention to be present. It’s a choice. Hopefully if we do this enough we will start to live our lives this way.