By: Ashley Van Dyne

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Fitness and Yoga

You make it to a yoga class. You're laying down at the end and you're ready to relax in Savasana, the last resting pose.  As you settle in, the teacher tells you in their softest and most reassuring voice to let go, to surrender. 

And you do.  For about 3 seconds.  Then the stream of thoughts begins:

…What am I supposed to be doing here?

…Do they have to drop those weights outside?

…How am I supposed to relax when that is happening?

…What should I have for dinner?

…Oh wait, I’m supposed to quieting my mind! Ok, peaceful mind, relax…and you do--for about 3 seconds before the parade of thoughts begins again. 

Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone.

The truth is that every person in yoga struggles or has struggled with this.  Most of us aren’t born with the ability to quiet our mind on command.  It’s like asking a toddler to sit still, it might happen for the briefest of moments, but then quite unpredictably a new burst of energy animates them and they’re off. 

Consider for a moment what your mind does all day: from the moment you wake to the moment you fall asleep your mind is processing, planning, interpreting, learning, recalling, worrying.  It’s taking in the world around you with all the sights, sounds, and stimulus it has to offer.

Even when we “take a break”, our mind doesn’t get to.  Most of us are on Instagram, Facebook, or a news feed where we give our mind a new barrage of images and ideas that it must process and categorize and store.  Our mind thrives on pattern and we have engineered lives where the pattern is constant stimulation.  Then you sit down in meditation or lie down in Savasana and expect the mind to be quiet? When you think about it, it’s a small miracle that we get even those 3 seconds!

But fear not, there is hope.

Here are five tips to help you focus in your next yoga class: 

  1. The point is not to quiet your mind. That’s like trying to stop the flow of the Mississippi River, an exhausting way to a lot of frustration.  The point is to observe what your mind is doing without getting caught up in it.  Observe the flow of thoughts.  A quiet mind is the outcome of yoga and meditation, not the process of it.

  2. Give the mind something to focus on. Why do we talk about the breath so much in yoga? A big part of it is that if you are truly focused on your breath, your mind isn’t planning dinner or thinking about that thing your boss said.  In yoga, your breath is a tool and your ally.  Use it!

  3. Be patient with yourself. It gets easier.  As wonderful as it would be, the mind will probably not just miraculously quiet in one yoga class or one meditation.  It’s a lifetime of habit we are trying to change.  Be patient with yourself and your mind. You are retraining your mind and like all training, the changes come gradually.

  4. Practice outside of your yoga class. Just like any form of training, the more you do it, the better you will be at it.

    Try this: Next time you take a break and you find yourself reaching for your phone to jump on Instagram or check the news, instead set a timer for 3-5 minutes.  Sit comfortably with your spine tall and close your eyes.  Deepen your breathing and feel the gentle rise and fall of the belly and chest.  Slowly relax from the crown of the head down to the toes. Bring your awareness gradually and completely to each part of the body and with that awareness release any tension.  Next observe your breath, the rise and fall of the body, the sensation as it moves in and out of the nose.  When your mind wanders off, without judgement, without emotion around it you just observe where it went and then become aware of your breath again. 

    Do this regularly and I promise it gets easier.
  5. Ask your yoga teacher for help. There are so many practices and so many tools in yoga. Some will resonate; some won’t.  Just because one practice didn’t work, doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.

Here’s the bottom line: show up each time on your mat with the ardent intent to find a greater sense of calm.  Then give yourself permission to let go.  Whatever happens next is part of the practice, because after all, it is the practice of yoga. 

Contributed by Ashley Van Dyne, Movement Yoga Manager and Instructor, and zen-master.