Consciously or not, we each have many tricks for not staying present in the moment. Even at times when we try to be present, such as during yoga class, the mind creates or looks for distractions. It’s an easy way of avoiding – whether it’s something good or bad – what that moment offers us. Knowing this, are there ways we can train ourselves to be more present when practicing yoga?
Avoid Outside Distractions
Unnecessary objects and sounds often serve to take the mind outside the body. Even something like a water bottle serves as a way to distract yourself – to mentally check out for a few moments – during yoga class. Unless you have a medical condition or are in a hot yoga class, you can hydrate enough before and after yoga to avoid the water bottle temptation.
And, though many studios always play music during yoga class, consider whether it really adds to the yoga part of the experience. Music may be relaxing, but you may also find yourself focused on or distracted by the music rather than paying attention to information present in your body and breath.
Don’t Think About What You Are Doing
This may seem counterintuitive, but you don’t need to think much about yoga when you are practicing yoga. Thinking, however, is different from paying attention. If you think, you start to analyze instead of experiencing. During yoga, observe the experience of each moment, and save the analysis for after class.
If you can truly pay attention to the experience of an asana, even for a few moments, then you are present in those moments. Otherwise, you will think about what you plan to do after class or how you are doing compared to other students (it doesn’t matter). Simply be observant of the sensations you have within your body.
Be Sure to Listen
Listening is another way to stay present. Imagine that you are hearing the teacher’s instructions for the first time, even if you go to that class every week and have done some of the poses hundreds of times. When you hear something new, the mind is more likely to be alert and focused.
You might even imagine that you are “hearing” your body as you move into each asana. It’s using your ears, inner ears and mind in a different way – another tool for staying present in the moment.
This beginner’s mind, open to learning and discovery, can also lead you deeper into a pose. After exploring how the body’s actions change a pose, see how the mind can change a pose. If the mind becomes quieter, is there more ease in the pose? Do you feel like your awareness has moved to a deeper level? See if you can slow down the mind, decreasing the number of active thoughts. Observe whether the asana feels different for both the body and mind.
The breath can refresh the mind and body when practicing. Begin to explore how your breath changes the nature of mind and body in particular postures. Allow your breath to become quieter and softer, even as it continues to support the pose. You may find a new sense of ease, that less effort is required to hold the asana.
Since the mind plays tricks on us to keep us away from the moment, away from what we ought to be doing, sometimes we have to trick the mind. Taking away distractions, letting go of thoughts and listening in a different way are some of the methods available to us if we want to be present and move deeper. And, when the mind is present, yoga starts to happen.