As a yoga teacher and therapist, you’d think I’d be supportive of the wave of mindfulness sweeping the country. There are movements for “educating mindfully” and a recent issue of TIME magazine even featured mindfulness on its cover.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Committed practice of this skill supports the development of a deeper understanding of the mind, and a more accepting and compassionate relationship to their internal and external experiences. It’s a significant element in Buddhist traditions, and has since become popularized by Western academics.
Mindfulness is an important skill. I’m grateful that this aspect of an ancient tradition is surfacing in modern culture. However, I’m uncomfortable with Western culture’s handling of it and assert that mindfulness in isolation is an incomplete practice.
DILUTION OF MINDFULNESS
Recently I heard the word mindfulness used in the following sentences:
“I need to be more mindful of how many beers I drink.”
“I need to be more mindful of how much money I spend shopping because my spouse is getting upset about our credit card debt.”
These are times I cringe.
Mindfulness has become synonymous with sensibility, or making a mental note, instead of its intention to use as a process to sharpen our focus and discern a clear choice. As a concept, it’s becoming diluted. In this context, mindfulness is misunderstood as something to receive instead of something to practice.
Mindfulness has increasingly become a consumer hook for products and specialties such as essential oils, crystals, and salt lamps. The idea permeates the notion that if I buy these items, I will obtain mindfulness. Can you envision the scene of oil-diffuser and salt lamps decorating a room of a person furiously working at a hectic pace “thinking” calm will happen upon them? It takes the practice out of the concept and reduces a wisdom tradition to a purchase. Mindfulness is not a lottery ticket; it’s a discipline of the mind.
MOVE BEOYOND THE BASICS – SEEK A COMPLETE PRACTICE
Mindfulness is like a clean windshield on a car. It’s important in that it allows for clear perspective. But it doesn’t take into account the car itself, the quality of engine, the fuel, or the rules of the road. This is where yoga comes into play.
Yoga develops wellness in mind and body. B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the world’s masters of yoga and author of Light on Life, dedicated his life to teaching others how yoga can improve their lives in practical and profound ways. The practice of yoga increases health on many levels. He explains, “Health begins with firmness in body, deepens to emotional stability, then leads to intellectual clarity, wisdom, and finally the unveiling of the soul.”
Yoga offers techniques to increase the body’s health and vitality, to increase awareness, and to evolve in our lives.
Continuing with the metaphor of the car, yoga teaches “rules of the road” through philosophical principles such as the first two limbs of the eight-limbed path, the Yamas and Niyamas. These principles guide the driver to consider proper care for the vehicle, proper fuel, observance of other drivers, and restraints for self.
Yoga cares for the body of the vehicle with physical postures, (asana). For overall wellbeing it is vitally important to maintain the health of the body itself and yet in our modern culture we are often disconnected and out of tune with this aspect of self.
The asana and pranayama, (breath work), tend to the vigor of the car’s engine and regulate the energy and life force of the entire vehicle.
The practices of withdrawing from sense distractions, (pratyahara), one-pointed concentration (dharana), and meditation (dhyana) help keep the driver well skilled at operating the vehicle responsibly.
While the popularity of mindfulness is encouraging, if you add the timeless and time tested traditions of yoga, real change and growth is possible. No new curriculum is necessary. The eight-limb path has existed for thousands of years. If you’re looking for an evidence-based intervention, this is it!
Embarking on a yoga practice improves well-being of body, mind and spirit. If you’re interested in learning how to incorporate the eight-limb path of yoga into your life, be sure to participate in Wellness Within monthly workshops. Each month you can learn a new aspect of this time-tested path to wellness.