By: Danielle Wilson
For those who don’t have a regular meditation practice—or sometimes, even, for those who do—finding the stillness of mind spoken to in yoga can be a difficult and frustrating task. Some of the greatest advice I’ve received, in terms of meditation, is that if you’re trying to do it, you’re doing it wrong. It sounds counter intuitive, I know, but all too often the pushing for a calm and present state of mind is the key ingredient in ensuring the very opposite. Forcing this mental silence typically results in frustration and judgement, as we don’t feel like we’re accomplishing our goals with tangible validation to show for it. Thoughts of discouragement circumvent through our headspace, allowing the cycle of ego driven, mental chatter to persist. I have named myself a victim of this toxic meditative effort more times than I can count, going for moments, minutes even, of spiraling thought and then putting myself down (pretty harshly, I might add) when I inevitably realize my mind has wandered off. It wasn’t until I recognized that intentional thought and awareness can, and should, be utilized to promote the eventual stillness we seek, that I actually started to experience the benefits this present mindset brings to light.
To guide my students on this journey towards contentment of the mind, I speak to the awareness of physical sensation. I like to encourage yogis to recognize the feeling of the floor as it rises to meet their feet, saturate themselves in the sensation of their sweat softly sinking down their skin, honor and acknowledge the freedom in expanding and releasing through their breath. The list of physical sensations that we experience in a given moment is infinite, so presenting the mind with the task of discovering and investigating these experiences creates a discipline and separation of the ego which guides us into presence. As we journey through our bodies, head to toe, and ask ourselves, “what’s here? What is it I’m feeling? What reaction does this experience trigger for me?” we not only place ourselves inside reality as it happens presently, but we also allow for awareness of resistance or tension to come to light. It simply requires the acknowledgment of this tension, and then sending breath into that space, to evolve into a state of softness. A body which rests in ease will always support a quieting of the mind.
Once awareness is occupied by the physical sensations occurring throughout the body, it becomes easier to recognize our truest state of being: that we are, by nature, a spirit having a physical experience, and not the other way around. There’s a keen sense of being larger than we typically think we are, when our mind quiets and current reality sits at the forefront of our experience. Some of my favorite moments on my journey with mindful awareness have been the times in which my body was completely at ease, my thoughts were drawn directly to my existence in the present, and as a result, I could feel my spirit radiate beyond the boundaries of my physical walls and into the world or space around me. There’s always a moment, in that experience, in which my body doesn’t quite feel like it’s my own, as if my entire being is looking at it from the outside, in. I like to believe that these are glimpses of awakening, for me. They are slivers of time in which I am wholeheartedly connected to my truest essence of Self. This is the place we seek on the journey of calming our minds. We may not attain it every time, but the simple intention of noticing our current physical, mental, or emotional experience is a remarkable first step and has endless benefits, regardless.
The more we begin to connect with physical sensations during yoga or meditation, the more the practice becomes a habitual state of mind in our everyday lives. We begin to notice the nuances of our body and how it feels from day to day—allowing ourselves the power to recognize when something feels off or reacts differently than usual. Our minds thrive off of the discipline of this task and continue to rest in the unique beauty of each moment that passes. In their simplest form, physical sensations are nothing other than signals to us (spirit) that we are ALIVE! So enjoy them, honor them, celebrate them with your recognition and care, and by all means, allow them to guide you towards a judgement free journey to awakening.