Los Angeles Times Fully experiencing the present: a practice for everyone, religious or not
Practices such as meditation, yoga or Eastern martial arts can aid the process, but mindfulness is fundamentally an “acceptance” or “coming to terms with things as they are,” not in the sense of passive resignation but active awareness, says Kabat-Zinn.
Although this article from October does not break new ground — the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) approach is well known — but Kabat-Zinn’s insistence on mindfulness not being a spiritual or religious experience is germane to the public discussion about all these exotic practices taking over the American mind. He’s so clear in how he opens up the discussion by suspending the more traditional terms for defining the experience. I’m going to have to re-read one of his books (well, maybe an article or a chapter).
I had not commented about this last week, but I had an interesting experience during a session with Susan Bowen at Thrive Yoga. She made us do much of the practice with our eyes closed. It made some poses a bit precarious for me because I am challenged in terms of balance, and need my visual drishti. But I could get through most of my vinyasas without any trouble. However, when I was seated in Easy Pose with my eyes closed, I became conscious of my heart beat, and was surprised at how clearly it was coming through. It was not because my heart rate was up from aerobic exercise, throbbing at my temples. What I noticed most was that each subtle beat was like a ripple that expanded from my chest and washed over my torso and out through my limbs. It was almost as if I could feel the blood flowing from my chest throughout the circulatory system. Instead of focusing on my breath, I focused on my pulse.
I’ve become increasingly aware during my yoga practice that I become much more sensitive to smells and odors. At first, I thought it was because my mat was starting to spoil on me after too much sweat and not enough hygiene. Despite airing the mat after every class and whipping it down with scented towelettes, I could still detect a kind of gym smell during practice (not outside of class, however, which had me bewildered). Last week, I thoroughly washed the mat, and I still noticed body odors, the incense or a whiff of perfume. I guess when my head is hanging in Downward-Facing Dog, my sense of smell becomes more acute.
On the other hand, my eye sight is demoted to a secondary sense, in part because I don’t wear my glasses, but also because I zone out the rest of the room and concentrate on a drishti (a focus point during meditation or yoga practice). I wonder if there is any relationship to this shift in sensitivity.
Usually about 10 minutes into my yoga class, I find myself muttering silently, “Why the hell am I doing this to myself?” as I stick my butt high into the air in downdog, teeter in Warrior III and pant at the exertion of vinyasa. I realize that it is hard to reverse the body’s decline after taking it granted for most of my life. Here I am on the far side of 50 and am following slavishly the orders of a teacher who is nearly 20 years my junior — so much for the benefits of finding a guru.
Fortunately, this mindset gets diluted in the effort to keep up with the flow. I catch my second wind, stop thinking about how I look to others, and dissolve into the moment of breath and intention. I am finally rewarded with cleansing and find out why I bother with yoga.
My all-important goal this year is awareness. I’ve gotten over the hump of learning most of the asanas. I may not be able to have perfect form — or I may be much better than I feared, as I learned with the jump-back in vinyasa. It is awareness that is going to let me see clearly where I am, where my obstacles lie and how I might climb them.