There are many ways to learn mindfulness, from workshops and group classes, to home study programs and workbooks. My own path to being more present in my life began nowhere other than in a yoga class.
While I initially began practicing yoga with the hopes of improving my physical strength and flexibility, I gained much more than just a stronger core and more defined shoulders.
With encouragement from instructors to “get out of my head and into my body,” I am better able to overcome self-doubt and push myself past my perceived physical and emotional limitations. With frequent reminders that “the way out is through, not around,” I am slowly chiseling away at my tendency to respond to stress and anxiety by immediately pushing it out of my mind without actually “dealing” with it.
Perhaps most importantly, despite all of my training as a psychologist, and my study of mindfulness as a “technique” to help my clients, my own “aha” moment, as far as mindfulness goes, came to me not in a book, but in a yoga class.
It may have been the verbal reminders offered by my teachers, the quiet relaxing room, the soothing music (or no noise at all), or the presence of others on the same journey that finally helped me truly experience mindfulness for myself. Or, maybe, it was the fact that I was “stuck” in a room for 75 minutes without my cell phone or computer, leaving me no choice but to focus on my internal experience (leaving class early, or god forbid, bringing your cell phone into the classroom are big yoga faux pas).
Whatever it was, yoga helped me begin attending to the thoughts, emotions, and sensations in my mind and body in a more meaningful way. And here’s the biggie – I’m learning to notice what I’m thinking and feeling without judgment or criticism (a major stipulation of mindfulness).
All of these skills have carried over into my daily life in unexpected, or perhaps, for long-time “yogis,” expected ways. Don’t get me wrong, I am not all of a sudden walking through life with the calm, centered, and peaceful energy that I so admire in my yoga teachers. But moments of clarity, patience, and courage in my relationships, work, and home seem to be happening more often.
See below for some of my favorite local places to practice yoga:
Equinox Fitness, Bethesda and DC, www.equinox.com
Down Dog Yoga, Bethesda and DC, downdogyoga.com
Crunch Fitness, Chevy Chase, www.crunch.com