Stillness is a staple for successful yoga. Instructors remind you consistently to find your stillness, maybe because we’re not so great at it. For me, there are times I can sail through class with clarity and focus, calm and motionless between postures. Other days it’s imperative I get that hunk of lint off my towel or tuck my hair behind my ear. Sometimes it seems the more I fight it the harder it is. You’d think for someone who’s idea of a perfect time is to sit and read would have no issues with stillness, but I’m here to tell you sometimes I feel like they’re pumping in fidgeting fumes along with the heat.
Between postures our job is to remain still, calm and to focus on our breath. That means no wiping sweat, no readjusting mats and towels, and certainly no housecleaning. Fidgeting distracts other yogis and brings your mind away from your practice. It also stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, the ‘flight or fight’ controller, which is probably why you fidget to begin with. You need these responses to push you through a sprint, but in the yoga room stimulating these nerves works against you. The fact is, once you’re in the room there’s nothing you can do to feel better – including wiping sweat and drinking water – except being still and breathing.
In other words, you want to fidget because you’re so uncomfortable, but the reality is fidgeting is making you more miserable, not less.
Finding stillness isn’t easy, but it is doable. Here are three tips to help get you there.
Be the posture
Remaining in the moment is the staple of mindfulness and awareness. This takes time and a whole lot of practice. Start small, and keep your thinking simple. When you’re moving into and out of a posture, try not to think about anything else except your movement. When you’re grabbing your foot, just do that. Notice how your skin feels in your hand, how your muscles react to the stretch. Check on your breath and your eye gaze, then circle back. You can do a head to toe scan, to get a rhythm, or you can focus on sensations, such as how things feel or sound.
The key term here is notice. When you grab your foot, does it feel slippery? Resist the urge to react to it in any way – it just is. Did your foot slip? Don’t shift your focus to frustration or annoyance, just try again. Guide your internal dialogue to statements of fact. “Huh, that was slippery”. Keep your mind on your movement, every detail of it, without judgment.
Life can sometimes feel like a track race. At some point the gun went off and we all just started moving, and quickly. Sometimes we need to move between postures but usually, it’s just a story. Stop fidgeting by focusing on being and not accomplishing. Here’s the difference – if you’re trying to achieve instead of be, you’ll feel stressed. But get this – stress comes from wanting what IS to be something else. And that’s kind of (totally!) crazy, because all you can have is what is right now. Like we said, moving doesn’t make you less uncomfortable.
In an early letter to his brother, Vincent van Gogh wrote of a new technique he described as letting his eyes lose focus. He described it as a way to become aware of the ‘grandness and breadth’ of life that let him ‘pay attention to the great sweep of where I am rather than to specific details.’ He found this technique calming and used it to pull back and be a pair of eyes that was free to see things just as they were.
Try van Gogh’s vision trick to keep yourself present. Let your eyes lose focus, when you’re not called to look at yourself in the mirror, and be a pair of eyes. See what happens.
Get out of your way
Mindfulness is a practice, not a concept. It’s a verb, not a noun. It’s something you do, not something you plan. It will only happen when you consciously check where you are and make a choice to continue to check and return on a regular basis. If you find you’re off, then great! Recognizing you’re out of the moment IS mindfulness. How easy is that?
Most people get discouraged and give up meditation or other mindfulness practices because they believe they’re not good at it. Everyone’s mind creeps back up on them, but that doesn’t matter. When it happens, don’t judge yourself; notice you’re thinking about the grocery list again, then sweep it away and focus back on the present. And when it happens three minutes later? Same thing. In fact, every dang time it happens, you just sweep it away without having an emotional reaction to it. Bringing yourself back to the present is the lesson. You’re mindful every time you notice. So instead of “Man, I’m being a dope again!” say “Hey look, I’m being mindful again!”
Choose one of these as a point of intention in your next session and see how it can move you, mentally and physically. Giving yourself a purpose for practice means you’re less likely to fidget. Turns out, a clean, tidy mat isn’t a sign of a mindful practice. Instead of tidying up my floor space I’ll be focusing on clearing some mental space. So if you see me staring off into the middle distance, don’t worry; I’m not passing out. I’m just paying attention to the great sweep of where I am at the moment.