Inside Yoga 307 (24/8/20)
It’s normal to think a lot, and if we look carefully at our thoughts, we will see that most of our thoughts are about plans and rehearsing the future, or if it is not this, we are thinking about the past, whether it is regrets or reminiscing. And often we get stuck on particular thought patterns, planning over and over again, driving ourselves mad with worry about something yet to happen (or not).
In meditation teaching there is a lot of emphasis on how to control our thoughts and to address this tendency of being caught up by the future or trapped in the past, to the detriment of living in the present and enjoying what we have or do right now.
This is the key point. If we think about it, our over-thinking and repeated thoughts can make us feel worse. Yes, we do need to think ahead, and plan, but do we really need to do it so often and repeatedly? No, but we keep on indulging our mind, which we might think it is our mind, but is it, if it keeps doing what it wants without any control? Our mind would rather remain stuck on a repeated loop of thoughts, and happily end up stuck in the cul-de-sacs of our thoughts.
Many thoughts which are repetitive do have a cul-de-sac effect, by driving us down the one channel, thinking about something only to finish at a “dead end”.
So why bother? Some thoughts are needed, clearly, as we need to think and we need to plan ahead, but we need to exercise more self-control and know when enough thought has been put into XYZ. For example, I am currently planning to relaunch classes in venues after months in lockdown teaching yoga online (by the way, I will carry on with online yoga classes, whatever I do with venues – one part of my new normal!). Anyone who is trying to understand Covid-19 rules will appreciate it is a headache, but what I try to do is plan what I have to, with all the details checked, and then not give it another thought until the next stage when I need to apply myself. Sounds simple, and it is obvious, but watch our minds! We will keep coming back to the thoughts which trouble us, even if there is no point at that particular moment. For example, it is night time, so technically not working, there is no one to discuss it with, and we are meant to be relaxing on the sofa but we keep going back through our worries! We have all done this. We don’t want to either. But how do we stop?
This is where we learn to train our mind through meditation and also through yoga exercises (which are a meditation process in itself). The practice teaches us to focus on the present actions, be it the breathing when meditating, or both the breathing and the body when practising physical yoga exercises. At the time of practice we feel the release from our troubles, anxieties, and distractions, and when not doing formal practice will notice how we can apply to practice and principles of present focus at any time. In other words, what we learn on the yoga mat extends beyond the mat and into daily life. At any point, we can use the breathing and the skills we have learnt to quieten the mind and focus on stillness, thereby dropping the worrying planning or the unsettling memories. Stopping and realising we have done all we can for now with XYZ.
Being present is the key. Things still get done, there is a time and place, but we do need to give our mind and our body a break from the incessant planning and replays of past regrets!
These mind control techniques are like having a filing system in our own mind, by being able to put one item away until we next have to deal with it. In meditation, when thoughts keep repeatedly making it hard to focus on the breath, we can imagine filing away a thought, for later, when after the meditation when we can deal with it, so that we can have silence in the meditation.
Same goes for daily life, knowing how to and when to stop thinking about a particular situation takes determination and with practice it becomes easier to achieve. This is why we keep practising (meditation or asanas) and training our mind and body for daily life.
There is also the worry and anxiety we might feel about the future but without it relating to anything in particular. This is a common situation, where we are feeling the question: “am I on top of everything?” and worrying that we don’t know if we are because we don’t know what it is! This is part of our animal instinct of survival, “fight or flight” where survival is a primary focus of our being. We might feel alert without knowing we are or why. This can also be called non-descript anxiety, where we have the feeling but not have the why. This is also where our practice is useful, because one thing is clear, we do not like feeling like this! So we need to get rid of this horrible sensation: we can shake it off with a shrug and reflection or if necessary some meditation and/or yoga practice will do the trick.
We all vary, because some of us will find this approach comes naturally while others will say they find it hard to stop worrying and planning. But we can all try our best to exercise some self-control and restraint.
Yoga teaches us many things, and one is to have some self-control and management over who we are and how we live our life. Nothing is fixed in stone, we might want to say we are this or that type of person, but thoughts and emotions are always changing so why think we are stuck in our ways?
It all comes back to the simple premise of practice: we seek stillness, where everything is quiet. This when we have a clear space, like a painter would start with a clean slate, we can work better with a clean slate.
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