Not a Synonym

photo credit: gesrey on Unsplash

Over the past few years, mindfulness has become a pretty mainstream term.

When I first started teaching yoga a million years ago, the term mindfulness seemed mostly reserved for yoga studios, meditation teachers, and certain forward-thinking psychologists and psychiatrists.

But now it’s everywhere. In magazine cover stories, self-care routines, slogans… it is ubiquitous.

In my daughters’ public school, mindfulness is a required course for every student.

And I really do think that all of that is excellent news.

Mindfulness is an absolutely key component to living fully and consciously. It isn’t just a slogan; it’s everything.

But there is one thing mindfulness is not…

Mindfulness is not a synonym for calm.

In fact, mindfulness is probably the most beneficial during times when we are not feeling calm.

Take anxiety for instance. Mindfulness helps us recognize what is happening when we start spinning out. It lets us recognize the physical manifestations of our anxiety, where it sits in our bodies, what it does to our minds. Mindfulness inserts a little bit of space between what is actually happening and how we are reacting to it. It gives us the ability to observe what is happening without being completely overwhelmed by it. And during those times when we do get overwhelmed, mindfulness helps us be more conscious of that as well.

Mindfulness is most definitely work. And often it is not work that feels particularly good in the moment. After all, one of the crucial steps of mindfulness is not running away. It involves a commitment to being present, to paying attention, even (especially) when things are really freaking hard.

So, to say that being mindful is the same thing as being calm is just not true, even though the two terms are often conflated. For most of us, it is easier to be mindful when we are calm because calmness by definition feels good. It is pleasant to notice how your body and mind feel when you are calm, and I highly recommend savoring that feeling whenever possible.

But mindfulness should not be a fair-weather friend. It should be there no matter how you are feeling: sad, scared, angry, confused…those feelings need your mindfulness. They need your attention. They need your love.

Yoga is a great space in which to practice this because it keeps on reminding you to breathe, to feel your body, to be consciously, actively present, to not run away.

Yoga makes room for all of you: your body, your mind, you heart, and all of the complicated craziness those things entail.

So my challenge for you this week is to try and be mindful of what is happening in your mind and body when you are in a difficult situation. Maybe that is during a yoga class, but most likely it just during the day-to-day workings of everyday life. What do you feel in your body when you are tired, nervous, angry, scared, or anxious? What happens in your mind when you feel these things? Can you name them? Can you sit with them? Can you let your whole self really feel them?

Nothing lasts forever. Rest assured, those difficult emotions will eventually pass. Why not use them as opportunities to get to know yourself better? To be mindful of how you are feeling even when you are not feeling so great? To me, that is a crucial part of unconditional love. And certainly, we all need some of that.

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