The Eighth Wonder / by Anita Cheung

"The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift- that's why they call it the present." Be honest- How many times have you heard that before. And how often are you still stressing out about the future or nostalgic for the past? Yup. It's hard. It's that old human nature/ prehistoric brain of ours again- always looking out for number one. You know, survival of the fittest and what not, we always have to be one step ahead.

While quotes are great for inspiration,  they don't really spur us into actionWhat I've found does work is.. you guessed it- yoga. When you're working on wrapping your foot around your head and bending into positions that should be reserved for the bedroom, you don't really have time to worry about anything else except how your body is moving. This was the first form of "meditation" I discovered- meditation in motion. I've met many others who have found their own means of carrying this message. Whether it's Jiu Jitsu/ MMA, Running, or dance; when you're focused on the task at hand, your monkey mind is quiet and you can enjoy the present moment for what it is. 

If you aren't particularly coordinated, the second means of staying present may be right up your alley. When we're in the athletic "zone" mentioned above, we can quiet the mind; however, we can't exactly access movement meditation in the middle of class or in most everyday settings. That is why when the going gets tough, my breath gets going. Through yoga, I've learned the incredible calming and meditative power that breath can have. Breath stills the mind and allows for a heightened awareness. It sounds simple but Mario had it right with his song- "How do I breathe...?". Well Mario, you breathe by taking an inhalation through the nose and an exhalation (through the nose or mouth). It's something we do all the time, yet to notice and be aware of the breath is definitely an underrated skill. When you consciously focus your attention on your breath, there is no mental capacity to think about anything else. Anything from counting how long it takes to inhale/ exhale to visualizing the breath as it flows in and out of your body helps. I've been known to whip this out in the most random situations. Road rage? Bring it back to the breath. Pre-competition jitters? Bring it back to the breath. Feeling overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts? Bring. it. back. to. the. breath. 

I've read before that if you are looking to intensify a moment, simply be present. Feel all the feels. I never really prescribed to this until I gave it a shot while at a music festival a few months ago. Having attended quite a few of these shows in the past inebriated and numb, I found that going sober allowed me to really take in everything around me. The music, the lights, the people swaying about. Gone was the sleepy drunken sensation and blurred memory of the night. Instead, I found myself thinking- Deep breath in. Full breath out. Wow, is this really happening? This is amazing. I can't believe I'm here. Take it in. Our body is designed for maximum sensory input and there is always lots going on between what we're seeing, smelling, hearing, and feeling. Toss in our emotions and thoughts and we should be surprised we can even get a breath in with all that's happening simultaneously. 

So it is the same for a yoga practice. If you are looking to intensify and take your practice to the next level, strive to be present. For seasoned yogis, this means seeing everything with a beginner's mind. Instead of thinking: "Down Dog. I can do this in my sleep.", see if you can notice something different each time you come into down dog. Maybe bring more attention to your hands one time- are you pressing into all fingers evenly? Or perhaps you can bring attention to your head and neck- how does it feel to tuck the chin more? Or maybe shift where your eyes are gazing. 

Yoga is a practice which means each day brings with it a different challenge and different sensations. While memory is great because it means we don't have to learn the same pose over and over again (50 first dates syndrome much?), it is also limiting because when we are content to sit in our memory, we are essentially living in the past. That's what memory is- it's a moment from the past. When we approach a yoga pose with the memory of how it felt yesterday, or last week, we are robbing ourselves of the present moment. Not only are we putting ourselves in a position for potential injury (because we aren't paying attention and we aren't in tune with our body as it is in the present), we are also preventing ourselves from feeling the pose in a new way. 

This can also tie back into everyday life. We are so obsessed with remembering a moment and "capturing" the moment. As if it's a pokemon that we have to possess. Instead of enjoying the moment for what it is and letting it roll on by, we fear we'll forget it so we are trigger happy and as a result, all of the other sensations of the moment (the smells, sounds, touch and taste) fall to the wayside, untouched by the lens of our smartphone camera. 

I'll admit, there are times where I'm never ever quite experiencing the present moment and instead, always living in the photos and memories of the past. Between the memories, my smartphone use, and my daydreaming habit, I need to constantly remind myself, everyday, to stay focused on the now. At the same time, can you really blame someone for wanting to relive happy memories? We've already lived in the past and we know it's safe. This becomes an issue when, just like it persists in our yoga practice, living in memory robs us of the freshness and new-ness of life.  Even worse is when we start to compare our present situation to the past. Each moment is different and when our heads are in the clouds, we aren't actually living life. Our bodies are getting older as they move through the day but we aren't really here to experience it. 

This came up for me in the last year. I was so keen on making a particular move happen, a particular relationship happen that I shut out all other possibilities. Even when things were changing drastically, I clung stubbornly, out of fear for uncertainty and fear for change, to the idea of my future that was created in the past. I was reminded of this the other day when I saw the same process happen in someone else. I now know to: Drop the expectations. Drop the stubborn ego. Be present and follow the heart to where it wants to go and what it wants to be now. The universe will line things up to guide you to where you need to be.  

Bottom line: Find and feel the wonder. Both in your practice, and in your everyday life. Take a step back, take a breath in the middle of the chaos of life and just look around. Chances are you'll be amazed with what is present. 

 

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