Mindfulness and the Connection to Yoga

If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer. ~Dag Hammarskjold

If you practise yoga in New West, you might be tempted to make resolutions based on ‘mindfulness’. Or maybe you’re curious about yoga and have heard lots about it. Not a surprise given the media push this year:

Smile? Be present? Say thank you? What kind of a resolution is stretch? What happened to bigger, faster, stronger, richer? Two hundred years of New Year’s resolutions and it’s come to this?

I’d be tempted to chalk this list up to yoga-driven anomaly—two of them were shared in social media by my New Westminster yoga students—but that first article hails from the Huffington Post, and we all know that once something hits the Huff, it’s as good as gone mainstream, right?

What, pray tell, is up?

Well, the jig, I think. Mark Twain wrote in a column published January 1, 1863, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

It’s not that people can’t change—we can, and we do. It’s that resolutions made in the traditional way don’t work. And maybe we’re finally done with setting ourselves up to fail.

The word “resolution” hails back to the late 14th century, and derives from the Latin resolutio, meaning “the process of reducing things into simpler forms.” It wasn’t until the late 18th and early 19th centuries that we added the self-improvement bit. And by “we” I mean of course the religious leaders of the time. Our resolutions began as attempts to keep us safe from the eternal hellfires. These days, they can feel like one and the same. As a cousin of mine posted today, “In hindsight maybe giving up alcohol, sugar and coffee all in the same week was a bad idea.” Yes, maybe.

So if it’s supposed to be simple, how has it all gotten so hard? And what does work?

Smile. Be present. Say thank you. Simple, realistic, achievable, and meaningful. The choice to do any of these three requires a certain level of mindfulness—that state that comes when you focus your full awareness in the present moment, and acknowledge and accept your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judging or attempting to change them.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), as it’s called in medical, academic and corporate circles, has been proven to reduce depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, to alleviate fear, improve neural connections and increase brain matter density, improve immune function, mood, and sleep, lower blood pressure and improve heart health, and increase one’s sense of peace, self-esteem, and interconnectedness. Harvard’s on board. Enough said.

But like any valuable skill, mindfulness has to be taught, and then it has to be practiced. What that practice looks like is meditation and yoga.

You knew I was going to bring it all back to the yoga, didn’t you?

New West is a mecca for meditation and yoga in the Lower Mainland. There is a class and a style of practice to suit every schedule and taste. Downtown New West YFM and Bikram’s Yoga New Westminster on Columbia Street, as well as the Dancing Cat Yoga Centre uptown have been mainstays of the local mindfulness community for many years.

An Oxygen Hot Yoga & Fitness franchise recently opened its doors at Columbia Square, and the more fitness-minded practitioners can also check out the yoga studio in family-run Dynamic Health and Fitness at the Shops at New West (Skytrain station).

MOVE Studio in Sapperton holds dance and pilates classes along with yoga, Century House holds classes tailored especially for New West seniors, and Centennial and Queensborough Community Centres as well as Anvil Centre host a range of classes for all levels and abilities.

There are benefits to learning and practicing meditation as part of a community, and for safety’s sake, it’s advisable to learn yoga with a certified teacher. But if one of the things you’re being more mindful of is your money, New West Library and YouTube are brilliant sources of information and audio-visual learning and practice aids.

Or, you know, stretch. Remember when you used to be able to bend backward as well as forward over your desk/phone/steering wheel?

Or take a walk along the river when the frost is thick and the fog is thicker, and count the winter blooms peeking their rosy heads through the white rind, listen to the cries of gulls you can’t see, taste the salt in the air, hear the very particular sound your boots make on the boardwalk when the tide is low. Inhale the fullness of everything around you without having to name any of it. Exhale gratitude for being granted this day, this body, enough health to walk, this place to live, this brand new year, this breath.

As it happens, there is actually only one day in your entire life when it is possible to change anything at all, and it’s not January 1. It’s today.

Smile. Be present. Say thank you.