There’s a saying that goes ‘anxiety lives in the future and depression lives in the past.’ Too much time spent worrying about the future or ruminating on the past steals from our enjoyment of the present moment. And if peace is going to be found anywhere, it’s in the here and now.
According to a 2010 Harvard Study, we spend almost half of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing. That’s half the day spent with your mind and body doing different things! Participants reported they were less happy when their minds and bodies weren’t rallied around the same task.
People that live more in the present, tend to be happier and more relaxed. It’s not that hard to understand why. The ability to let go of heavy over-thinking is a gift. So is the ability to see and experience life and relationships without preconceived ideas (especially negative ones that have NOTHING to do with your current relationships). Being in the Here and Now puts us in touch with openness, creativity, playfulness and positivity.
Don’t get this twisted though. It’s perfectly natural and healthy for your mind to wander. We have to spend some time thinking about the past and planning for the future. The key is to be able to be present when your presence matters. Here are some time-tested techniques for bringing your mind into the ‘here and now.’
1) Set an Intention
An intention is a force – like a magnet – that pulls your attention towards certain things and away from others. If you want to steer your awareness towards being in the present moment and away from rumination and worry, begin by setting an intention to do just that. Try one of these statements on for size and see how it feels: “I am here in the present moment. All that exists is now” or ‘My power is in the present moment.” Repeat it to yourself often to focus your attention, time and energy on what is happening NOW.
2) Adopt a Mantra
Think of your mind like an untamed puppy. Puppies are famous for getting into mischief. They’ll chew up your furniture, get into the garbage and drag it across the floor if you leave them unattended. Give that puppy a bone and it will sit quietly and chew. Using a mantra is like giving your mind a bone to chew on – so IT doesn’t start dragging out the garbage.
Try the mantra ‘Just this’. Anytime you need to bring your mind back into your body and into the present, say ‘Just this… Just this conversation, Just this drive home, Just this paragraph…’
3) Return to Your Senses
Reel your awareness back into your body with this quick mindfulness trick, known as the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique. Sit quietly. Tune into your surroundings and notice:
5 things you can see: your hands, a tree, a cup
4 things you can physically feel: your feet on the ground, the pen in your hand, clothes against your skin
3 things you can hear: birds singing, your breath, a whirring fan
2 things you can smell: coffee, fresh-cut grass, rain
1 thing you can taste: the air, a mint
This exercise helps to bring your awareness into THE NOW
4) Tune Into Your Beath
Follow your breath in and out. This is a basic mindfulness meditation practice that settles your body and mind. Your breath acts like an anchor that keeps your awareness tied to the present moment. Your breath is always with you and it’s always happening NOW, so you can tune into it anywhere, anytime. When your mind wanders, just return to your breath. This trains your ability to steer and re-focus your attention at will. Here’s how to calm yourself and come back to the present when you get lost in thought:
5) Do Some Balancing Poses
Can you imagine drifting off and forgetting what you’re doing while you’re in Eagle Pose? Me neither. It just doesn’t happen. This is why balance poses are a great tool for getting out of your head and into your body. Try the Warrior III balancing sequence above or create own balance pose sequence using:
6) Take a Mindful Walk
Take a relaxing walk outside. Open up your senses and take in your surroundings – sights, sounds, smells, temperature, feel the sun or breeze on your skin. Observe with an open, curious mind and without making up stories or explanations about your experience. Notice what draws your attention. Whenever you notice that you’re lost in thought, bring yourself back to walking with awareness of your surroundings.
7) Immerse Yourself In A Creative Project
Anything challenging that requires focus, skill and mastery is good for practicing mindful attention. Whether you compose a piece of music, make a floral arrangement or paint a portrait of your cat, creative pursuits can lead you to a flow state where body and mind are fully integrated around the same task. Pick a project. Bring mindful attention to it, and resist the urge to judge the result. It's about the process; not the final product.
As a yoga teacher, I find it so rewarding to watch students settle into stillness at the end of class. There’s something so sweet and so special about agreeing as a group to let our guard down, to take off our social masks, and to trust each other enough to completely relax and let go in one another’s presence … to just BE together. It’s pure magic.
Savasana, aka Corpse pose, is the resting practice at the end of a yoga class. It involves lying down and consciously relaxing tension’s grip on your body and then just ... being there ... for about 10-15 minutes
Students tend to either love it or loathe it. If you’re the sort of person that craves intense stimulation, you probably have a hard time surrendering to savasana. You might even find it pointless and frustrating. If you’re a busy person with things to do, you may not think you have time to lie on the floor and do ‘nothing’. And you would be right – except that when you do savasana, it only looks like you’re doing nothing. Beneath savasana’s surface, there are a mind-boggling array of physiological processes taking place in support of your health and well-being. Prepare to be inspired, surprised and delighted about the benefits of rest.
1) Your Body Heals and Regenerates
Unchecked stress wreaks havoc on every system of your body, creating wear and tear that can have serious health consequences. When you relax in savasana, you turn on your body’s healing response, also known as the ‘Relaxation Response’. In this state, your body can direct energy towards restorative and regenerative functions. For example, when you're stressed, blood flows to your muscles, tensing them in preparation to fight or flee from danger. When you rest, that blood gets redirected towards digestive functions and tissue repair. The table below shows a small sampling of the ways in which stress can wear you down and rest helps you to heal.
2) Fat Loss
A 2013 National Institute of Health study found that Restorative Yoga (a style of yoga that involves lying down in relaxing poses like savasana) also helps people lose substantial subcutaneous fat.
The study took place over 48 weeks and involved two groups of people: one that did a routine of basic stretching exercises and another that took part in a restorative yoga routine. Both groups lost weight, but the restorative yoga group lost more than 2.5 times the amount of subcutaneous fat as the stretch group during the first 6 months. They also did better at keeping the weight off.
How does lying on the floor and relaxing change your body? Clearly it's not by torching calories and working up a sweat!
Researchers believe it has something to do with cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. High cortisol levels contribute to weight again - particularly around the abdomen. And yoga, in general, reduces cortisol levels.
It's also worth considering that stress can lead to a poor diet (ask anyone that's dived into a plate of fries at the end of a tough day). If you're a 'stress eater' a relaxation practice could simply offer a different avenue for dealing with stress.
3) Become a More Relaxed Human Being
It is possible. You can do it. You can learn to be relaxed and awake at the same time, even. Relaxation is a valuable and trainable skill that you can take off of your mat and use in everyday life. It can help you feel more in control of your emotions and become less reactive. It can also help you deal better with anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
4) Integrate New Learning
Your nervous system processes new learning when you rest. All those new movement skills you learned in yoga class? Your integrate and assimilate them better when you make time for rest at the end of practice. This goes for ANY movement practice; not just yoga.
5) Stimulate Creativity
Relaxation stimulates activity in the right hemisphere of your brain (your left brain is the side that analyzes, calculates and deliberates). Right-brain activation is the doorway to holistic, big-picture thinking. It allows you to connect far-flung dots and think outside the box. Some of my students bring journals to class – because their best ideas come to them right after savasana! If you feel stuck in a problem that’s crying out for a creative solution, try rest.
If you’re thinking ‘all of this sounds great, but …’ you struggle with relaxation, here are some tips for a more successful savasana
1. Do something active first
If your mind is racing, .you may not be able to relax at all. Get the ants out of your pants and burn of some energy to prepare yourself for rest.
2. Minimize sensory stimulation
Get ready to relax the same way you get ready for sleep at night. Get comfortable, turn the lights down, minimize noise and make sure you’re warm. Eliminate distracting sensations. You won’t be able to relax if you’re overstimulated or uncomfortable.
3. Give yourself time
It takes time to unwind. Give yourself 10 – 20 minutes if you can – and try to be patient with the process.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice –Your ability to relax gets better with practice. Just like improving muscles strength, you have to do plenty of reps to see growth!
Savasana brings you into the here and now and into the realm of limitless possibility. To open up to creativity and your body’s natural healing processes all you have to do is lie down, breathe, relax, tune into bodily sensations, and observe with a passive state of mind. Practice makes you peaceful.
Additional Reading and Resources
The Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Bensen
Araneta M, Allison MA, Barrett-Connor E, Kanaya AM. Overall and regional fat change: results from the Practice of Restorative Yoga or Stretching for Metabolic Syndrome (PRYSMS) study. Results presented at: 73rd Scientific Session of the American Diabetes Association; June 22, 2013; Chicago, IL.
Feasibility of Integration of Yoga in a Behavioral Weight‐Loss Intervention: A Randomized Trial - Jakicic - 2021 - Obesity - Wiley Online Library
A recent study on the role of yoga in weight loss for adults with obesity or overweight that concluded restorative hatha and vinyasa yoga were equally effective as part of a weight-loss program. this is great news as Restorative yoga is more accessible than Vinyasa - and just as effective.
Clean living (‘Saucha’ in Sanskrit) is part of a yoga lifestyle. The path of yoga is actually a process of ‘cleaning up’ our lives – body, breath, mind, heart and relationships – so we can experience peace, harmony and freedom. It is REALLY hard to find peace when your life and relationships are a mess.
If you want it, you gotta roll up your sleeves and do some work to CREATE it. When you clean, reorganize and let go of things that stand in the way of harmonious living, you clear a path that leads in the right direction.
There are so many ways to engage in saucha as a practice. You don't have to do them all. But, as you read on, notice which suggestions make you feel inspired. That's the perfect place for you to begin.
FOR YOUR BODY
Adopt a Daily Movement Practice
Movement stimulates circulation and delivers oxygen to every cell in your body so it can work optimally and thrive. Regular movement allows your cells to ‘breathe’, keeps your tissues hydrated, improves your immune system function, lubricates your joints and helps to keep your body healthy and strong. Good movement ‘hygiene’ is critical to your health and well-being. Commit to moving every day in the same way that you commit to brushing your teeth. Your health depends on it!
Eating ‘clean’ means eating foods that nourish and contribute to good health and avoiding foods that don’t. When you can, opt for fresh foods, rather than processed. It’ll do your body and your health a world of good.
Skin and Bodycare
Pay attention to the kinds of products you use on your body. A lot of cosmetics are toxic. You can avoid many of the harmful ingredients in personal care products by making a trip to your local health food store or natural beauty shop to find soaps, moisturizers, makeup, and hair products created specifically with your health and well-being in mind. This minimizes harm to both you and the environment (another key tenet of yoga is not causing harm).
FOR YOUR MIND
A wonderfully refreshing breathing practice that calms, clears and cools your mind.
ADDED BONUS: the cooling effect of Sitali also makes you feel minty fresh on the inside.
-it boosts your ability to think clearly
-reduces your risk of anxiety and depression.
-helps you to work more productively
-improves your mood and sleep (which improves memory and thinking).
If you’ve got a mental block and need to clear your head, a simple remedy is to just get up and move.
FOR YOUR HEART
The famous activist/designer William Morris said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Apply the same rule to your relationships. Welcome and nurture relationships that are beautiful and beneficial. If you’ve got relationships that are past their ‘best before’ date, clean them out. Put up healthy boundaries.
FOR YOUR COMMUNITY
We can’t just ‘om’ life’s problems away. Yoga doesn’t work like that. Racism, social injustice, pollution and climate change: these issues require our attention and our action if they’re going to get better. And yoga IS A PATH OF ACTION. You are meant to take yoga philosophy to heart - and bring it to life. Actively cleaning up our communities is a form of embodying ‘cleanliness’ and ‘harm prevention’ (another key tenet of yoga). As yoga practitioners, we are required to roll up our sleeves and use our own two hands to create a peaceful living environment – not just for ourselves, but for everyone.
By all means, recharge on your mat and create peace in your own body and mind – but don’t let your practice begin and end there. Spread peace.
FOR YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Marie Kondo the heck out of your life! An clean & organized living/working environment improves focus and mental clarity. It allows you to be more positive and productive. And it generally makes everyday functioning go more smoothly. When you don’t attend to your TO DO list, when loose papers take over your home and disorganization rules, you compromise your ability to focus on what is important. The dishes in the sink, the unpaid phone bill, the report you should have submitted yesterday, etc. It all gets in the way of getting to work on the things you really value. Don’t let that pile up!
Clean your home or your workspace. When you’re finished, notice how you feel. (and in the midst of your cleaning frenzy, consider using natural products that don’t contain chemical ingredients that will harm you or the planet).
A yoga practice extends beyond the edges of your mat. It is a lifelong journey that helps bring balance to every area of life. When you pay attention to cleanliness, and actively participate in cleaning up your little corner of the world: your body, your breath, your mind, your heart, your community, your environment - you improve the quality of life for yourself and for others.