Yoga is a powerful antidote for stress and anxiety because it grounds us in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness — and presence — on our mat helps clear out the constant mental chatter that incessantly competes for our attention. Simply put: Yoga quiets the mind.
Our “monkey mind” is constantly pulling us into the past (i.e. worrying about an email we got from our boss or obsessing about an expired relationship) or yanking us into the future (i.e. stressing out about a big presentation at work or wondering what’s for dinner). Practicing presence offers us a timeout from our mental load and gives us peace of mind.
Most days I achieve presence on my mat by focusing on my breath, my physical alignment in each posture and by tracking my physical sensations.
But do random thoughts ever filter in? Absolutely.
Last week, I actively kept track of my thoughts on my mat by writing them down immediately afterward, which was quite a revelatory experiment. I discovered my ego is alive and well, and I have a major inner critic who sometimes derails me.
MONDAY ON MY MAT
Right before class starts: “I’m so freaking tired. I hope we start off laying on our backs.”
1 minute in: “Damn. We’re starting seated.”
15 minutes in: “Why does my body feel so stiff and sluggish today?”
30 minutes in: “I’m so frustrated that my body is not cooperating right now.”
45 minutes in: “Cut yourself some slack, you just had knee surgery a month and a half ago and your body is still healing.”
60 minutes in: “I wonder if the other people in class will think I’m lazy if I take an early savasana?”
63 minutes in: “zzzzz…”
TUESDAY ON MY MAT
5 minutes in: “Hopefully I’ll feel stronger today, than yesterday.”
30 minutes in: “Rock on. I nailed that handstand. I’m crushing this class!”
60 minutes in: “Spoke too soon. Ego check. Practice what you preach and remember that yoga is not a competition — not with anyone else and not with yourself.”
75 minutes in: “I can’t wait to get home and see my dogs.”
WEDNESDAY ON MY MAT
Took the day off from practicing to rest my body. Briefly questioned whether I was being lazy or simply practicing self-care. Landed on self-care.
THURSDAY ON MY MAT
5 minutes in: “Bummer. I can already tell I’m not going to like this class.”
20 minutes in: “That was an odd sequencing choice. I wonder if the teacher is just making this up as he goes along.”
35 minutes in: “This teacher literally has no idea what he’s teaching.”
45 minutes in: “I wish I had noise-canceling headphones. This playlist is making my ears bleed.”
46 minutes in: “Wow. Who is this inner asshole that has taken over my body? Seriously. Why am I being so critical today?”
60 minutes in: “Gut check. Where are these judgments coming from? Humble yourself. Even if I don’t love the class, I can still learn something from it. Just breathe.”
70 minutes in:” I really hope the teacher doesn’t massage my head during savasana. Those hands have spent the last hour touching everyone else’s sweat — and I know he is not using hand sanitizer.”
71 minutes in: “Ugh. He’s touching me. Do your best to look peaceful.”
72 minutes in: “Darn. I guess I’m just going to surrender to the fact that my inner asshole has taken up residence today.”
FRIDAY ON MY MAT
5 minutes in: “Inhale and exhale.”
15 minutes in: “Where can I create more space and expansion in my body?”
45 minutes in: “This pose feels so incredibly good in my body right now. Keep breathing”.
75 minutes in: “I am so very grateful for this practice.”
The takeaway? Practicing presence is the practice. Thoughts will always filter in. That is the way our brain is wired.
The task is becoming the observer and noticing when our thoughts pull us out of the present moment — catching ourselves when we’ve wandered off and making the conscious choice to bring ourselves right back. There will inevitably be days when we’re cranky and that energy follows us onto our mat. When that happens, I remind myself that when I’m judging others, it’s rarely about them and almost always about me. The things we judge most in others are usually what we judge most harshly in ourselves. This recognition almost always anchors me back into kindness and compassion. And when all else fails, remember that simply showing up on your mat is always enough.
This is how I attempt to achieve presence on the mat — every day is different. How do you stay present?