the mindfulness project: what was january's focus?

kathryn flynn headstand free yoga podcasts.jpeg

A chiming sound from my bag alerts me to a text message. I fish my phone out and read, "What was your mindfulness theme for January?"

It was health.

My career is a blessing, it shares top spots on my gratitude list with my family and our dog. Making yoga a full time career could be a series in itself, but a common misconception is that it's relaxing. I've often explained it as similar to delivering an inspirational talk at the same time as a fitness class and giving a massage. There's a lot going on, a lot of energy going out, and if you teach yoga classes, you're working when other people have time to play. Hours vary. There are many showers and wardrobe changes.

I am inspired and motivated by teaching, so long as there is sufficient time of not-teaching to care for myself, my family, and the work that fuels the teaching (reading, writing, practice).

It's the same balancing act everyone tinkers with, it's just the content that's uniquely mine. We all devote sufficient time to our economic pursuits to fulfill our financial needs, and if we're lucky, we find our work satisfying. Beyond income, we have varying levels of familial commitments and domestic commitments. If we're really lucky, we have a vibrant social circle that makes this easier.

As Joseph Campbell expresses in the Power of Myth, almost all of our pursuits are economically or socially driven. We must create a sacred space for ourselves, as "your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again". We could also think of this as devoting time to prosperity and/or connection, but when we do not carve out sufficient sacred space for ourselves, we deplete ourselves. We can neither prosper nor connect. Our energy overly diffused, we lose a sense of peacefulness and presence in the current moment,  our awareness flitting to the past or the future. By investing energy back into ourselves, we show up in the present moment more vibrant, aware, and we return to our pursuits ready to embrace their challenges and opportunities. To draw from a well, there must be an ample supply.

How do we fill the well when the list of what sustains it is endless? It might be easy to look at this activity with jaded eyes, but here's where the mindfulness project is my tool. I made a list of the things I feel are essential to my health and wellness, because each are a contributing factor to my physical well-being, emotional health, and stress-management. In no particular order, they are....

my yoga practice, working out, vibrant food, socializing, quality time with Andrew, reading, connecting with my parents, fiscal responsibility, setting goals and devising their realization, staying organized, a clean house, producing great work, being a great dog owner, quality sleep, being good at my job, vacation, and occasional massages. 

Using some compassionate self-awareness, below is an honest identification of the challenges I experience to living a healthful balance, presented in a way that positions me as the primary actor who shapes my experience.

Failing to organize my schedule, saying yes to too many things, not giving realistic timelines to others, spending money on things rather than experiences, assuming Andrew knows what I need help with, expecting time to appear for my practice and workout times, wasting time on puttering (on the internet or around the house), poorly communicating my needs, not planning weekends at home, not responding to emails in a timely fashion, trying to make everyone happy, feeling like it has to be perfect to be good enough.

In my list, there are two major themes: waiting for the perfect moment, and failing to appropriately communicate needs. We should all consider striking “finding the time” from our phrasebook, since no one ever discovers time just lying about. Time must be made through time-management skills, which conveniently is February’s theme. Mindfulness around time!

By getting to know myself and seeing where I'm inhibiting myself from living healthfully, I can create real change to organize a lifestyle that fuels me. The list of what makes me feel healthy is exhaustive. It's what helps, not necessarily what happens every day! In which case, I need to prioritize and accept my decisions to include one thing and not another.

In one of modern yoga’s seminal texts, Light on Yoga,  BKS Iyengar writes of the best place to practice: “The banks of a lake or river of the sea-shore are ideal. Such quiet ideal places are hard to find in modern times; but one can at least make a corner in one’s room available for practice and keep it clean, airy, dry, and pest-free.” Great advice! Even in times where life has to be busy (I'm looking at you, Christmas), we can carve out space in our day and schedule and get on our mats. Five minutes of conscious breathing and movement could be the moments that reconnect you with yourself. Just five minutes can reconnect you to yourself. Letting go of perfectionism is itself yoga practice, since perfectionism is an illusion that disempowers us from effecting change.

Accepting “good enough” requires prioritization, and actively choosing our choices. This is a favourite phrase of mine. What does it mean to “choose your choices”? It means to see choice and opportunity where you see obligation and powerlessness. This is tough for a lot of people, and it was tough for me. It's easy to blame what we don't like about our experience on other people, but it's not fair to them, and certainly not fair to ourselves. People say they have to do x,y, or z for their children or partner, and work just won’t let them get away. If we keep waiting for the job that earns a lot of money, but also gives us ample time to spend at the gym… or the partner who just knows we need a night off without having to ask them for it… the good night’s sleep without cultivating peacefulness in the evening… a healthy body without giving up a sugar addiction… well, we’re going to spend our life in the future, waiting for it to arrive.

To create our sacred space for ourselves, to rediscover who we really are, we’re going to need to let something go. We might need to get over our fear of negativity from coworkers and organize lunchtime yoga. Or have clear conversations with family about our needs, and outline exactly how those are going to be achieved and how they can help. Maybe it's accepting that unless we give up the life we've chosen and move to a remote island of self-development, we should prioritize health and wellness as possible within the parameters of this life.

Integrating change requires effort and energy - in yoga, we describe habits as grooves or imprints of the mind: samskaras. The more we repeat a behaviour, the deeper entrenched the groove. Some grooves run so deep we don't even see where we started cultivating them. We can build confidence with small, healthful changes. I suggest flossing, or beginning and ending your day with 10 long, thoughtful breaths.

How I make a healthy life happen, or what I do when I'm feeling energetically undernourished, is an ongoing part of this mindfulness project. My health is so much more than what particular foods I eat, it’s the holistic approach I take to my life. By accepting that there will be an ebb and flow, and ensuring that there is more flow than ebb, I maintain sufficient equilibrium to thrive.

Which is why January was health month and I waited until the end of the month to write about it. I needed to prioritize my wellness for a little while. It felt really good.

in love, xo