by Ali Valdez, Pathwise Contributor
In Western yoga circles, there is a highly popularized Indian text, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It begins with the Sanskrit word, “attah” which means now. Like striking a sleeping match against its box to awaken a flame, the pearl of wisdom goes on to read: Now, begins the practice of yoga.
Not later, not eventually, but RIGHT NOW.
The very nature of yoga is the trapping of one’s full attention, what the yogis call eka grata, the ability to fully devote energy to one thing was a sense of mastery and meaning; a highly transferrable skill across personal and professional life.
In today’s common vernacular, we call these techniques mindfulness and resilience.
Over the course of thousands of years, the art of yoga has steadily made its way from the dirt floors of the ashram to the veneer lacquered boardroom through validation by Western science. From parchment to published studies, yoga and meditation’s “yoking” of one’s attention and conditioning it to withstand any distraction or adversity, is a coveted craft mastered by few.
Pathwise introduces this concept through the teaching of suspension of attention. The practice of suspending one’s attention blends insights from both yoga and meditation; using the body to root your consciousness squarely in the present moment.
Not much about modern life is conducive to a grounded inner stillness and liberated mind. Everything is moving faster, compounded by Moore’s law, and flashing feeds, technology and media constantly bombard our senses. Quickly we realize that somewhere we were taken hostage and that aiming for complete focus is an exercise in futility. Weave in the energetic expense in dealing with people, maintaining relationships and (for the love of God) getting your kids quietly into bed, and there is no waking moment that doesn’t make demands on our mental and emotional well-being.
Personally, I have found a few techniques to create discipline being in the now, savoring the fruits of attah. Maybe not quite like a forest-dwelling rishi, but at least like someone who has never played Atari.
So as not to meddle in one’s working time, may I recommend early morning, mid-day and later evening as ideal times to cultivate a sense of attah; when everything else in life is not yet showing up at your doorstep.
Let’s glean ancient insights from a modern construct.
You are an exquisite, divinely-manifested computer. Imagine your body is the hardware, pliant in some parts, tough and stiff in others. Now, the operating system is your brain and more. The applications get installed by social conditioning; thanks, mom and dad, school and society! The internet or outside world are like your arterial, venal, lymphatic and nervous systems. In your case, the practice of physical yoga keeps the body of the laptop protected, resilient to breakage and maintains its longevity. But for anyone who works with computers knows, it isn’t the body of the computer that causes the all the problems.
Your operating system is comprised of a flickering, pulsating, neural code; you’re more than a million rows of zeroes and ones could ever encompass. On top of that, there will be social and cultural conditioning influencing along the way, rearranging neural pathways, strengthen some connections, weakening others in direct relationship to your experiences of the world.
Now imagine six colored cords injecting you with data, like an indiscriminative rainbow flooding your brain with billions of sensorial inputs.…each second. In this vision, the melding of immense amounts of data stemming from different systems seems so complex, that it’s no wonder some issues arise. You are a complex system with myriad vulnerabilities. The practice of being in the present moment is the anti-viral software your OS most desperately needs.
Yoga and meditation can help secure your natural vulnerabilities. It’s like an annual subscription to Symantec, which fortifies, monitors and protects all potential threats. That is if you can pause and be here now.
Here are a few ways to do this daily.
- In the mornings, don’t be hasty to open your eyes. Meet your breath. If possible, sit right where you are, taking as many minutes as you can muster to connect inward. Visualize your day, identify your needs, set an intention, practice simple gratitude. Advocate for self before facing the onslaught the external world has waiting for you off the cliff of your mattress. Either way, make it sacred time to you. The world awaits, and no one else will.
- Mid-day, if possible, see if you can get outdoors. Consider walking meetings, or just sit outside. Connecting with nature, taking in its colors, textures and smells can imbibe you with a reprieve from all the electronic or relational impacts of the day.
- Consider trying to enjoy your lunch free of distractions, notably no electronics. If you are eating with others, gift them your full attention. Notice how different it feels when someone is giving you theirs. Think about your food before you wolf it down like a savage beast. Pausing to express gratitude for your meal and those who prepared it. Chew slowly — you might even enjoy how it tastes more.
- Throughout the day, check in with your breath, which serves as an insightful guide to one’s quality of mind. Small mindful moments can be captured in minute-sized bites by simply closing the eyes and concentrating on your breath and the orientation of your physical body in space.
- One of my favorite “non-yogic” mindful moments is holding someone’s hand. Every day when I take my daughter to and from school, we hold hands while she tells me what’s on her mind. It’s just about her and I.
- Finally, at the end of the day, take time to unwind. You’ve earned it! I prefer to take a warm, quiet bath, and return to my meditation seat where I started my day. I feel like if I can end my day with the same peace of mind that I feel upon waking up, I have done something right.
Any type of yoga, regardless of “style” is designed to target the trapping of the mind and balancing the systems of the body. In the science of ancient healing arts (think way, way before everyone thought microwaves, fanny-packs and processed foods were actually great ideas), they had names: nadis, chakras, marmas, qi, prana, meridians, tsubo, extraordinary vessel, etc. If your probing, analytic mind needs some reassurance that practicing these techniques might be better for you than nightly popping three Advils, we now would apply terms like blood pressure, stress hormones, and energy levels and nerves.
Each of these activities are designed to bring you comfort, ease, and support you throughout your life. Who wouldn’t want to feel those things more regularly in their lives? It is possible when we are ready to embrace the attah. Be Here Now; after all, isn’t that all there really is?