The Art of Living Mindfully
Updated: Jul 10, 2019
The challenges of modern day living
We could all say that we wish to live happily and harmoniously with others and our environment, yet it is true that from time to time, it is part of life to experience problems and challenges that tip that balance. It seems to me that we are living in unprecedented challenging times on all levels, environmentally, politically, health-wise, physically, mentally and emotionally.
We are living in a world where we receive a constant flow of information, that over-stimulates the mind and completely distracts us from being able to focus on the more pertinent things or things that matter most. We place our attention on external things that we become identified with and then we lose sight of who we really are. It seems that life is faster and stress is increasing.
The Mental health foundation survey in May 2018 found that “74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope”. 81% of women said this compared to 67 percent of men. 83% of 18-24 year-olds said this compared to 65 percent of people aged 55 and over. Ref: https://bit.ly/2sW3Oal .
According to Euronews, (ref: https://www.euronews.com/) compared to the rest of Europe, the UK has one of the longest working weeks, with employees working an average of 42.3 hours per week. We can see an imbalance here in how we approach working life.
In my own practice of complementary therapies I find that stress and anxiety are the most common reasons that someone will book in for a treatment, or bring them to the practice of yoga or meditation. With these tools, it is possible to become more skilful in how we live. We have at our finger-tips access to incredible information that can educate and enlighten us and expand our minds and view of how we live.
What does it mean to live life mindfully and why is it an art?
Stress seems to be an accepted part of life, yet it needn’t be, it is important to take time out to replenish and recuperate and self-care is vital to doing this. A big part of this is about taking action, but can also be helped by the attitude and approaches to life that we adopt.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga are on the rise, as for many they are effective for relieving tension and stress. Mindfulness is not a technique, but a state of being aware of the present moment just as things are, without judging or altering them. This includes the full realm of being; thoughts that pass through the mind, feelings and emotions that are present, sensations that are felt in the body. Mindfulness can therefore be applied to present moment awareness whatever the activity, and can bring a sense of focussed attention that has a calm quality about it.
When we are present and more in the moment we can tap into a wealth of innate resources.
We can take for example the act of breathing. The breath expresses all our thoughts and emotions. We can access our breathing as a way of connecting to present moment experience by becoming aware of inhaling and exhaling, and we can choose to slow it down and lengthen the exhalation to relax our nervous system. Holistic systems of health such as yoga, meditation, Chi Kung, Tai Chi, use focus on breathing as a primary conduit of relaxation and connection to mind body, spirit and consciousness.
Being aware of what is happening in the moment as it arises, allows our mind to move away from the future in terms of planning, imagining, and perhaps a tendency for this to turn into worry of what might or might not happen! We can spend a lot of time worrying this way and worrying thoughts create stressful feelings.
A yogic view of living
The word yoga comes from the Sankrit word YUG which means to tie or unite. I like to think of yoga as a vehicle for reconnecting all the disparate parts of self, in that there are many distractions that take our minds in all directions. As our lives seem to be centred around looking at a screen, whether through our phones or computers, there is a disconnection from our bodies with a more technologiclly connected lifestyle. Our senses are over-stimulated in favour of operating mainly from the intellect.
The Yamas and Niyamas are yogic ethical codes of conduct as written by the sage Patanjali in the “Yoga Sutras” over 2,000 years ago. They are often used as a guideline in practising yoga but translate beautifully in adding a quality of attention that we can easily bring into our daily life.
To live life more mindfully means to live with intention and on purpose, to express kindness, to live in peace and harmony.
This leads to the 8 fold path of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. He lays out these paths as ways of following codes of conduct that helps us to connect to present moment awareness and attention that leads to enlightenment.
There are 8 limbs of the Astanga yoga that provide the pathways to living with awareness. The first limb is the Yamas (codes of conduct with others), then the Niyamas (personal ethics), Asana, (Postures), Pranayama (Focussed breathwork), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from the external word to the inner field of awareness), Dharana (Focussed attention), Dyhana (the meditative state) and Samadhi (enlightenement and freedom from suffering.