No matter how many times I set an intention to stay present to what’s happening on my mat, I’ll notice before long that my mind wanders.
It’s as if my mind and body become disconnected. As I twist into Triangle or stretch in Downward Dog, my body goes one way, my mind another.
When I reach for my toes in Forward Bend, my thoughts turn to options for dinner (black bean burgers or curried eggplant?). When I hold an extra-long Plank, I’ll find myself thinking about calling the handyman to fix the tile in our shower. While resting in Child’s Pose, I realize that I’m thinking not of the pose but of an unfinished manuscript on my desk.
Why this happens—why my mind wanders— is a mystery to me.
I can sit on my mat and notice my breath flowing into my lungs and out again. I can stand tall and reach for the sky in Mountain Pose. I can lift my leg and plant my foot on the opposite thigh and balance in Tree Pose. And for a moment or two my thoughts are focused on what my body is doing. But then, before I know what’s happened, my thoughts scatter like squirrels scurrying off in different directions.
It helps sometimes if I count my breath—one, two, three, four…. in, out, in, out— to root myself in the present. I try to slow down my thoughts and notice how my chest rises and falls with each breath. Counting each breath seems to keep my mind from wandering… until it starts to wander again … like a puppy wanting to explore the world.
Why is it so hard to stay in the present?
What I’ve come to understand is that pulling my thoughts back to the mat (which can feel like herding cats) requires concentration and determination, and yet no amount of concentration can keep my thoughts firmly in the moment for long.
It’s as if the moment is like a frozen pond, and my thoughts can’t help slipping and sliding across it, and there’s no railing for me to hold on to in order to keep my balance.
This becomes the practice: watching my thoughts slip and slide in different directions (using the asana poses as tools to help me notice thoughts as they arise), and letting them go, and remembering to breathe.
Each pose reminds me to breathe, to come back to the here and now.
Each breath brings my thoughts back to center, back to this moment.
If I can breathe with mindfulness, breathe into the moment, I am able to see with greater clarity how my body is experiencing the moment—this moment, then this moment, and then this and the next.
The longer that I can stay focused in this moment, the deeper I find that I can experience the moment and how it feels to sit in Easy Pose or lie on my back in Savasana, or how it feels to twist in Side Angle Pose or bend forward over my knee in High Lunge.
The thing about a wandering mind is that it keeps pulling me away from this moment into the world of my imagination, into a world of fantasy, into a world that doesn’t really exist … except in my mind.
It might pull me into a world of fears or doubts, hopes or dreams. It might pull me into a world filled with anxiety about a future that has not yet arrived, or regrets about a past that cannot be changed.
But if I can bring my thoughts back to the present by focusing on my breath or on how my thigh feels in Pigeon Pose, I can stave off my mind’s habit of pulling away from the moment and find myself rooted in the present.
And then I can see the world, not as I might want it to be or as I might dread it becoming, but as it is.
Practice journal: In what way does yoga help you stay rooted in the present and experience the full depth of each moment as it unfolds? Write: 10 min.