Posted by: Bruce Black | February 14, 2011

Mindfulness in the Dark

After finishing my practice this morning–-thirty minutes in the dark-–I sat making notes in my journal, then put aside my pen and notebook and turned to roll up my mat.

My mat is an extra-long, thickly padded strip of rubber from Manduka that my wife gave me a few years ago when it became clear that I was serious about my practice. I roll it up after each session and store it in a corner of her closet.

This morning, though, as I squatted at the head of the mat and began to roll it up, I noticed how easily I balanced on my toes and sat on my heels, as if it was another pose that I hadn’t expected to find but had somehow discovered after “finishing” my morning practice.

But do we really “finish” our practice once we leave our mats behind, or do we “carry” our practice with us throughout the day?

What was different this morning about rolling up my mat?

Perhaps it was moving through the poses in the darkness, eyes closed most of the time, listening to my breath, focusing on moving through an ache in my side, a sudden twitch in the sole of my right foot, that helped me become more mindful about the poses themselves, and, afterward, about the process of rolling up my mat.

In the dark, ironically, I could see more clearly.

I could see my hands rolling up my mat with care, could feel my calves and quads at ease in the squat, could sense my balance.

I could observe myself carrying my rolled mat back to the closet.

The challenge for me after practice is to carry this attitude of mindfulness off my mat into the rest of my day.

In my journal after finishing my asana practice, I asked myself  the question:  How can I remain mindful in every moment.

And this question: How can I remind myself to stay focused in the moment and not turn away from someone because I’m distracted by the TV or a newspaper?

And this: How can I stay attuned to the slant of light in the sky, the color of the clouds, the touch of a breeze on my skin?

And: How can I celebrate life with all of my being every moment? Is it even possible?

Today I’ll try to carry this attitude of mindfulness off the mat into my life, to rise to the challenge when I’m facing a difficult moment in a conversation with a friend (think: Revolved Side-Angle Pose), to hold my balance when I feel myself falling out of mindfulness (think: Tree Pose),  to rest when I need to rest (think: Child’s Pose).

Our yoga practice, along with keeping a journal, can help us notice not only our bodies as our muscles stretch and twist but our attitude toward how we feel in a given pose, a given moment.

It’s this ongoing process of noticing, I think, that helps us cultivate a greater degree of mindfulness on our mats and in our lives.

Journal Practice:

Try sitting in the darkness for a few minutes before beginning your asana practice. No journal, no pen, just you and your mat. (Or sit on the floor without a mat or in a chair if that’s more comfortable.) Let your mind observe you sitting. What do you “see”? What do you “feel”?

Once you can see yourself clearly in your mind’s eye, begin your practice. Pay special attention to the sound of your breath, the feel of your lungs inhaling, your chest expanding. As you move into your poses, try to breathe in and out in rhythm to the sequence of the poses.

After you finish your practice, sit quietly in Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Eyes closed. Palms open or closed, resting on your knees. Can you notice your breath, how your fingers clench or unfold easily, how your lower back strains to hold you upright, how your buttocks root you to your mat?

Now take your journal and pen and describe how practicing in the dark influenced your practice. Were you able to cultivate a greater degree of mindfulness on your mat? And do you think you’ll be able to carry that mindfulness into the routines of your day?

A note of  thanks to my teacher, Rita Knorr, for suggesting that I try practicing in the dark as a way to “see” the poses differently.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Bruce, I love your post. Yoga has definitely brought a sense of clarity and mindfulness into my life. But is it necessary or even desireable to carry mindfulness throughout every moment of the day? I don’t think our bodies/minds are designed for this level of attentiveness to be a constant. I think that the distractions are part and parcel of who and what we are as human beings- and they make those moments of perfect clarity, of mindfulness and awareness of our spiritual nature that much more interesting and revelatory.

    Thanks for inviting the conversation! I hope your day is full of those beautiful moments of seeing clearly.

  2. Thanks, Cheryl, for the reminder that contrasts are part of life, and for suggesting that the contrasts themselves are part of what help us appreciate the intensity and clarity of certain moments when we find those moments (or when they find us).

  3. Greetings from a fellow yoga practitioner and writer:

    I keep a yoga journal, especially for notes on my Iyengar training, but I typically focus on class notes. My jottings on my daily morning practice are sketchier. Do you recommend keeping a daily practice journal, even if brief, for the consistency (akin to the daily practice itself?)?

    I am also wondering whether you’ve ever read or “done” Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I bought the book over a decade ago but never seriously did each chapter. And, of course, it’s “Morning Pages” versus morning practice!

    Best,
    YogaSpy
    http://yogaspy.com

  4. YogaSpy,

    There’s an enormous benefit to keeping a daily practice journal, but there are no rules. Each writer needs to find the routine and method that best serves his or her practice.

    But I suspect that each time we make notes in our journals, we deepen our relationship with ourselves. And as we find more ease in that relationship, we’ll find more ease in putting the words down.

    Some days you may find yourself with only a few words or phrases, other days a full page or more. Each day is different, just as it’s different each time you step on your mat.

    Jula Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is a wonderful resource. I just took my copy off the shelf and opened at random to page 91–“Recovering a Sense of Possibility.”

    And you know what? I think that chapter title would serve as an interesting theme for a practice session, whether or not you jot down thoughts about it before or after your practice.

    What if you spend five minutes writing on a theme of your choice–possibilities, for instance–before you start your practice, and then see how writing beforehand might change your perspective while doing the poses?

    Nothing too strenuous, just whatever comes in those five minutes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: