The Importance of Staying Present
We all struggle at times to remain in the "present." Looking forward makes us worry about what might happen; looking back makes us wonder what could have been. Both of these perspectives contribute to stress. A couple of months ago my friend Stephanie and I went to a Yin yoga and acupuncture workshop led by my friend and yoga instructor, Mark Mostaed. It was one of the most relaxing 2 hours that I had experienced in a long time, and was part of my inspiration to start the "Stress-Free Summer" blog series. I reached out to Mark to add to the series, and you can read his thoughts below. He and his wife Charlotte recently moved from Cincinnati to Los Angeles, so L.A. friends, check him out!
We live in a world that is not exactly conducive to our evolutionary roots. We continually encounter stress in a way that was foreign to our ancestors. Human bodies were not designed to sit for extended periods of time. Traffic is a very modern invention. One doesn't need to look for stress to find it- overcrowded cities, increasing work hours with never ending deadlines, poor sleeping patterns, and a general disconnection from nature are just a few of the common practices of most Americans. And we won't even take into account a diet that is foreign to our bodies, exacerbating the effects of stress on us. Many of which can be fatal and leave you feeling anxious and fatigued at best. Our bodies were designed to deal with moment by moment scenarios with a fight or flight response. These scenarios, such as a tiger chasing us, were usually short lived. Once they were through we went on about our lives gathering nuts and berries and hanging out by the fire. We didn't worry about what we were going to encounter tomorrow because it hadn't happened yet! But before we spiral into stressing about stress, we should remember that the same brains that got us into this mess, can get us out! Science has given us many solutions- exercise, diet, down time. But in order to truly attenuate the negative effects of modern life, I believe one must get to the root of all stress. I'm with the Buddhists when they say pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Suffering in this vernacular can be thought of as the patterns that we attach to the inevitable hardships of life. For example, you walk outside one day and realize that you forgot to pay the meter. Instead of picking up the ticket and paying it, you spiral into a vicious cycle of thoughts about the mortgage bill you have to pay and how you will not be able to put as much savings into retirement as you had expected, which means you might not be able to take that vacation you were hoping for at the end of summer, which makes you think about how you actually hate your job and your boss is just a big jerk for making your workload so hard and... Let's stop that speeding train of suffering right there! It's just a parking ticket. In this moment nothing has changed; the sun is still shining, your feet are still on the ground, and life is moving on right around you as normal. The only thing different is that this spiral of thoughts has sent cortisol shooting through your veins at an alarming rate, causing irregularity in your breath patterns and making it increasingly more difficult for you to relax. What do I propose you do? Well whether you pay that ticket or not, be present with it. Feel that initial dread for a second and then let it go! Next thought please! This has nothing to do with your job or your value in this world. That last thing is something that only you can give to yourself. No vacation is going to make you happy. It might make you think differently and realize some of the contributing factors to your mental state. But as soon as you realize that you're in control of your mind, then you recognize that you didn't need to go halfway around the globe to figure that out now did you? My advice is stop, slow down, watch your breathing, become mindful of all that is occurring within your awareness. With true, undifferentiated awareness, inevitably comes change. Don't be in a hurry to get there either, because everything you need is really already inside of you. This is what mindfulness shows us. It can't be intellectualized, it must be practiced. -Mark Mostaed
So, how do we get here? Well, it takes some practice! The practice of yoga prepares our minds for meditation. "Meditation is like any other skill, it requires a bit of instruction and practice", my zivaMIND teacher, Emily Fletcher, tells us. She teaches us to meditate to become "good at life," not good at meditation. The same is true of yoga. It's not always mastering that handstand or difficult pose that is important here. It's the practice that helps us achieve the tools to conquer our problems and move on (in anything, really). It's what we learn while we are practicing that is important. Practicing both of these things helps us to be more present.
So I encourage you to roll that mat out- take out the judgement from your mind for 90 minutes in a good yoga class with a knowledgeable instructor like Mark. Do your research and settle into a studio that makes you feel good and cope better. And give your body and mind the gift of beginning a stress-relief daily practice. LA folks can now practice with him at Modo. Find out more about Mark and where he's teaching in LA here. If you live somewhere else and need some guidance about where to go, send us a message and we will point you in the right direction to start your journey.