The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer, dance teacher, and yoga teacher certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms, including that of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY through Plus One. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.
Mindfulness meditation, especially when it is understood as being a way of living life as if it really mattered, moment by moment, rather than as a technique…is one powerful vehicle for realizing such transformative and healing possibilities.
-Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction)
A month ago, I closed one of my yoga classes with the quote above. We had been focused that hour on moving slower, settling into most of our asana for longer durations, purposefully drawing forth distractions and barreling streams of thought. This welcoming of a busy mind set the stage for our application of mindfulness, of attempting to replace the rush with a steady attention on each moment, each breath, and the subtler facets of our movement. After class, a regular student of mine requested to hear the quote once more, as he was getting married in a few hours and hoped to carry the message with him into his day. This definitely was one of my most thrilling exchanges with a student. And yet, what generated even more excitement in me was his story upon his return to class weeks later—how he had felt so inspired by our mindfulness work that morning that he had incorporated mindfulness as a way of living into his marital vows. To commit with such depth, he told me, seems to require a persevering presence, one that must be continually cultivated so that the connection and love between two people in such an intimate relationship can survive, and ideally grow, as the years pass by.
My student’s integration of our work on the mat into a milestone of his life touched me rather profoundly. What a way to enter into a marriage, with such thoughtfulness and trust in the process of building a life together. His pull toward mindfulness in the midst of such a momentous event so vividly illustrated to me the power of this practice. The ways it can deepen our life experiences personally and in relationships with others is unfathomable.
I find its impact difficult to comprehend mostly because of the magnitude of choices we are faced with every day. I read an article recently that regarded every thought, feeling, word, and action as health creating or health negating. To consider this turns mindfulness into a real ally. Without thoughtfulness in our words and actions, we can rapidly spiral away from our values and goals, being swayed instead by convenience, peer pressure, and a host of other persuasive elements. It’s not to say that we should expect perfection from a stronger adherence to mindfulness, but in living in closer contact with each and every moment, we can spin our lives’ tales into ones that are much more centered around the core of our being. Mindfulness meditation offers tools that can break a habit of getting swept up in life’s rush; it can slow us down and steady us, so that we can recognize what reality is in front of us and what options forward from that real moment exist. The act of being mindful very much impacts our relationship to time—not getting lured by past affairs or imagined future happenings—and to our core. From a sharpened attention can come more specific, deliberate actions that ground us in our essences.
But to really tap into the power of mindfulness, to draw it off our yoga mats or meditation cushions as my student did, requires an honest understanding of ourselves: flaws and all. A recognition and trust of our intuition must exist too in order to believe what we feel and ‘know’ to be right, and from there, to accomplish feats that fulfill our deepest needs and desires.
The last few months, I’ve been working with a friend as she establishes her life coaching practice. One exercise from our sessions that has especially stuck with me is what she calls the ‘distilling of essence.’ Without giving away her prized methods, the distillation process went something like this: She requested that I ask ten family members, friends, mentors, those who know me best, what qualities I bring to a space. From there, she sifted through that mass of information to arrive at five words: love, compassion, curiosity, joy, and radiance. To brew on these words is fascinating in and of itself, but to use them alongside our mindfulness ally hugely elevates their value in my eyes. Within our essences live answers to who we are and who we can become if we can stand by that irrefutable core. Since offering me these words, my friend has encouraged me to meet difficult and easier matters with the question: Am I living by my essence? How powerfully and directly can essence guide our choices and the course of our lives— or at least the pieces that lie somewhat under our control.
Now of course the tricky part of all this is the fact that we are constantly evolving beings, so to fully know ourselves at any given moment is probably an impossible task. But as the saying goes, you don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward. If that’s the case, then is it not worthwhile to try to slow down, to try to interact with those people and elements in our surrounding environments on a more palpable level? To take the risk of deriving choices from a place of mindfulness, even if those choices lead us down unfamiliar, and perhaps intimidating paths? As author Erica Jong wrote, “[T]he trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”
To hear of my student charging into marriage with such an appreciation for and comprehension of the value of smaller moments is insanely beautiful and inspiring to me. But I don’t think it should take a momentous event to draw mindfulness to the forefront of our life experience. How can we, even amongst the mundane activities of an average day, cultivate the tenets of mindfulness? How could these practices, even on a smaller scale, shift our world—our visions of ourselves, our relationships with others, our care of the planet and the world beyond? The power of choice is an unbelievably remarkable opportunity we humans possess. Let’s use it to create good, and to propel even more goodness into our world.