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A (somewhat long) discussion of Mindfulness

January 27, 2009

In yoga, before we begin and at the end of every session, we take a moment to ask that we “be mindful in our practice” and to transfer that mindfulness into the rest of our daily activities. I’ve always repeated this along with my teachers and fellow students, but I never really stopped to think about mindfulness as a word and a concept. Perhaps that is why my practice seemed to hit a brick wall. Rather, what I mean to say is that perhaps I haven’t been focusing on the right aspect.

Anyone who has taken a yoga class can tell you that yoga is not about poses. The poses are better understood as the physical representation or means towards the greater yogic goal. My experiences in particular taught me to focus on the breath, the prana, rather than my ability to manipulate my body. The prana, I was taught, is the centerpiece of any good yoga practice, and is in fact the centrifugal force of life itself. That makes sense right, for without breath, there is no life at all. Yet even so, I’m starting to think that focus on the breath is not the goal, the purpose, of yoga. Maybe I was missing the point entirely. Maybe instead of focusing on the breath for its own sake, I am supposed to focus on my breath in pursuit of a greater goal: mindfulness.

But still, what does that mean? And how can I incorporate it into my life in a meaningful way? My wonderful old dictionary (because I thought I better look this one up by hand, rather than electronically) states the following:

Mindful adj 1: bearing in mind : aware 2: inclined to be aware – mind•ful•ly adv – mind•ful•ness n

That seemed sparse to me, so I ended up turning to an electronic source after all, but a particularly trustworthy one: the extraordinary Oxford English Dictionary. It states the following:

Mindful 1. In attributive use: in early use) possessing a good memory; full of care; heedful, thoughtful; full of memories./* mindful wit n. (also mindful power) the faculty of memory. mindful place n. a memorial, monument. b. In predicative use: having recollection or remembrance ; taking thought or care, heedful; being conscious or aware. Freq. with of. Also with clause as object. having recollection or remembrance. c. In predicative use with infinitive: careful or taking care to do something. Also (in early use) to be mindful to (do something): to remember to do something. 2. Intending or inclined to do something. 3. Esp. with reference to Yoga philosophy and Buddhism: fully aware of the moment, whilst self-conscious and attentive to this awareness (cf. MINDFULNESS n. 2). Also of meditation: producing or undertaken in a mindful state.

That led me to:

Mindfulness: 2. Esp. with reference to Yoga philosophy and Buddhism: the meditative state of being both fully aware of the moment and of being self-conscious of and attentive to this awareness; a state of intense concentration on one’s own thought processes; self-awareness.

Other than just being much more of a mouthful, those definitions were more useful and specific. Particularly in answering my second question. Before I get to that though, I need to take a step back. As I mentioned in my last post, one of my goals for the year to come was to choose a word and participate in the One Little Word project. It seems to me that that could be the answer to my earlier inquiry. I hope that just by bringing the word to mind on a daily basis I will become more mindful in all that I do. We’ll see how well I do. Au revoir!


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