It is difficult to pick up a lifestyle magazine or scroll through your favorite yoga-related social media pages without seeing mention of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. The words "mindfulness" and "meditation" often seem interchangeable, and both practices appear to have the same advantages. So why the different terminology?
Because these terms are often used in a similar context, confusion about the differences between mindfulness and meditation is understandable. My aim here is to offer a simple explanation of how mindfulness and meditation are similar and overlapping, yet separate practices.
We can start by debunking two common myths: Mindfulness is NOT thinking really hard about something, which sounds stressful. And meditation is NOT about shutting down the mind like an off switch, which sounds boring.
Both practices are life skills that give you the tools to access inner peace, which is already inside of you. Both rely on the ability to be focused entirely on the present moment. (We can’t experience peace when we regret the past or worry about the future.) Both practices offer a way to increase happiness and decrease suffering.
Mindfulness: Awareness of Our Outer Life
By definition, “mindfulness” refers to the informal practice of present moment awareness that can be applied to any waking situation. It’s a way of being actively aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Try focusing completely on the full experience of a usually “mindless” chore such as washing dishes. Be aware of the temperature of the water and how it makes your skin feel, along with the texture and smell of the soap. Engage all five senses and see if you are actually more relaxed and less stressed when it is all finished.
Society’s obsession with multitasking often leads us to do too much
at once, without focusing fully on each stage of the experience.
In his book Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn says that “When unawareness dominates the mind, all our decisions and actions are affected.” How often have you walked or driven somewhere, only to wonder how you got there because your mind went on autopilot, checking into the past or the future (both of which you have no control over)? In fact, most of the things we do throughout the day are done without full awareness: eating meals without fully tasting the food, showering without noticing the feeling of the water. How many sunsets and smiles have you missed because you felt compelled to check your phone? Society’s obsession with multitasking often leads us to do too much at once, without focusing fully on each stage of the experience.
Lack of awareness also prevents us from listening to our bodies when they need nutrition, rest, exercise, or hydration.
Being fully aware and engaged in an activity can make a situation less stressful because it initiates a perspective free of judgment. When practicing mindfulness, the mind isn’t guessing at the future or creating a mountain out of what is actually a small hill. If we can let go of our controlling ways—consciously observing what is without labeling it or placing an opinion on it—we can be free of the stress of expectations, regrets, and fears in order to fully accept each moment and all that it offers.
Living mindfully means that we experience life with a “beginner's mind.” This means listening to someone with full attention to their words, voice, and feelings—listening as though it were the first time you ever met this person or heard them speak, without second guessing, judging, or waiting for it to be your turn to talk. In his book True Love, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that “Listening is an art we must cultivate.” He teaches deep, compassionate listening as a mindfulness practice, both for enlightenment and to ease pain and suffering.
Mindful listening improves our relationships because listening with patience, trust, acceptance, and an open mind strengthens our ability to communicate. Compassionate communication coupled with more conscious control over our emotions can be monumental to personal growth and relationships. Mindfully responding to stress, instead of reacting habitually, is what Kabot-Zinn calls the “mindfulness-mediated stress response.” Everyday arguments don’t trigger us in the same knee-jerk way when we’re practicing mindfulness. When our buttons are pushed, our reaction time is slower, thanks to a thoughtful presence in the present. We don’t take things as personally when we are aware of someone else’s suffering and deeper needs. Life becomes less superficial and more compassionate.
Meditation: Awareness of Our Inner life
Meditation is the formal practice of finding peace within. Awareness of peace is achieved when mental chatter is decreased. There are many different types of meditation to choose from, including guided meditation and focused meditation on an object (for example, a mantra/sound, image, candle flame, or the breath). They can all lead to the same place of inner peace.
While meditating, we are mindful of our thoughts from the viewpoint of observer, without clinging to the thoughts themselves. Our thoughts float by like clouds, while we learn something about our inner selves. We can see how negative our thinking can be, or how much time we waste dwelling on the past. This is crucial information for those interested in personal growth and transformation. Self-knowledge is the first step to self-improvement. Making changes in your outer circumstances begins first with seeing which thoughts created that which you are trying to change.
Witnessing the types of thoughts that flow by while meditating, without attaching to them, will quiet the mental chatter that Buddhists call “the monkey mind.” They say our thoughts can be like wild monkeys that jump from branch to branch. Those monkeys lead us on a tangent through an uncontrollable past and future as we follow them through the jungle of chaotic activity that can be our waking state of mind. When we give the mind something to focus on—like a guided meditation, the breath, or a mantra—we become aware of an inner world of stillness, love, and peace.
Even our immune system is strengthened from daily moments
of the deep, restful wakefulness that meditation offers.
In addition to being the perfect way to let go of accumulated stress, meditation has many health benefits, including strengthened brain function, increased physical vitality, and better sleep. Insomniacs have found that sometimes all they needed was a way to slow down the constant activity of the brain. Even our immune system is strengthened from daily moments of the deep restful wakefulness that meditation offers.
Merging the Two Practices
Combining the informal, wakeful awareness of daily mindfulness with a formal meditation practice is a potent stress management tool. Each practice enhances the effectiveness of the other.
With meditation, you close your eyes to eliminate visual distractions and become more aware of the inner world of your thoughts, bodily sensations, sounds, and energy, while at the same time being mindful of a silent mantra such as soham (pronounced so-hum). We also use mindfulness during a formal meditation practice—for example, when body scanning (which is focusing on and being present in each area of the body in order to relax and prepare for meditation). One becomes part of the other.
Meditating first thing in the morning for a minimum of five to ten minutes is a great way to start the day on the right foot. Repeat at the end of the day to release any accumulated stress. It won’t take long before you will be able to extend those ten minutes, carrying that bliss more and more into your life.
People around you may notice the benefits even before you do. Practicing mindfulness and meditation goes hand in hand with creating a happy life—no matter what terminology you use!
Imagine. Inspire. Live. Love. Laugh. Shanti (Peace).
I have these words throughout my house—on shelves, on walls, engraved in stones. I once had someone ask me, “What’s with the words?” The quick answer is that these are some of the words with meanings and vibrations that I wish to incorporate into my intentions and consequently manifest in my life.
In the practice of yoga, we learn that our thoughts, words and actions are sent out to the universe like boomerangs—bound to come back to us sooner or later. The discipline of meditation helps us to train our minds so that, even in the seemingly private world of own heads, we are choosing to emit positive vibrations. Think that you don’t have time for or don’t know how to meditate? I would bet that everyone could find 15 minutes in the day to create the life they desire, and the process does not have to be complicated. Try the simple meditation technique of picking a word or two that embody your intention for the day and focus on that with your breath. For example, breath in “imagine”, breath out “inspire” or breath in "peace", breath out "peace". Try getting up 15 minutes earlier and dedicate this time to creating your day. Chances are you will feel more awake and energized after this morning ritual than you would snoozing the alarm for the extra sleep!
Remember the law of conservation of energy—you are not creating anything new—all is already here. You are simply harnessing the powerful energy of your mind to selectively send out the boomerangs that will best serve you.
Namaste. Peace and love, Kate
An interview with Mallory Bales.
TERESA’S YOGA JOURNEY…
Started off very ironic. Teresa did a lot of kickboxing and Tai Bo. She loved the fast paced work out classes. During these classes they would sometimes do some yoga poses- and she hated them! She had an injury with her arm shortly after and was seeing a physical therapist. Her therapist told her yoga would help, she thought why not give it a shot again. Teresa started off with Vinyasa and realized this was more fitting since it was faster paced. In the beginning she liked classes that didn’t hold poses, so that she wouldn't get stuck in the constant mind chatter.
It is so much more than a physical workout. It’s all about the mind. Teresa has learned how to apply everything she applies on the mat into her everyday life.
ONE OF THE MANY THINGS YOGA HAS TAUGHT TERESA…
Patience. For example cabs honking in a big city. She used to live in Mexico City and would get annoyed with traffic. “Now I am able to say okay, relax. You don't need to react.”
ONE OF THE MANY THINGS TERESA LOVES ABOUT YOGA…
Is that she has time to think about how she is acting. “You really appreciate life because you truly learn how to be in the moment. You learn how to enjoy how to be with yourself. “
WHAT ‘PRACTICE FOR AWAKENING’ MEANS…
To Teresa “The more you practice, the more you feel. The more you practice the more you are able to do things in silence.”
“Before I had to always have music playing. Now I am able to wash the dishes in silence and enjoy the sounds around me.” Teresa feels more awake and understands the rest of humanity/life. She knows that we are all connected.
“I know that I am part of them, and they are part of me. We are all the same. If I love myself, I’ll love all.”
An interview with Mallory Bales...
“A Joyful celebration of this body and life”. It is a lifestyle that is really accessible to everyone. No one should ever feel alienated because EVERYONE can show up exactly the way they are. Yoga is meant to be playful, to be fun. It is meant to be a place to disconnect and relax.
“Yoga’s purpose is to remove the weight of the world from our shoulders.” If we come to our practice so serious and hard on ourselves that weight will only get heavier.
SARAH’S ADVICE TO THE WORLD…
“Be really proud of the person that you are. Know that you are loved, you are love, and to shine really, really bright. "
PRACTICE FOR AWAKENING MEANS…
For Sarah, asana is about expressing yourself through the body, but yoga isn't just about asana. Asana is very important but there is a deeper aspect to what yoga truly is. Sarah’s yoga practice every morning involves sitting outside on her porch enjoying her decaf coffee, gazing at the beauty in each flower and butterfly that flies by.
“Yoga doesn’t just have to be on the mat. Finding moments of stillness is what yoga is ...to feel that love and gratitude because you showed up and are giving it all that you have got. We are all amazing yogis no matter what pose we can nail!"
JUST DO YOU…
Celebrate the beautiful spirit that you are. It is important to Sarah to hold your own truth and not conform to anyone else’s. When you just are, you become completely absorbed in the real you. Sarah is truly her own unique self and won’t let any stereotype define the way she is going to live her life.
IMPORTANT VALUE...Not playing roles.
For a while Sarah was trying to become the ‘perfect wife’ or the ‘perfect mom' and then came to the realization that she was trying to play all these titles and roles. Once you realize that if you consistently make choices that fill you up than all of these will naturally be fulfilled. You won’t have to try to become anything when you make choices that are the best for your well-being. You are already there. "By doing what’s best for you, you are being your own version of perfect."
As our Abhyaasa community grows, the meaning of yoga reveals itself on more and more levels. As a philosophy, discipline, and practice of yoking or joining, yoga brings us within ourselves, so that we may discover the connection with all things-- all beings. We come together to practice-- we move together, sweat together, sometimes we groan together. Together we meditate, laugh, cry. We share our stories, experiences, preferences, likes, dislikes. We have triumphant moments in poses where our bodies open in a new way, and we applaud one another. Sometimes we fall out of poses because we are in a safe space and know that stumbling too is okay. We dance, we chant, we suspend ourselves in hammocks. Sometimes our practice does not involve a pose at all. However we come together, we are making deep connections that have the power to bring more unity to the world, more peace, more abundance and love.
South African philosophy embraces the concept of Ubuntu (oo-buun-too) which translates as " I am because of you" or "I am because you are". We know this to be true. This is yoga's most precious gift. Yoga is the ultimate social network in which I am grateful that we are all connected.
Read more about why yoga increases feelings of connection from other perspectives in an interesting article from Kripalu.
Thank you to Lara for the lovely photo of the meditation circle.
This morning I am sharing a post by Deepak Chopra, taken from The Chopra Center website, www.chopra.com. I was fortunate to attend a talk by Dr. Chopra, in an intimate setting, 18 years ago when I lived in California, and witnessed his gift of making the ancient lessons of yoga contemporary. Enjoy his eloquent explanation of how we each can create the life we desire. Namaste.
The Law of Karma: Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind. What we sow is what we reap. And when we choose actions that bring happiness and success to others, the fruit of our karma is happiness and success.
I will put the Law of Karma into effect by making a commitment to take the following steps:
An interview with Mallory Bales...
Rachel Grudner’s Yoga Story
I found yoga..
Rachel found yoga in a time of despair. Her parents were going through a divorce and sister through an addiction. Rachel came home from school during this time to try to “save the family” and ended up finding yoga. One of her friends recommend meditation to get through these times and shared the magic of a book called The Yoga Tradition. She was able to turn to yoga when life got rough. Rachel started consistently practicing at home and before she knew it became a yoga addict! Her yoga teacher ended up telling her about the temple of Kriya yoga which sparked some interest for Rachel. She wanted to learn more about the philosophy of yoga and also had so many questions for her teachers. She realized a teacher training would answer those questions and fulfill her longings of learning more about yoga. She ended up signing up for a teacher training program shortly after, and the rest is history!
“True divine marriage between individual self and the universe”. Yoga taught me how to celebrate my life in a way that was not vain. “Yoga has taught me that there is something greater than me and it is super humbling. “ Rachel brought up Dennis Rodman and how he literally ‘married himself’. She said that was one of her first thoughts when she thought of what yoga means. Let’s look deeper into what marriage means. Marriage literally means the union of feminism and masculine energies. Yoga is a union of all parts. I think that was such a brilliant and hilarious way of remembering what it truly means!
What does Abhyaasa’s philosophy practice for awakening mean?
“It is always an ongoing journey inward. You may come to crossroads but you know to keep moving forward. If you can permit yourself to be fearless and true to yourself than you’ll realize everything you’re looking for is waiting inside for you. Everything you could ever need is already deep inside of you, you just need to be willing to open your heart. “
The most important value to bring to the mat..
Rachel’s most important value is to let go and listen to her body. Rachel’s best practices are not predetermined by how she thinks it is going to be. She listens to her body. She feels what is right and lets it flow naturally without judgement.
Yoga could heal the planet because..
When we connect to ourselves on a higher level we are able to expand to infinity. When you tap into the wisdom that is already inside of you healing will happen naturally. “You just wake up and it’s a whole different reality. “ By working on yourself you will naturally help heal the planet since it is a natural process.
Something interesting most people don’t know about Rachel..
Rachel used to be a competitive Irish dancer. Now isn’t that fun to know!
It has been an amazing and humbling journey to watch Abhyaasa grow from the seed of an intention, to the manifestation of a physical space that, with dedicated practice (and a tad bit of blood, sweat and tears), cultivated the intention and sent out a vibration of love to others. Now we have a beautiful yoga garden that flourishes from the nurturing of many. No matter what the weather outside, our studio is bathed in light-- the light that shines from all who share their practices. (I'll here end the garden metaphor, but you have to admit, we are a magical place!)
It has been my wish for a long while to share some of the journeys of our yoga family with one another but, as many wishes, I just needed to make the time to put this into action. Now we are blessed to have a beautiful yogini who loves to meet people, loves yoga, loves our studio, and loves to write! Thanks to Mallory Bales, we will have a new section of our blog dedicated to getting to know one another better. Perhaps you will get to know Mallory in a class. Thank you to all for sharing your stories!
☮ ♡ ॐ
Namaste! My name is Mallory Bales and I am a young woman on a mission to know myself. My life has become a dedication to yoga and self-realization. I went to Burning Man the summer of 2014 and a huge awakening took place that led me to follow my higher self. I decided to put my stuff in storage, sell my belongings, sell my car, and go on a journey to the unknown.
I realized how deep of a passion I had for the teachings of yoga and decided I wanted to explore the world further and follow the path of yoga. I have changed every aspect of my life in the past year to resonate with my soul’s higher purpose. My next step is to travel to India in the fall for an asana teacher training and then start school for holistic psychology.
Along with my extreme passion for yoga, I have a deep passion for writing. I am beyond grateful to help share the passion of yoga of the Abhyaasa community. Each one of our voices and stories helps us grow that much deeper into our authentic selves, which ends up creating a more loving world! Sat nam : )
This weekend we honor the mothers who do so much for so many. My own mom and mom-in-law are out of state, so I will be sending flowers-- deep pink roses-- for these are the color and hue that represent gratitude and appreciation. As for the celebration of my own motherhood, I plan to create this yummy-looking raspberry rose ice cream with my daughter who is home. (She pretty much makes vegan ice cream of some sort several days a week, so we already have the ingredients on hand. We even have a bag of organic food grade rose petals that I ordered online to make rose brownies for my other daughter's birthday this month.).
Whether you are celebrating your own mother, another nurturing woman in your life, or your own self, perhaps we can each allow the deep hue of raspberries and blissful, intoxicating scent of rose to serve as a tiny reminder of the incredible strength, grace, and beauty of all the divine goddesses who make up our world.
P.S. I have plenty of rose petals to share if you would like to sprinkle a bit on top! You can also celebrate the moms in your life this weekend at Abhyaasa, May 8th-10th by bringing her as a guest to any of our regular yoga or belly dance classes and/or purchasing a special Mother's Day gift card ($100 for $80 through May 10th), so that she can continue to nurture herself.
Kate's notes: Find this and other vegan recipes at elegantlyvegan.com
1 dL = 100 mL :)
My daughter, Meghana made this recipe twice now, and you would not believe the secret ingredient is black beans. It is quick, vegan, gluten-free and just plain delicious. She found the recipe at a site called ChocolateCoveredKatie.com. Thank you, Katie! We will definitely try some of your other healthy recipes. :-)
Black Bean Brownies Recipe: Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine all ingredients except chips in a good food processor, and blend until completely smooth. Really blend well. (A blender can work if you absolutely must, but the texture—and even the taste—will be much better in a food processor.) Stir in the chips, then pour into a greased 8x8 pan. Optional: sprinkle extra chocolate chips over the top. Cook the black bean brownies 15-18 minutes, then let cool at least 10 minutes before trying to cut. Makes 9-12 brownies.
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