YB Newsletter: Mindfulness and Yoga

Today the gift of solitude was given to me in three different contexts. Sitting in our Muskoka room, the only sounds that can be heard right now are the rain drops on the concrete patio nearby, the rustle of leaves, and the din of the nearby highway traffic. The warm breeze surrounds me as trees, lake and sky beckon.  In solitude, I view nature at its finest, listen to the sounds, and relax.

Earlier today during a reprieve from the rain, my yoga practise was long and focused. While remaining quietly in an asana, the realization arose that perhaps the reason this is my favourite place to practise yoga is because of the quality and quantity of prana here. Inhabiting and surrounding each cell of our physical body is the universal energy called prana (named qi in Japan and chi in China). Everything in the natural world has a field of energy surrounding it and circulating through it. When practicing on the dock, I am tapping into the life-force energy of the natural world as it fully envelops me like a warm blanket.

For almost thirty years, my yoga practise at the waters’ edge has sustained me. The practise feels different here than anywhere else. An outdoor practise offers the opportunity to experience more fully the interconnection between all things, and especially between one’s self and nature. Concentrating and tuning into my inner landscape of ever-changing sensations, I am simultaneously observing the natural world. In sync with each new breath, I observe the variations on the surface of the lake, the shifting clouds, the songs of the birds, and the sound and feel of the wind. Practising the poses mindfully in constant changing conditions is challenging and rewarding.

Kayaking is an activity that I also greatly enjoy for it is an opportunity to practise mindfulness and yoga off the mat, and in a different way.  Kayaking allows one to experience the stillness in the midst of activity that we also seek in our asana practise. As the kayak moves forward, my soft gaze is inclusive while still remaining focussed on one point in the far distance. I feel the alignment in my spine, and the union between my mind, body and breath. As I create my strokes to match my inhalation and exhalation, the muscles of my front chest and thoracic chest, my abdominal muscles, my arm muscles and even my leg muscles are engaged. My breath helps to guide my actions, and to glide the kayak smoothly and steadily across the lake.

My brain is as quiet as the lake, and mindfulness permeates all that I do.

During my ride the sky seems endless and is blanketed by a translucent light that is both calming and powerful. After an hour the sky darkens, and the rain begins. Initially, it is a soft rain but in time it begins to intensify. The wind picks up, a cool wind, and the water’s surface quickly changes. Although the moment is perfect, fear of an impending thunderstorm motivates me to paddle faster. By the time I return home, I am completely soaked. With fatigued muscles, skin refreshed and clean, my spirits soar for the kayak ride is yet another gift of the day.

Writing from a screened in porch, practising yoga in nature, and kayaking in the rain, were all opportunities to engage in what the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls “our appointment with life” which is ever in the present moment. This is simply practicing mindful awareness, moment to moment, breath to breath. While staying present, one is able to be with the experience as it is, which is ultimately the essence of yoga. Today’s offerings of solitude, moments of stillness and silence infused with the pure prana of the natural environment, were wonderful opportunities to practise mindfulness. The pace of our Canadian summers is slower than during other times of the year. Why not commit to using these remaining weeks of summer to practise mindfulness, and to fully opening our eyes and hearts to each day’s offerings?

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