Yoga is for everybody, including Runners! Part 4 – What’s the difference between mindfulness
As mentioned last week, don’t let the poses seen on Instagram scare you away from yoga. Traditionally, the yoga poses are used to create enough strength and flexibility in the body to eventually sit comfortably, upright, in any cross legged pose for prolonged periods of time to enter the state of absorption. For most of us living in the western world, I acknowledge that it is not our desire to sit and meditate for eight hours a day and probably not possible with the amount of distraction. Our lives and lifestyles simply do not accommodate for this.
But, with this being said, it wouldn’t hurt us to take some time out each day (5 to 20 minutes) to be still, to be present, to be absorbed In the moment.
Today, I would like to discuss the difference between mindfulness and meditation, two words that are often loosely thrown around in the yoga world as well as by the general public.
Mindfulness and Meditation are often used interchangeably, but this is incorrect.
Mindfulness is a much more modern phenomenon best defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn who states: “mindfulness meditation is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.
If you are walking in the park, feel your feet on the earth and breath flow, embrace the trees and flowers that surround, be present to everything that you see, feel, and hear. This is you being mindful. You can be mindful or practice mindfulness at any time, no matter where you are. Just turn off the autopilot way of life.
Think about what it feels like to be mindless. I am sure you have all gone for a run and arrived home with no clue about what route you took, jumped a traffic light and didn’t realise, didn’t notice a niggle in your ankle, tripped over a rock, got lost in the oblivion of thoughts/ stresses or experienced all of the above. This is what it means to be mindless, when you are totally unaware of your thoughts, your body and your surrounds.
Now, don’t mistake mindful for a head full of thoughts; analysing, changing, judging, worrying etc. but rather, mindful meaning being fully aware of your thoughts, of your body and of all that surrounds you. When we get stuck in our head (mindlessly) we end up sitting in the past or delving into the future which floods the body with unwanted emotions of anxiety, guilt and fear. This is not good for anyone.
When you run mindfully, this is when you can run for the sheer joy of movement, and the mental lift you get as a result.
You are lucky, running is by nature a mindful exercise – when your mind is not overwhelmed by the stresses of everyday. And, as mentioned last week, five-minutes of mindfulness per day for eight-weeks has been shown to illicit physical and chemical changes in the brain making you a calmer, kinder, happier, less reactive person… so maybe if you have doubted doing yoga, reading these blogs might have made you realise that you may already be practicing aspects of yoga as you run… by this I definitely don’t mean stopping mid run to strike a pose.
Meditation (Dhyana in Sanskrit) on the other hand is an ancient practice that dates back to 1500 BC. Meditation is seated in many different traditions, making the concept a little more tricky to define. However, most traditions refer to it as the process towards enlightenment or self-realisation. The oxford dictionary defines meditation as “thinking deeply about (something)” as well as “focusing one’s mind for a period of time” while The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines meditation as ones ability "to engage in mental exercise (such as concentrating on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness."
We can sit down and choose to concentrate or be mindful, but we cannot choose to meditate. Mediation or entering a meditative states occurs spontaneously. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, Vipasana meditation, loving kindness mediations are used to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state that places us at higher chance of entering a true meditative state.
“Concentration is a cornerstone of mindfulness practice. Your mindfulness will only be as robust as the capacity of your mind to be calm and stable. Without calmness, the mirror of mindfulness will have an agitated and choppy surface and will not be able to reflect things with any accuracy.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
It might be that mindfulness brings us into the present moment so resolutely that we are intuned to the behaviours of our mind. Meanwhile, meditation helps us go above, surpass, or supersede our mental processes.
Week 4 task: Mindfulness activity
Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair, spine tall. Close your eyes as this helps to bring awareness into your body. But of course, if you’d prefer you can keep them open with a gentle gaze. Simply begin to observe your breath. No need to change it, judge it or think about it, just observe it.
Sound: listen to the sounds around you. Move your attention from sound to sound. Don’t anticipate any sound. Just listen. Listen as the sound appears, notice and then move to the next sound. Simple awareness and sound.
Sensation: notice the outer layer of your being, your skin. Just as you observed sound, observe sensation on your skin. Do not ponder on one sensation but allow your mind to shift from sensation to sensation. Simple awareness and sensation on your skin.
Breath: now just as you observes sound, and sensation, observe the movement associated with breath in your body. No judgement just simple observation and movement associated with breath.
Sound, sensation and breath are all happening right now and these are valuable tools to keep you mindful, to keep you present, in the moment. As we learnt in part 3, just as we need to strengthen a muscle, we need to strengthen the mind to gain better control of our thoughts. Like you would gain better fitness the more you run; the more you practice mindfulness, with simple techniques, the better you become at it, and the more it will become second nature, even while you run.
The light in me sees the light in you
MSc Occupational Therapist: neurosciences
Adaptive yoga specialist
Founder of Holism Health