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    Monday, August 17, 2009

    Jedi Mind Training

    Recently I went on a whitewater kayaking trip to Washington and BC. Normally my husband and I like to run very difficult whitewater (steep class V) when we go on these trips. On the months preceding this trip, we were working full time in our office on an upcoming guidebook (The River Gypsies' Guide to North America). The rivers around where we live weren't running all that much and we really didn't have the time to go out and chase the water (they are rain dependent) anyway. Every day I felt exhausted and my brain felt dull. When I would do my yoga practice, I just couldn't focus and it faltered as well. We thought we would just get it all together once we got on the road. What we found out was that when we would put on these difficult rivers, really any river, we had a lot of trouble focusing and it caused some bad lines and poor decisions. We just weren't as sharp as we are used to being. We knew that it was our lack of kayaking preceding the trip and that our brains had become tired and dull from all of the work.

    What I also know now is that I could have used yoga to train my brain to focus during this time that I couldn't kayak. When I began my yoga practice each day, I could have taken the time to discipline myself during my yoga practice. One of my teachers says, "Lazy feet, lazy mind." during classes all the time, and I would just get so irritated if I was tired--I didn't want to put that energy in my toes, but I would do it anyway--she would give us plenty of opportunity to relax in Savasana (the ending relaxation pose). The active physical practice of yoga has a purpose and the purpose is not to just flop around on the floor completely disconnected from my body and mind--that is not yoga.

    Yoga is a mindfulness practice. This is one of the main reasons that it works for athletes. We can use our yoga sessions to train our brains to focus, and one of the ways this works is to slow down and pay attention to how we are doing the poses. By slowing down your yoga practice, you will learn to focus your mind on what you are doing to an even greater level. Eventually you will also begin to notice exactly what you are thinking during your sport and you will begin to know where your body is at all times.

    Click here to read more about using yoga as a cross training tool for the mind.

    Yoga is experiential, so, this is your homework: I encourage you in your yoga practice to learn to slow down and pay attention to what you are doing. Do this by beginning each yoga session by sitting or lying down. Let all of your thoughts flood your mind. Begin to just pay attention to your thoughts without becoming involved in the drama—watch them like clouds. Then bring your awareness into your breath…and then bring your awareness into your body. Feel the breath in the body. Notice how it feels on your nostrils as you breathe in and out. Relax your face. Now take your awareness to your throat and feel the breath and releasing tension if necessary. Next feel your shoulder girdle—your collarbones, arm bones, and shoulderblades—let the breath move these bones. Now your ribcage—let the entire rib cage—top, middle, bottom, front, back and sides undulate as you breath. Feel your belly—let the belly move and imagine the breath moving through your organs. Now feel your pelvis—let the breath move through the pelvic bones. See if you can feel the breath in your legs and all the way to your toes.These movements and sensations are very subtle, so you have to really pay attention. Feel you whole body breathe. Bathe in it.

    Next, as you move into your physical practice, only do half of the amount of postures you were going to do in the same amount of time. As you practice the poses, slow down and notice where your breath is free and where it is restricted. In each pose, either feel or look in a mirror--where are your shoulders, arms, hands, fingers? Your rib cage—is it poking forward? How is your pelvis situated? How is it moving—restricted or freely? Where are you thighs? Your lower legs? Your feet, ankles, each of your toes? What is your spine doing? Is there pain or sensations anywhere? Where are your eyes focused? Where is your mind? After each pose, return to a neutral pose such as Mountain Pose and take a few breaths and noticed any sensations in the body and mind.

    Then you take it with you "out there." Slow down and notice as you ride, climb, or paddle—where is your breath? Where are your shoulders? Your rib cage? Your pelvis? Your eyes focused? Your mind?

    The road to awareness is never-ending. There is so much for you to discover about yourself and the world. Learning to slow down and pay attention is the foundation of discovery.

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