“Some of you have great focus during the class, but others are easily distracted - grabbing your water bottle, or fiddling. It would be really nice if everyone made an effort to remain focused on their practice. Otherwise you might as well be at the gym”. So said my yoga teacher the other day, and her words struck an immediate chord.
As the teacher was pointing out, being truly present during yoga practice is one of the fundamentals that sets yoga apart from other forms of exercise.
Think of the gym, with the constant background noise of the TV, or radio, or both. How many gym-goers are really present and aware of what they’re doing? How can that be possible when Pauline Fowler’s dulcet tones are ringing out from the latest episode of East Enders?
And yet I find that focusing on the moment – really focusing – is one of yoga’s biggest challenges. In this class on Saturday my mind, as usual, bounced from one thought to the next. There was no rhyme, reason, or pattern to these thoughts, and no sooner had I wrenched myself back to the present than off went My Mind again, busy, unruley, impossible to pin down.
It’s hardly surprising that many of us find living in the moment hugely difficult. We’re deluged with information for most of the working day, contactable virtually every working hour and constantly under pressure to be somewhere five minutes ago. There’s little space for enjoying the present when the immediate future bears down on us so heavily.
Yet it’s not difficult to see how being in the moment – focusing on this moment, right now – is the key to so much. Steve Hagen, a Zen priest, homes in on this subject in his extraordinarily lucid and helpful book, Buddhism Plain and Simple.
Hagen makes it clear that this elusive ability to live in the now is crucial for many reasons, one of them being the unpalatable truth that everything around us – including ourselves of course – is impermanent and will die.
He writes: “Everything in our experience – our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, our wants and needs, our relationships – is fleeting. Changing. Subject to death. We die in each moment and again, in each moment, we are born.
"The process of birth and death goes on endlessly moment after moment right before our eyes….. Vitality consists of this very birth and death. This impermanent, this constant arising and fading awash, are the very things that make our lives vibrant, wonderful, and alive.”
Would a perfect July day in the UK be quite as perfect if every single day was the same? Yet how easy is it for us to be too wrapped up in the pace and demands of our own lives to take note of how what’s staring us in the face; how perfect the day is.
And so it is that life passes us by as we live life in the future, anticipating our next meal, our next piece of work, our next holiday.
Once we fully taken in the fact that nothing in this world stays the same, or alive, for ever; that it’s not possible to hold onto things or control them, then the value of living in the present, right here, right now, truly hits home.
I have a feeling there’s a long, hard road ahead, but being awake in the moment is an art I’d truly like to get a little closer to, and a journey that can perhaps begin on the yoga mat. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.