An exercise in Mindfulness

This was set for our Teacher Training students as one of their homework questions. Here are some of their responses

Mindfulness is everywhere at the moment though I think its become so much of a buzz word its glorification by the media is actually moving us away from its true meaning. Yoga should be a mindful practice which just means we want to try and practice with awareness. This is a simple concept but a difficult one. As part of their homework assignment on our 250 hour teacher training course I set the students the following question.It came from the Michael Stone translation of the Ashtanga Yoga opening chant. I hope you find their responses interesting and insightful as regards what being mindful means;

Spend an hour practicing being mindful and present whilst doing chores. How does it change the nature of what you are doing? Was it difficult? If so why was it?

“When I took the time to engage in mindfulness for an hour, my conclusive overall feeling was ultimately, being more calm, with more enjoyment in the chores. I found it hard for one hour and found myself thinking of the future/past certain scenarios  and kept having to bring myself back into the present. You notice the beauty and the love that goes into everything that we touch, see and use… it has to have come from somewhere and from someone else’s care and attention. Doing this housework in this manner was soothing.  I actually enjoyed cleaning the bathrooms and hoovering the house! This task changed the dreaded mundane job (which I always avoid), to one of a complete healing and natural experience. I noticed some of the cobwebs formed in my house and I was sad to remove them. I put two spiders out and felt connected and compassionate…. I also noticed that I am usually rushing around and saying “I don’t have time’ etc. But when I consciously slowed down I had more time. I noticed that the pace of how I usually cleaned the dishes slowed down, details about the temperature of the water and the bubbles from the washing up liquid became more apparent, particularly how it made contact with my skin and the active response of the spine to movement. I was aware of the smell of the washing up liquid, the texture and shape of the plates and cutlery. As I became more attentive, my breath slowed down and I noticed the position of my feet in open parallel with the weight distribution throughout my body quite evenly. I noticed some tension or pressure pockets particular to my shoulders and lower back. I found when I was standing that I leaned slightly backwards, and so I experimented a bit with shifting my weight throughout my body until I found a neutral stance comfortable to continue with finishing my chores. Cleaning the living space around me prepares me for the activity of our household and also for my yoga practice. It connects me with the environment inside and outside of where I live. Cleaning provides a caring nurturingaspect of the living space shared as a family by treasuring what we have, being respectful of what we have no matter how small. In this way, it could be said that, action becomes a representation of who we are, as Michael Stone writes, “There is no element in life that is not, in its depth, a teacher” “. Lisa

“Being present allows you to put your whole self in to what you’re doing as opposed to going through the motions but not really being aware of what you are doing. I think this draws similarities with the practice. It is possible to be making the shapes of the asana (sometimes beautifully, with great alignment) but not actually be present in what you are doing, therefore not really feeling the benefits or doing yoga at all. Being present really allows any task to become a moving meditation.When I spent the time doing chores I took off my watch and left my phone on the windowsill on silent as I would in my practice, I wanted to approach it in the same way. Doing this allowed me to focus my thoughts on the task at hand as well as completing it to a higher standard in less time.Working in this way made it quite a telling and reflective experience for me by noticing things I’d missed for ‘ease’ which actually only took a few minutes and greatly improved the quality of the completed chores. This is something I do in my life that I would very much like to change, procrastinating on something that I don’t think I want to do, but usually enjoy doing it once I get started, ending up wishing I’d given myself more time to do it. I found that coming into and staying in a mindful state came easily, but only because I’d set aside a full afternoon to do what I was doing. I think it could have been more difficult had I been restricted by time. I did, however, find it tough to stay in the moment, as I kept jumping back to curse my past self for doing strange things such as using 3 different shower gels to almost empty, and never actually finishing them. I think that the practice of being aware of what you are doing by constantly reminding yourself to be present and mindful in the task greatly improves the ability to complete something well and actually enjoy what you are doing for what it is. For me this is the act of taking your yoga off the mat, out of the studio and into the ‘real world’.” Abigail

” I spent an hour doing chores around the house; firstly kneading some dough for the weekly loaf of bread, then cleaning the bathroom, and finally tidying up the bedroom. Through practicing being mindful, one notable change to the nature of the chore is the change from the idea that the chore is something undesirable as an activity, to it becoming the reality that what I am doing is my life at that moment, that it deserves my attention. The chore isn’t something to get done and out of the way so that I can do something more interesting. This makes me more patient and careful towards the chore, I do it properly, without rushing. In being mindful about doing the chores, it stops being a chore in the negative sense of the word to
an extent. That is what I was aiming for at least, but it was very difficult to maintain that mindset.Generally we are not willing to give “boring” chores our attention. Our minds are filled with constant chatter, we get lost in mindless fantasy about future plans or past experiences. There’s a tendency for our bodies to perform the action of doing whilst our minds are elsewhere. I found myself constantly catching myself doing this, being “asleep at the wheel”. Other times I would think to myself, “oh look, I’m thinking about this task and so I am mindful”, which is simply another form of fantasy, my mind creating a narrative, a commentary of the task. It was only in the moments of complete absorption, when I was not aware of being mindful, but not fantasising about other things, when I was actually being truly mindful. I experienced this a few times in this practice, as Michael Stone says, in these moments “time dissolves into
 there is no awareness of time passing, no frustration, no impatience, just simply doing,simply being.In kneading the dough, a simple but repetitive task, my mind was perhaps more free to wander whilst the body just did the work. To combat this I brought my attention to the senses, how the bread dough felt in my hands, its texture, temperature, and how it looked. My mind distracted by the radio, I turned it off. After the first five minutes or so of constantly catching myself not being mindful, I did eventually become engrossed, and the job didn’t feel very long at all to complete.In cleaning the bathroom and tidying the bedroom I found it easier to be mindful. There are many smaller tasks to do rather than repeating a simple physical action over and over, which for me meant that I was more engaged with the work; my mind didn’t have much opportunity to wander, it was kept busy working on the task. I took the time to move things out of the bathroom to make the job easier, rather than the more usual working around things in the rush to get the job done, so I think that being mindful makes you more careful towards the task in hand.” Joe

“I started this task by emptying the dryer; it started out well, I felt focussed looking at each item folding it and placing it on the correct pile to place away in the corresponding room. I remained engaged on the task in hand until I heard the kids arguing, I tried to let that pass and stayed with what I was doing.This worked well for some time; I continued to walk throughout the house, putting clothing away, collecting dirty clothing and sorting into piles.Then something sprang into my mind of needing something from downstairs.I went downstairs, did
a little more collecting of washing and putting the washing machine on. I then returned back upstairs and realised I had in fact gone downstairs for something and failed to get what I had set
out to do. This happened twice!! I had another task of ironing school shirts. This again started well, noticing the glide of the iron, the noise of the steam, and been systematic in how I was actually ironing them! All was good until I could hear again kids arguing and then crying. That broke the mindfulness of the task in hand and took my attention elsewhere.
Another task I carried out was washing the dishes. Noticing the flow of water, the liquid bubbling under the flow, the temperature change on my hands through the rubber gloves. Paying attention to what I was actually doing, watching the sponge as I cleaned the dishes. My mind set on this task wandered to the sound of meowing hungry cats; this then changed my focus to feed them, but momentarily my mind set then became hurried to finish the dishes task so I could feed the cats;whilst feeding the cats my focus wondered again to my neighbour taking out the rubbish bins for bin collection; which in turn hurried my focus of feeding the cats so I could quickly put my bins out whilst this was fresh in my mind.Whilst I was carrying out this assignment and being mindful I felt as though I was smiling, happy in what I was doing, paying attention to detail, I felt the tasks in hand actually working well, feeling accomplished by how far I was getting, I usually have so many things on the go that I flit from room to room, task to task, thought to thought, doing a little bit of each one. This mindfulness seemed to help stay
focused longer on one thing. Which has to be a positive? However, it was difficult at times with the interruptions from children and cats! Also the not noticing my mind wandering at times.
It was enjoyable to carry out and actually be aware how my mind does flit from one job to another, always thinking one step ahead of where I actually am or should be.
I will be trying this again and see how far I get!” Amanda

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