One of the most limiting and torturous ideals we could have is remaining attached to a plan, expectation, belief or desired outcome without allowing any room for adjustment or evolution.
For example: One may assume that going to the gym every morning at 0500 is a great display of discipline, and it is. Yet, it takes a lot more mental discipline to notice, accept, and address what is truly needed in the present moment and respond accordingly.
I am a believer in morning rituals and routines, yet when I recently found myself unusually worn out from traveling and teaching, I had to adapt my practice by allowing myself to sleep as long as my body needed, move slowly, and therefore practice my rituals five hours later than normal.
My first instinct was to be upset with myself for not achieving what I had planned: two weeks of getting up at 0500, journaling, meditating, working out, and at my computer by 0700. Is sleeping in what I want to practice consistently? No. I will get back to 0500 wake up routines soon enough. I must forgive and allow for adaptation knowing that some twists and turns of events are in my best interest.
This is an advanced practice of mindfulness, self-discipline and acceptance.
My work allows me a lot of time with two distinct populations: military/first responders, and western yoga teachers (mainly in the U.S.)
I have found that military/first responders have an easier time adapting and overcoming rapid or unexpected changes in circumstance.
Whereas those of us in the western yoga world, although we may preach mindfulness and acceptance, have a more difficult time practicing it. (This only strengthens my argument that traditional eastern yoga philosophy and those in public safety are closer than many think!)
Military and first responders have been trained to meet a situation without assumptions and respond to the unique nature of each different scenario based on incoming information in that moment. Most of us in the western yoga world are privileged to have a predictable container of circumstances that we rely on for peace and tranquility. If one piece is out of place and any discomfort is experienced, it will not be tolerated.
I have seen this play out in real time while working in several yoga studios and gyms. God help us if we run out of lavender-infused towels! If this is you, don’t shy away from it. This kind of environment is what we are used to and the first step is acknowledging the fear and resistance to change, especially unexpected change and the discomfort that comes with it.
As you begin to identify this in yourself, know that fear doesn’t always show itself by feeling “afraid”. Fear often manifests itself as defensiveness, frustration and blame. Privately notice when you are experiencing those emotions and that will be your signal that a new opportunity to practice adaptability has presented itself!
The skill of adaptability comes from training in mindfulness. Mindfulness can be used as a training tool for many skills.
Mindfulness is part of the meditation family, yet it is distinct due to the following three elements:
1. Intention: A clear direction, or goal of what you will be DOING as you practice the other two elements.
2. Action: The mind, body and nervous system must be in a coherent relationship toward your intention. This is HOW you are moving toward your intention. Your body might be mowing the lawn, but your mind could be thinking about what’s for dinner. Where your mind is focused, your nervous system will respond. Mindfulness asks all three to work together.
3. Awareness: Now watch yourself do the action. This is the biggie. When you have a non-reactive, non-judgmental observation surrounding your action you can easily compute real time feedback and make course corrections as needed without wasting energy on thoughts and feelings of blame. This allows you to act appropriately and effectively in the given circumstance with an alert presence. Now wouldn’t we want first responders to have that ability whenever needed? Wouldn’t that be nice for us, too?
Yoga can be a mindfulness practice if the three elements above are in place. Washing your dishes or driving a car can also be a mindful practice. As long as your thoughts are working with your body and you are aware of your breath as a benchmark for your mind, you can practice mindfulness with anything you do.
With a consistent practice of mindfulness, life’s inevitable turn of events will leave you feeling interested in the many ways you can adapt and mold yourself to the changes rather than feeling defeated and disheartened.
The next time a change of events occurs, observe what your habit is and the feelings that begin to come up, and then consciously choose to make an adjustment to thoughts that are more productive.
Here are two easy practices to start your training immediately:
1. Whatever happens today, especially if it was not in the original plan, say to yourself (audibly, if possible) “yes, thank you.” This will help you practice the principle that everything is happening for your highest good.
2. Listen to the mindfulness practice linked below. Try it daily for one week.
- Olivia Mead, Founder and CEO