Our cities are densely populated, draw ambitious people, and are characterized by intense competition. Deadlines, long hours at work, and powerful computers that fit in the palm of our hands are beginning to boggle our minds. It’s become the norm to look ahead and worry about what is to come, or glance over our shoulder at the past and wonder about what could have been. The average person checks their Instagram feed 34 times per day! The present moment, the sensorial experience of the here and now, is like gold running through our fingers. It slips by, moment after moment, buried under layers of noise. A personal mindfulness practice is becoming a necessary requirement for anyone wishing to maintain basic sanity in our fast paced and tech addicted society.
Mindfulness is paying attention to our experience as it unfolds in the present moment, right now, without judging or pushing things away. Practicing mindfulness helps promote self-control and focus while giving practitioners tools that help prevent stress and burnout. Slowing down the mind helps us make choices that promote mental wellness. It also offers us a chance to get in touch with our boundaries and build up positive self-esteem.
Establish a Foundation of Physical Health
We’ve come to live in our heads, chasing thought after thought, to the point that there is a disconnection with our own bodies. I recommend 30 to 60 minutes of exercise at least three to four times per week as a basic foundation. It will serve as a platform upon which to begin focusing the mind. While working out, we have to connect the body and mind, which are inseparable. They work together to execute complex movement patterns. When your body is neglected it becomes weak, sick, or can be predisposed to injury. If this happens we can feel side tracked while dealing with the associated stress and it becomes difficult to elevate our consciousness. The body and mind auto-enact deeply, so taking care of the body, ties in to great mental health. Today, more than ever the mantra “a healthy body is a healthy mind” rings true. A mixture of strength training and yoga is the most efficient use of time, providing great balance between the variables of strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, and neurological wellness.
Incorporate Mindful Breathing
I’ve traveled all throughout India, on different pilgrimages to study with some of the best meditation and yoga teachers. A lesson that was repeated in every yoga shala is the notion that “the breath is the king of the mind.” This idea sums up the fact that every mental state is associated with a particular breathing pattern, so by inverting that idea via taking charge of the breath, we can adjust our mental states. I’ve trained professional athletes, an Academy Award winning director, and many high powered business executives in the financial and legal sectors. They were all “masters of states.” Everyone has disappointing experiences, feels loss, pain, and struggles, but the masters suffer for much shorter periods than most people. They are adept at feeling the painful states but they apply tools quickly to move the stress out of their bodies and mind. Feeling fear, one may start using a fast, shallow breathing pattern that allows the breath to get stuck in the chest area, without reaching down to the abdomen. Realizing this pattern, one could sit still in a comfortable position, relax the eyes, and with an open chest, take 10 full deep breaths in through the nose and breath out through the mouth. The deeper breathing get us connected more to the parasympathetic nervous system so we come to rest. We can enjoy a relaxed state instead of associating to flight and flight sensations. There are infinite breathing practices but I strongly recommend trying Ujjayi Breathing. I have a detailed tutorial of how to practice this exercise on my YouTube Channel.
Eat and Rest for Optimal Cognition
Our genes come from different parts of the world, so we are adapted to different foods. It’s important to eat fresh and locally grown food in order to strengthen the body to face local pathogens. However, we’ll need different proportions of the macronutrients on our plates. For example, people who live close to the equator may process rice much better than those who come from colder, more extreme northern climates. The key is to experiment and study organizing principles of nutrition (I recommend macrobiotics or ayurveda) so that you’re getting nourished while keeping the body’s level of inflammation low. Recent studies have show that the brain’s encasing is porus and the foods we eat play a role in cerebral inflammation. This can inhibit cognitive function and contributes greatly to depression. For great brain health, we want to eat a diet low in sugar (avoid all simple carbohydrates and eat adequate amounts of saturated fat) and get 7-8 hours of sleep. Good sleep helps to remove metabolic wastes from the brain. Sugar is the enemy and fat is a friend!
Nurture Loving, Supportive Relationships
Put time in with intelligent and hard working people who are also kind. If you cultivate these qualities within yourself first, you will start to notice more and more folks in your sphere who have these vibes too. In yoga practice we call this our “satsang” or “sangha.” It’s like a tribe of like minded folks. Good or bad vibes rub off on us. If we spend most of our time with negative minds, it can start to affect the type of thoughts we keep. We all need support and inspiration, so keep the company of elevated minds to help fuel you past life’s challenges and sticking points.
Do Something Charitable
What you put out comes back. In yoga we call this “karma.” Actions may take time to ripen, but they are a boomerang. It is a law of the universe, if you hurt others, you will one day feel that same pain. Helping someone else, without attachment to rewards is good for the soul. It is our individual way of contributing to creating a better planet for all. You can volunteer, even if it’s once per month at a shelter, or for a part of the summer, to get that feeling of connection and contribution. It’s extremely fulfilling for everyone. For me, I volunteer my services to teach kids yoga, for free, as often as I my schedule permits. Kids thrill me and bring out the silly, fun side of my personality. Working with them is a total win-win and hopefully they practice yoga more often after spending some time immersing themselves in the Jai Sugrim Method.