When I first unrolled a yoga mat fifteen years ago, I had never heard the expression “stay in the moment.” Nowadays, this expression is thrown about so often and so casually that it has almost become trite. You hear celebrities tossing it into interviews on the morning news. You read it in self-help blogs and books. Cute or serene images preaching its message are all over social media. It’s become so commonplace that I wonder sometimes if people even hear it anymore, let alone take the time to try to understand what it means for them in their own lives.
Back when I was learning yoga, mindfulness was not so trendy. In fact, yoga wasn’t so trendy. While I knew yoga was changing me, it actually took me a very long time to figure out that at least part of the way that yoga was helping me revamp my life was by teaching me to stay in the moment. Class after class provided lessons – some subtle and some glaringly obvious – in being present. When I allowed my thoughts to run ahead toward the dreadful backbends that loomed at the end of my practice, I found that I was distracted and out of whack in the posture I was working in. When I allowed my mind to dwell on the posture I’d toppled out of earlier in practice, I found that I completely missed out on the one I could have been enjoying right then.
And this was just the tip of the iceberg. Mental gymnastics aside, I found allowing my eyes to wander to my classmates’ mats was also a way to wander away from my own experience. Comparing myself to a super bendy student could make me feel inadequate, even if we were in a posture I adored. The opposite was also true. Comparing myself to a student who was not as adept as me (honestly, there were way fewer of these distractions) could send me into ego-driven flights of self-satisfaction mixed with a little pride. I’d be so caught up in these feelings that I would completely miss the physical feelings of the posture.
Non-yoga distractions could pull my awareness off my mat as well. A slamming door, a siren on the street outside the studio, a screech of tires, the flush of a toilet, the sound of birds outside the window. All of these ambient noises could kidnap my attention away from what I was actually doing and experiencing. In essence, allowing myself to become distracted could steal me away from the class I’d paid $15 to attend.
It didn’t take long before I started keeping an eye out for moments when I was present and moments when I was distracted off my mat and in my life. At the time my kids were very small. I discovered that I was very adept at distracting myself to survive the monotony of long days with toddlers. There are, after all, only so many times you can dress a Barbie or read Miss Spider’s Tea Party, without worrying about your brain turning to mush.
Yet, when I was “too busy” or doing something else or simply “parallel playing” (reading a book or talking on the phone or sorting Legos by size and color while they played near me) with my kids, I guaranteed myself that I was going to miss out on those moments. I began to see this as a choice. A choice I was sometimes willing and sometimes unwilling to make depending on the day, their moods, my levels of exhaustion, and so forth.
As I practiced “staying in the moment” in my life, I found I was taking more pleasure in the little moments that filled my day. I was enjoying my children more. I was also more thoroughly enjoying the mental breaks I allowed myself to take from them. Best yet, I was discovering all kinds of tiny opportunities I would have missed if I’d been distracted. One afternoon, my son expressed curiosity about earth worms and we spent over an hour digging in the corner of the yard to find some. I learned about my daughter’s friendships in school by listening to her play with her dolls. I got to watch the slow-motion miracle of a child learning how to read by patiently reading the same picture book over and over day after day.
My full participation in these tiny moments had an enormous impact on me. They made me a better mother. They helped me take more pleasure and satisfaction from my life in exactly the same way that paying attention in a yoga class helped me to fully enjoy the yoga practice into which I had invested time and money. And these are just two facets of my life. I can see the same truth in my teaching, in my friendships and even in my simplest activities – walking the dogs, cooking dinner, making a bed.
These days, staying in the moment may seem like a silly little idea that is talked about way too often, but it’s not. It’s a big, powerful idea with the potential to change your experience of your life. So, to use a yoga expression, “Keep your eyes on your own mat.” Devote attention to everything you do. You never know when a precious moment will come along disguised as something tiny and insignificant.