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Mindfulness Challenge


"The goal of self-study is to be curious about what we take for granted and recognize and release tendencies that aren’t useful. It can teach us to be non-reactive and non-grasping, and allow the process of letting things go a bit easier. It challenges us to look deeply into our essence and discern superficial ego from divine truth." - Raquel Alexandra, http://www.blueosa.com/reflect-yourself-practice-svadhyaya-self-awareness/


My last blog post was about "Being Present", cultivating mindfulness and contentment. Today, I'm taking that a bit further, exploring the concept in yoga of "svadhyaya" or "self-study". As discussed in my blog post on August 2, Svadhyaya is one of the Niyamas, or observances, that are part of the 8 limbs of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras. Self-study is a form of mindfulness practice. I would like to invite you to participate in 27 days of self study; 27 days of practicing mindfulness. This is your challenge, should you choose to accept it: Every day, for the next 27 days, you commit to spending 10 minutes - Just 10 minutes - each day practicing mindfulness and basic self-awareness. To do this, you'll need to carve out 10 minutes in your day. It can be anytime, although I recommend mornings when your mind is (hopefully) clear and fresh and not prone to falling asleep. But if evening or afternoon works for you - go for it. But be consistent. It's easier if you practice the same time each day, so it becomes part of your daily schedule, and you can stay true to your goal. In order to practice: 1) First, find a comfortable seat. This is really all that is required. I can comfortably sit in Siddhasana (ankles crossed) on a folded blanket, but for many folks, this is not a comfortable way to sit for an extended period of time. If you can sit in Sukhasana (legs crossed) or Padmasana (full or 1/2 lotus) or Siddhasana on a cushion or folded blanket on the floor, then take any of these asanas. But, if none of these are comfortable for your hips or knees, then by all means sit in a chair. Just be sure to sit with a straight spine. If you need to place a cushion or Slo-mo ball (if you're lucky enough to have one!) in the small of your back to keep the spine from rounding, feel free to do that. Just be sure the pelvis is not tilting backwards and rounding the spine.

2) Secondly, I recommend either setting a soothing alarm sound on your phone so you know when 10 minutes is up, or using relaxing music that is 10 minutes long (or longer if you want a longer challenge!). I like Devi Prayer by Craig Pruess and Ananda, but it's about 20 minutes long which is how long I like to sit when possible. You can choose a shorter song for your practice, or just set your phone. This way, you won't be distracted thinking about the time, or glancing at a clock. Set it and forget it.

3) Take a moment to center yourself. CLose your eyes or soften your gaze towards the floor (be mindful not to let your head drop forwards, putting strain on your neck!) If you're in a chair, feel your feet on the ground and your sitz bones on the chair. If you're sitting on the floor, feel all the points of contact between your body and the earth beneath it: the outside edges of your legs and feet and your sitz bones on the floor. Placing your hands on your legs, press gently down and feel the spine lift and lengthen as you inhale. Allow your shoulders and arms to relax as you exhale.

3) Begin to notice your breath. Breathing in through your nose, feel your belly expand as your diaphragm contracts and presses downward. Breathing out through your nose, feel the belly soften. Just that - Breathe in and Breathe out. Not trying to manipulate the breath. Just noticing how the breath moves your body. If you want to do a short pranayama practice beforehand, you certainly can, but it's not necessary. I usually begin by cultivating Dirga pranayama (3-part breath), then 10 rounds of Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and then I release all of that and just focus on breath retention and exhalation. But none of this is necessary for your mindfulness practice. Just watch your breath.

4) Any time your mind starts to wander just notice it. No judgement. No admonishment. Just notice where the mind goes. Then, release it and come back to the breath. The next time the mind wanders, take note, and let it go. You are cultivating the witness...the ability to sit back and watch your mind, your thoughts and emotions as an observer. No judgement. The first few times you sit like this, especially if you aren't used to cultivating this practice, your mind might be like watching a short film with many images passing by before your closed eyes. It's all good. There's no right or wrong way to do this. Just watch and let go. Anchor yourself by coming back to the breath. No counting or forcing - just watching. Make this part of your daily routine for 27 days - even if it feels painful or boring at first - and see how you feel and what you've observed by the end of September! If you have time, sit and journal about your experience. To inspire you, I will post a hand mudra each morning for the next 27 days and a short affirmation. If any of the mudras speak to you, you can use them during your practice, but they are not required. You might like how one feels - how it helps to center you, ground you or uplift you, and you may decide to use the same one for the next 27 days, or you might try different ones to see if any of them connect with you. Check into my Facebook page each day at https://www.facebook.com/ShiningWatersYoga/ for your mudra inspiration! Please let me know if you decide to take the challenge by commenting on my FB page above, or by sending me a personal message or an email at kostanadancer at gmail dot com, or you can let me know at the end how it goes!


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