There’s a lot of talk in the yoga and meditation worlds these days about “being in the moment,” being present for what is happening here, now.
God knows we could all use some practice at staying in the moment, as our minds all too easily slip back into rehashing past experiences, wincing at how we lost it when our child threw a(nother) tantrum, a frenemy who did us a bad term, how we bombed an exam, a presentation, an interview. Or we drift back to idealize The Good Old Days. As one of my teacher friends said recently, “Ah, to be young and free again.” That’s not how I remember my earlier years, but rose-colored glasses can distort anything!
Conversely, we often time-travel forward, projecting either what want want to happen (an exciting new romance, a financial windfall, harmony with our relatives, or (more commonly) fear about all the scary things that might happen. Will we get fired? Will we lose a spouse or parent? Will our kids turn out to be deadbeats? Will it rain on our carefully crafted parade, party, career path, home renovation?
Yet if we turn the back on our pasts, we have no GPS to guide us forward into more meaningful lives. We are ships without rudders, letting the winds of change buffet us every which way. We lose track of what we value, what and where we have invested in the things that matter most to us, what we have accomplished. Who we are.
Tantric yoga encourages us not to dismiss the past or disregard the future, but to constantly, even vigilantly, spin our awareness back to where we’ve been and forward to where we want to go. And the present moment is the hinge point that enables us to do just that: build on what’s come before and direct our minds, hearts, bodies, and energy toward the best going forward.
This is not a one-time strategy--got it, now get going!--but a moment-by–moment practice that shapes everything from how we spend our time to the company we keep to the work we find meaningful and the good we can do for others and our planet. For this we do need to “stay present,” paying attention to the ever-shifting scenarios life presents and to the ever-evolving internal radar that tells us when we are on or off course, wandering randomly or harnessing the power of the universe to guide us.
Yoga makes us more conscious. I find over the years that I just can’t “check out” anymore, hard as I may try and as uncomfortable as I often am with what’s going on at any moment. Instead, my consciousness/spirit/soul/whatever you want to call it, whispers, then shouts my truth until it’s sure I’m listening. If I ignore or suppress it, I screw up. I disappoint others. I harm myself. I act or react carelessly and feel waves of remorse. A relatively peaceful and balanced life becomes a trainwreck.
But while yoga brings the “gift” of consciousness, it also gives us the tools to stay awake and respond (not react) in skillful ways that keep us true to ourselves while allowing us not to implode but actually to expand out and connect better to the world around us. We become stronger, more balanced, and more flexible. We develop stamina to stick to it over the long haul. Our bodies-minds-hearts are stronger and more resilient.
As you practice yoga this month, see how yoga works to move you from the past to the present to the future. Some things to ponder:
- Twists: lovely poses that give us a chance to look back, physically behind us, shift our gaze through the present, and then peer into the future, looking forward
- Moving into, holding, and releasing out of poses: When entering a pose, we enter the future, the unknown. When holding a pose, we have time to be where we are now. When we release out of and recover from a pose, we reflect back on how the pose has altered and prepared us for what comes next.
- Sequencing: a good yoga practice guides us through an arc from centering and simple warm-ups through more challenging poses and then the wind-down to savasana. It’s a mini model of life. Pay attention to how our teachers lead you through sound and meaningful sequences in time.
Take what you experience in your yoga practice this month off the mat. Play with using your memory to inform what you do now and what you do next. If we all commit to this, by Memorial Day, which closes out the month of May, will have a new and profound meaning. And going forward, every day will be Memorial Day, as you learn to value past, present and future and continue to craft a more memorable life.