Tiffany Wood Yoga

Slowing Down the Mind

Tiffany Wood's student with hands at her 6th chakra

I have clients in Philadelphia and one of them is an 11 year old boy who is like a 55-year-old Harvard professor. At his private school, he takes meditation, and we have really great conversations about his experiences. His meditation teacher is a Zen Buddhist teacher. He and I have talked a little bit about what the Zen Buddhist approach is and how it's about clearing the mind and becoming absorbed in a meditative state. Now that is a very challenging form of meditation; to be so in the moment that you can just let it all go! So it's nice to know that there are different philosophies out there.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the classical yoga philosophy is close to the Zen Buddhist philosophy. The Sutras are like scriptures. The second scripture speaks about how yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, which is very similar to the Zen Buddhist approach. To clear your mind of the fluctuations of your thoughts is one interpretation of the final "goal" of yoga. In the Tantric philosophy that informs the practice I study, you can't stop the fluctuations of your mind, but you can slow them down. Tantra offers that even the fluctuations, the vrittis, are something to be embraced rather than scorned.

In conversations with my 11 year old student, we've talked about how to slow the flow of the fluctuations rather than ceasing them. It is about finding balance. Balancing the vibrations of the body and mind in such a way that harmony comes from a consistent long-term devotional practice. This inner peace comes from being able to create an awareness of which thoughts are worth following and which ones are really just the hamster on the treadmill in your mind. Our practice is learning about how to invest in what's important.

So when we sit for meditation the final expression of abiding in your true essence is not the important piece; that is just an invitation for you to get to know yourself and to see what comes up for you. How far out can the mind spin and tell you I can't do this?? Sometimes if we push the envelope too much we'll harden and the static of the mind will increase or if we come at our practice with complete dispassion or complete detachment, we won't get anywhere. So this long-term loving devotional practice is about learning how to balance effort and surrender. If you show up for it you are going to start to see shifts; you will start to see your body open. You'll see your life start to mellow out—hopefully a little bit anyway!

THE PRACTICE

Close your eyes right now and wherever your mind is, meet it there. You can't just empty it out all at once. So let yourself open to what's happening. Let your thoughts be like clouds floating in the sky and watch them pass by. If you begin to entrain your mind to your breath you'll notice that the thoughts will start to slow down. You may also notice that the thoughts become so dominant that you forget to breathe. Come back to your breath. If you can feel your breath you can engage the mind body connection. And remember, it's a practice. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you attach to your thoughts and just come back to your breath. Try this as a meditation and try this in your asana practice. When your mind tells you that you can't or it's just too hard allow your breath to guide you. You may find that the unthinkably impossible pose becomes just a little more accessible to you!

Draw your hands to your heart. May you be reminded that you can engage the moment in a life-affirming manor. When you get pulled into the whirlwind of your mind, you know how to slow it down. You have a choice; you can engage the moment with breath, with intention, through the sensations of the opening to the gift of life, or not… the choice is yours!

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