By Shannon McQuaide
You Are Not Your Thoughts
In yoga wisdom we learn that all behavior begins as a bija, or seed, in the mind. In other words, the origins of what we say or do can be linked directly to our thoughts. So logic would tell us, if we want to change our behavior—for instance, we don’t like relying on alcohol to help us relax—then we need to change our thinking. So, how can yoga help you change your thinking to support your personal and career goals for 2018?
The first step is to recognize that we have control over our thoughts—that, in fact, we are not our thoughts. In other words, what you think is not a reflection of your character. Good thing, right! Recognizing this is a liberating awareness that allows us to take the next step.
Yoga Increases Self-Awareness and Focuses the Mind
The next step is learning how to focus the mind. Without mind training, the mind can jump from one idea to the next. In yoga, this is referred to as monkey mind. Some words associated with monkey mind are restless, inconstant, indecisive, and uncontrollable. But as you begin to take dominion over your mind using yoga, mindfulness, or other focusing techniques, you can determine where to place your attention.
Before I earnestly engaged in yoga practice, I found my thoughts to be oppressive. I didn’t know how to slow my mind down to relax or sleep or temper negative thinking. I often felt victimized by thinking and relied on excessive exercise as way to manage my mind. After taking up yoga in earnest, I learned that I could focus my attention. This has saved me countless hours of replaying painful memories from my past or freaking out about what might happen in the future. I’m better able to create the life I want.
On the yoga mat you are encouraged to notice your behavior. For instance, how do you react when you fall out a standing balancing pose that everyone else is maintaining? Do you criticize yourself or feel diminished by the experience? Noticing your reaction to challenges in class can shine the light of awareness on the negative self-talk that often runs in the background of the mind, beneath consciousness but nonetheless having an impact on our behavior. Learning to focus your mind provides a sense of relief and contributes to the overall feeling of relaxation that comes from practice. And this can help you change your thoughts.
The Power of Intention
An intention is a process of using mind to shape behavior. It’s like a New Year’s resolution but with more conscious attention. As a yoga teacher, my intention is to be of service. And I do that by empowering firefighters to trust in the strength and wisdom of their bodies, to help them let go of layers of negativity that can accumulate through gritty and often unglamorous work, and to provide an opportunity to rest and catch up on sleep if needed. At the end of one class, all of the firefighters fell asleep during the final relaxation pose. I sat with these sleep-deprived firefighters for 10 minutes before they began to stir.
Firefighters also have an intention to be of service and to do the right thing even when no one is looking. They are coming to the mat because yoga practice supports this intention and the high standards they hold for themselves. In learning how to focus their minds, they are learning how to change their thoughts—and that means anything is possible!
Shannon McQuaide is a registered yoga instructor with Yoga Alliance and the founder of the FireFLEX YogaTM program. FireFLEX Yoga was developed through her work with the San Jose (CA) Fire Department, where she continues to lead FireFLEX Yoga classes. She is a certified functional movement trainer and has a master of arts degree in leadership and psychology. [email protected] http://www.fireflexyoga.com.