How yoga can help us cultivate a positive perspective to change how we feel

look at those happy people...
look at those happy people…

If your average day is like mine, we’ll have moments of focus that require or inspire our full attention and presence. We’ll also have many more moments that are occupied with hustle and bustle, distractions, minor frustrations and daily tasks that run on autopilot. If we’re not careful, we can spend the majority of the day doing stuff but thinking about other things the whole time. Even when life feels full, it may not be as meaningful as we’d like. This inattention and distractibility can leave us feeling disconnected to the important people and experiences of our lives. But what do we do about it? How can we change our perspective and change how we feel?

In order to have a perspective that is positive and peaceful, we need a way to be fully present, and to spend time in a focused and peaceful state every day. A daily meditation practice is one way to have this kind of experience in a regular way. My teacher describes meditation as a “consciously created experience.” Meditation might be a time you recall a time or place or even a person that brings peaceful feelings to mind and spend some time re-experiencing that feeling. A wise and practical friend of mine put it this way, “If you want to have more peace in your life, then you have to spend more time thinking peaceful thoughts.“ It’s more than just a gesture. We need a way to change our state (of mind, breath, and body) to one of attention so that we can cultivate the feelings of peace and positivity in a meaningful way.

A key ingredient in a meditation practice is the ability to focus. A classical yoga practice sets us up for a comfortable and attentive state of mind so that we can direct our thoughts and stay with those positive and peaceful thoughts for long enough to have an experience. Yoga practice begins with movement and breathing. Āsana, or yoga postures, are more than serious stretching. This part of our practice provides us with opportunity to be fully present with the mind, breath and the body and to move in a way that relieves tension and brings balance to the system. Feeling sluggish? Āsana can bring our energy up so we aren’t snoozing during meditation. Restless and preoccupied? We might require a different movement practice to help us to relax so that when it comes time to focus, we aren’t fighting against our agitated state. In pain? Gentle and relaxing movement may help us relieve discomfort so that we can focus our attention inwards during meditation instead of on a nagging discomfort in the body.

Breathing exercises, or prāṇāyāma, follow āsana and are meant to be comfortable and without strain. This powerful practice for our subtle body is best guided by a skilled teacher. Appropriate application of breathing techniques can help with both attention and relaxation and are an effective way of going from inattention and distractibility to a state that is calm and focused.

It’s in this calm and focused state that we have the best chance at having a meditative experience. If our movement and breath practices prepare us well, we can call up the special feeling that we want to cultivate and stay with it for a while. Remembering what it feels like to be in the presence of someone who loves you unconditionally, calling up the feeling of sitting by a beautiful spring-fed lake, picturing the light of the stars coming to you through the night sky, are only a few of the endless ways to personalize the practice so that it is meaningful and effective for you. A teacher is an essential resource as you develop a meditation practice and an important support along the way. Spending time each day in a state that is positive and peaceful can help us cultivate a positive perspective that shapes the way we experience the rest of our lives, and meditation is an accessible and wonderful way to get there.

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