Mindfulness & The Big City

“These are just circus tricks,” casually tucking his ankles behind his neck.

I felt my jaw drop as I stared at my Indian guru. I was finally in Rishikesh, India, finally pursuing my dream of becoming a certified yoga instructor, having paid thousands of dollars for the course and flown dozens of hours.

“Those are just circus tricks,” he repeated, referring to the amazing feats of flexibility he had just demonstrated in a series of asanas I longed to be able to imitate. “The real yoga is in your heart. You must learn to be mindful.”

This was my third time in India and I knew that true yoga is mindfulness, being aware of yourself and being in touch with your surroundings, but I also knew that this would be a much harder lesson than the mere “circus tricks” of physical yoga. Muscles stretch; the human conscious stretches too, but much more slowly. People cling to what they know and their set ways of life. Routines are safe; change is scary. That’s why I had come to India for the third time, seeking much the same “enlightenment” as I had the first time.

Every time I felt like I had made a breakthrough in my understanding of yoga and the meaning of life, like I had reached an epiphany that would change the way I lived. But every time I had to return to my “normal” life, and I would keep the mindfulness for a few weeks or maybe a few months, before slipping back to my habitual busyness.

“Of course I'm mindful,” I told my teacher. “It's just my daily life in Cairo that makes me crazy. You don’t understand Cairo, it is a beautiful city, but it is very noisy and crowded.” It wasn’t the first time I had tried to blame my surroundings for the off-kilter course of my life. Since leaving the mountains of Colorado as a little girl, I have lived in Chicago, Tokyo, and Cairo. Each city had its beauty, but life in the city tempts one to ignore the beauty and focus on the craziness that urbanity induces in the human soul.

Mindfulness is a daily practice, and it’s much tougher than putting your ankles behind your neck. The pursuit of mindfulness may be a lifelong journey, but it starts with a single moment.

As I continue to practice yoga, I continue to challenge myself to be mindful of the beauty of life around me. I have been lucky enough to go to India three times to study meditation, Ayurvedic nutrition, and yoga. I would like to share with you some of what I’ve learned, and I would like to give you the opportunity to comment on your own moments of mindfulness each week. May you be inspired to pause, breathe, and see the beauty of life in Cairo.